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Analysis: New Solution Proposed For Abkhaz Election Deadlock

Former Abkhaz Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba, who refuses to accept the 11 October ruling by Abkhazia's Central Election Commission that his rival, Chernomorenergo head Sergei Bagapsh, won the 3 October presidential ballot with 50.08 percent of the vote, proposed to Bagapsh on 17 November that they should both agree not to participate in a repeat presidential ballot that outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba called for on 29 October. But Bagapsh, who has already scheduled his inauguration for 6 December, immediately rejected that proposal as "unacceptable for us," Caucasus Press reported.

Khadjimba's proposal may well have been intended to clear the way for a presidential bid by former Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba, who polled third in the 3 October ballot. Shamba has since founded the Social Democratic Party, which he claims numbers 6,000 members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2004), and which has aligned itself behind Khadjimba and Ardzinba. If Shamba won the repeat ballot, he would then presumably offer Khadjimba his former post as prime minister.

Also on 17 November, Bagapsh and Khadjimba met separately with Prime Minister Nodar Khashba, who on 15 November had told ITAR-TASS that he hoped to bring the two rival challengers together to reach a "a mutual decision that will make possible a way out of the crisis." But Khadjimba indicated in an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 16 November that he sees no point in any further meetings with Bagapsh as the latter is unwilling to make any concessions.

Khadjimba's offer to pull out of the repeat ballot if Bagapsh agreed to do likewise was made prior to the opening of a session of Council of Elders, a body that traditionally enjoys great authority but no real power. The council endorsed Khadjimba's proposal, according to Caucasus Press. But ITAR-TASS on 17 November quoted Nugzar Ashuba, speaker of the Abkhaz parliament (almost all of whose 35 deputies support Bagapsh), as saying that a repeat election would not solve the ongoing crisis. Speaking to journalists in Sukhum, Ashuba further endorsed Bagapsh as the "legally elected president of the republic."

Since the storming by Bagapsh's supporters on 12 November of the building in Sukhum that houses the government and presidential offices, the political landscape has become even more polarized. Predictably, ailing President Ardzinba condemned the violent action, in which an elderly academic was fatally injured, as a bid to overthrow himself and Prime Minister Khashba. Two months before the 3 October vote, Ardzinba had publicly expressed his support for then Prime Minister Khadjimba, whom Ardzinba described as the most worthy candidate to succeed him.
Even before the 12 November violence, Moscow had made clear its preference for Khadjimba over Bagapsh.

Eight political parties and public organizations, including the pro-government Apsny party, the People's Party, and Shamba's Social Democratic Party, announced on 15 November their alignment in an Anticrisis Council. That body issued an appeal on 16 November to both Bagapsh and Khadjimba to embark on dialogue; it also called for a bipartisan committee to take over control of national television, and for the withdrawal of all armed men from government buildings.

Also on 16 November, the Abkhaz Federation of Trade Unions and three political parties that support Bagapsh released a statement rejecting Ardzinba's 13 November allegation that Bagapsh intended to stage a coup and accusing Ardzinba of seeking to offload on to others responsibility for the present crisis. The four organizations also addressed the Russian presidential administration and both chambers of the Russian parliament, criticizing the Russian media and individual Russian politicians for misrepresenting the situation in Abkhazia, and stressing that "the Abkhaz people consider Russia to be their true friend and the guarantor of their security."

They further accused Khashba of having asked Moscow on 12 November to dispatch troops to Sukhum to restore order -- an accusation that Khashba rejected, according to ITAR-TASS on 17 November. Khashba, a former senior official in the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry, explained that he supports Moscow's stance vis-a-vis the situation in Abkhazia. But at the same time he stressed that as Ardzinba's appointee "I am first and foremost a pro-Abkhaz politician."

Then on 17 November, many senior Abkhaz Interior Ministry officials issued a statement saying they will no longer take orders from Khashba (for more on this, see Abkhaz Crisis Deepens As Police Reportedly Desert The Government), whom the statement accused of misinforming the mass media and the Russian leadership, Interfax reported. They further called for the disarming of a new (pro-Khadjimba?) police force and of other security bodies. Also on 17 November, Ardzinba suspended his deputy, Vice President Valerii Arshba, on the grounds that "all his actions since 12 November...violated the law and run counter to the republic's constitution."

Both camps, however, are on shaky ground in accusing each other of anticonstitutional and/or illegal actions. Ardzinba himself rode roughshod over the constitution in instructing the Central Election Commission on 29 October to schedule new elections, which is prerogative of the parliament. Bagapsh too was on dubious legal grounds in seeking to have a "pan-national assembly" endorse his presidential victory (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 5 and 11 November 2004 ). It was the participants in such an informal assembly on 12 November who led the march on the government building in what was intended to be an affirmation of the legality of Bagapsh's election victory.

Even before the 12 November violence, Moscow had made clear its preference for Khadjimba over Bagapsh. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko on 12 November condemned the temporary occupation of the central government building as an attempt to oust the incumbent president and prime minister. Yakovenko warned that if such "illegal" actions continued, Russia would be compelled "to take steps to protect its interests," but did not explain what those interests are. Most Abkhaz, whether they support Bagapsh or Khadjimba, have acquired Russian passports.

"Novaya gazeta" on 15 November quoted Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center as suggesting that Yakovenko's statement was meant as a warning to both Bagapsh and Khadjimba to bridge their differences. Malashenko argued that Moscow does not want to be constrained to intervene in Abkhazia, as doing so would impact negatively on Russian-Georgian relations and thus, by extension, create tensions in Russia's relations with the EU and the United States.

For the latest news on the tensions in Abkhazia, see RFE/RL's webpage on Abkhazia and Georgia.

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