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Abkhaz Leader, Opposition Step Back From The Brink

  • Liz Fuller

A rally in support of de facto President Raul Khajimba in Sukhumi on December 15 attracted around 1,000 people.

The groups aligned in the Bloc of Opposition Forces in Georgia's breakaway Republic of Abkhazia failed yet again on December 15 in their latest bid to force de facto President Raul Khajimba to step down. But in late-night negotiations, Khajimba did offer the opposition a number of government positions, and he has reportedly also agreed to constitutional amendments that would curtail his powers.

Not all opposition groups -- which have repeatedly accused Khajimba of economic mismanagement, incompetence, reneging on promised reforms, turning a blind eye to corruption and the skyrocketing crime rate, and condoning reprisals against his political foes -- are happy with that offer, however. And cynics may argue that it will cost Khajimba little, given that he has already scheduled parliamentary elections for March 12, after which a new government will be formed.

On the eve of planned rival demonstrations on December 15, Bloc of Opposition Forces head Aslan Bzhania, who placed second in the August 2014 vote in which Khajimba was elected president, met with parliament representatives, including speaker Valery Bganba. The parliament apparently rejected out of hand even the more moderate demands advanced by the opposition: Bganba was subsequently quoted as saying that "we tried to convince the opposition that simply reshuffling government officials won't preclude further crises."

The two sides did, however, reach agreement on a three-point memorandum of understanding pledging their shared commitment to act within the framework of the law and the constitution to promote democracy and preserve stability and to maintain "constant dialogue" aimed at overcoming existing disagreements.

That memorandum was subsequently signed by Khajimba; Bganba; Public Chamber head Natela Akaba; Bzhania; former Prime Minister Sergei Shamba, in his capacity as chairman of the former ruling Yedinaya Abkhaziya, the region's largest political party; and the heads of six other political parties, including Khajimba's Forum of National Unity of Abkhazia. One of the members of the Bloc of Opposition Forces, the Amtsakhara union of veterans of the 1992-93 war that ended with Abkhazia's de facto independence from Georgia, did not sign it.

The two rallies got under way in Sukhumi as planned in front of the government building, which was cordoned off by police and security forces. The Russian daily Kommersant estimated the number of opposition participants at around 2,000, compared to 1,000 Khajimba supporters.

A rival opposition rally attracted some 2,000 people, according to estimates.
A rival opposition rally attracted some 2,000 people, according to estimates.

After several hours, two senior opposition representatives, former Vice President Mikhail Logua and Said Tarkil, who had served as de facto foreign minister in the early 1990s, met with Khajimba to convey the demand for his resignation. Khajimba responded by emerging from the government building a second time to announce that "I want everyone to understand that the president's resignation isn't going to happen."

At the same time, Khajimba affirmed his readiness to continue talks, which resumed later that evening between himself, Bganba, Bzhania, and other opposition figures in the Defense Ministry building. (Defense Minister Mirab Kishmaria, a respected veteran of the 1992-93 war, was one of Khajimba's rivals for the presidency in 2014.)

It was during those talks that agreement was reached on a proposal first put forward by Prime Minister Beslan Bartsits that the opposition should nominate a first deputy prime minister, several deputy ministers, the prosecutor-general, four members of the new Central Election Commission, and two members of the newly established Constitutional Court. (That is less than the opposition was hoping for: Shamba had told Interfax a few days earlier that there should be a new coalition government in which the opposition should be responsible for the economy.)

That agreement is to be formalized in an Agreement On Social And Political Stability that both sides will sign and the implementation of which the parliament will guarantee.

In addition, according to Bganba, the parliament will immediately set about drafting constitutional amendments that will redistribute power between the legislature and the executive, including the president.

The opposition supporters finally dispersed at around 3 a.m. local time on December 16, even though Amtsakhara representative Mizan Zukhba had vowed earlier that "no one will leave until Khajimba quits."

Amtsakhara has not formally commented on the agreement reached between Khajimba and Bzhania. Some younger opposition supporters were said to be dissatisfied with it, while the public organization Women In Politics, which like Amtsakhara is a member of the Bloc of Opposition Forces, was quoted by Apsny Press as saying that it cannot be regarded as a compromise solution.

That dissatisfaction raises the question whether Khajimba's unexpected conciliatory gesture was meant to serve two purposes: First, to mollify the opposition by offering it representation in a government that will be replaced after the March 12 election, and second, to split the Bloc of Opposition Forces in the run-up to that vote.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.

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