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Georgian Populated Gali Holds the Key to Abkhazia Presidential Elections
/ 6 Oct.'04 / 15:53
Civil Georgia

The Central Election Commission (CEC) of the unrecognized Abkhazian Republic yielded to the opposition presidential candidate Sergey Bagapsh’s request and approved a re-vote in the Gali district, scheduled for October 17, after the CEC rendered election results in all three precincts in the Gali district invalid.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) of the unrecognized Abkhaz Republic announced late on October 5 that it has counted the votes cast in all election districts except Gali. According to this data, the opposition candidate Sergey Bagapsh garnered 45.7% of the votes while Raul Khajimba, whose candidacy is backed by both outgoing Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba and the Kremlin, received only 38.4%, RIA Novosti news agency and the Russian daily Kommersant reported.

According to the Abkhaz election code, the presidential candidate should garner more than 50% of the votes to gain a victory in the first round of voting. The results of the vote in the predominantly Georgian district of Gali became of crucial importance. Bagapsh, who has a Georgian wife, was expected to garner a majority of the votes in this district and in turn enable him to take over the breakaway regions presidency.

But Bagapsh’s main opponent, the pro-government presidential candidate Raul Khajimba, claimed that the elections in Gali were marred by widespread violations and hence demanded an annulment of the election results and the holding of a re-vote throughout the entire breakaway region.

Raul Khajimba alleges that many votes cast on October 3 were by Gali residents who are ineligible to vote. He presented voting records which were filled out and signed in Georgian, and identifications verified through Georgian passports as evidence of violations. Khajimba argued that only Abkhaz and Russian are official languages in Abkhazia and Georgian IDs should not be recognized as legal documents for voting in Abkhazia.

Bagapsh argued that there were no violations in Gali, but as a compromise offered to run a re-vote in the Gali District alone. Prior to this compromise both Khajimba and Bagapsh met with outgoing Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba in an attempt to defuse tensions and solve the crisis.

The Gali district is the westernmost part of unrecognized Abkhaz republic, populated mainly by ethnic Georgians who spontaneously returned to Abkhazia in the years following the conflict in 1992-93. Only about one-fourth of the returnees are allowed to vote in the Abkhaz elections. Georgian officials are worried that the decisive role this district is about to play in the Abkhazia presidential elections may trigger further intimidation of, and possibly violence against, ethnic Georgians in the area.

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