Separatist officials in the globally unrecognized Abkhaz republic have declared opposition leader Aslan Bzhania as the winner of an election for the de facto presidency in the breakaway region of Georgia.
Tamaz Gogia, chairman of the self-declared republic's Central Election Commission, said on March 23 that Bzhania took 56.5 percent of the 95,109 ballots cast in the vote.
Turnout was 71.6 percent, easily surpassing the 50 percent threshold.
Georgia’s Foreign Ministry criticized the election, saying they “fully contradict the fundamental norms and principles of international law” and violate Georgia’s sovereignty.
After Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in August 2008, Moscow recognized Abkhazia as an independent nation. But only a handful of other countries have followed the Kremlin’s lead.
Economy Minister Adgur Ardzinba garnered 35.4 percent of the votes, former Interior Minister Leonid Dzapshba won 2.2 percent, while 1.75 of voters were against all of the candidates.
Gogia said that Bzhania will be inaugurated in the Moscow-backed breakaway region within 30 days.
The March 22 rerun vote is the latest effort to sort out the Black Sea region's government, which has been in flux since a January Supreme Court ruling annulled the election victory of Raul Khajimba three months earlier.
The ruling came amid violent protests. Ultimately, Khajimba stepped down.
The run-up to the vote was marked by intrigue when Bzhania suffered two mysterious illnesses, which some of his supporters alleged were caused by poisoning.
It had been uncertain if the actual vote would take place at all due to fears of coronavirus infection. As of March 20, the region had not publicly reported any infections from COVID-19.
Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia in 1992, a move which led to all-out war with Tbilisi.