On March 12, voters in Georgia’s breakaway Republic of Abkhazia went to the polls to vote in parliamentary elections that Georgia and most of the international community regarded as illegal. As was the case five years ago, the voting yielded clear winners in less than half the 35 constituencies.
The 12 new lawmakers elected include former de facto President Aleksandr Ankvab, who was ousted three years ago by opposition forces headed by Raul Khajimba, who was subsequently elected as Ankvab’s successor; and four of the 26 outgoing lawmakers who sought reelection, including Almas Djapua of the opposition party Ainar.
A runoff vote will take place on March 26 in 22 constituencies, and a repeat vote will be held on May 14 in one Gudauta constituency where voter turnout was under the 25 percent minimum required for the voting to be valid. Of the region’s estimated 134,000 voters, just under half cast ballots, according to Central Election Commission head Tamaz Gogia.
Several factors contributed to the inconclusive nature of the vote.
First, all 35 parliamentarians are elected in single-mandate constituencies. (The outgoing parliament passed in only the first and second readings a new election law that provides for a mixed majoritarian-proportional system.)
Second, the overwhelming majority of the 137 candidates -- even former Prime Ministers Sergei Shambaand Leonid Lakerbaia, who are chairmen of the United Abkhazia and Aytayra parties, respectively -- were nominated by so-called initiative groups rather than political parties.
Of the eight parties qualified to propose candidates, Ainar fielded eight; Amtsakhara (Keep the Home Fires Burning), founded by veterans of the 1992-93 war that ended in the region’s de facto independence from Georgia -- seven; Khajimba’s Forum of National Unity of Abkhazia -- six; and the opposition National Front for Justice and Development -- three. Of the 12 lawmakers elected thus far, only Djapua represents a political party.
Third, the programs and manifestos of parties and individual candidates alike were similar, insofar as all promised an economic upswing.
And fourth, the limited participation of candidates representing political parties was compensated for by the large number of independent candidates. There were seven registered candidates in two constituencies, six in three, and five in four, making it all but impossible for any one of them to garner over 50 percent of the vote.
Prominent losers are outgoing parliament speaker Valery Bganba, defeated by his sole rival; and Shamba, former Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Chirikba, Ainar Chairman Tengiz Djopua, and Amtsakhara Chairman Alkhas Kvitsinia, all of whom failed to reach the second round in their respective electoral districts.
Two prominent political figures who did make it to the second round are Aslan Bzhania of the Bloc of Opposition Forces, Khajimba’s closest challenger in the preterm 2014 presidential ballot; and popular former Interior Minister Raul Lolua, who co-founded the public organization Abkhazia is Our Home after Khajimba dismissed him in May 2015.