Over the past week, the leadership of Georgia's breakaway and largely unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia has moved to address some of the many criticisms leveled against it by leading members of the opposition party Amtsakhara (Keep the Home Fires Burning) at a congress last month. Whether the timing of those measures is purely coincidental is not clear.
In the run-up to the early election in August 2014 in which he was elected de facto Abkhaz president, then-opposition leader Raul Khajimba admitted that he did not have a detailed presidential program, as drafting one would have taken "at least 100 days."
But according to Amtsakhara, Khajimba and his team still lack any comprehensive short- or long-term plan for tackling the most pressing problems the region faces, including the economy, of which, Khajimba admitted in December 2014, "not a single branch is functioning."
Speaking at a party congress on May 22, senior Amtsakhara members accused the new leadership of the very same failings that the Coordinating Council headed by Khajimba had adduced as the rationale for ousting then-President Aleksandr Ankvab in late May 2014 and seizing power. The speakers at the congress cited numerous examples of economic mismanagement, incompetence, corruption, and perceived perversion of justice, and accused the new leadership of conducting a systematic witch-hunt against its critics and denying dissenting voices access to the state-controlled media.
Guest speaker Aslan Bzhania, who finished second in the August ballot to Khajimba with 35.9 percent of the vote, enumerated the criticisms of Ankvab and the demands for change contained in the Coordinating Council's May 2014 ultimatum. He argued that virtually all the points it contains are still relevant, and that the new leadership has failed to fulfill the demands it made of the outgoing government with regard to constitutional reform, the transformation of state television into a public broadcaster, and healing the "split within society," which he argued poses a threat to Abkhazia's survival as an independent state.
Amtsakhara co-Chairman Garik Samanba, a former chairman of the parliamentary commission on defense and national security decorated for his role in the 1992-93 war that ended with the loss of Georgian jurisdiction over the region, highlighted Amtsakhara's role in forcing a revision of the initial draft, which he claimed would have threatened Abkhaz sovereignty, of the Treaty on Union Relations and Strategic Partnership signed with Russia last year.
He also discussed the fiasco surrounding the adoption -- with a three-month delay -- of the budget for 2015, which legislators almost immediately had to ask the president to sequester for lack of funds. The 350 million rubles ($6.69 million) allocated for the presidential fund (more than the entire defense budget) was apparently unaffected by the cuts.
Samanba accused the new Abkhaz leadership having offloaded the entire responsibility for the region's social and economic development on to Moscow, with the result that "the president of Abkhazia looks like the governor of an impoverished polity dependent on subsidies." He also said that the crime situation was fast deteriorating.
The party's second co-chairman, Alkhas Kvitsinia, also discussed the government's poor track record on the economy, specifically its inability to explain to Moscow precisely how the 3.6 billion rubles it will receive in Russian financial aid for 2015 will be spent. Kvitsinia was harsher than other speakers in his assessment of Khajimba, arguing that a man whose earlier actions almost plunged the region into civil war is incapable of unifying the nation. He said the new government's actions show "that its promises to society are worthless, and that [it regards] lies as simply an instrument in the struggle for power and with which to manipulate public opinion."
Anri Jergenia, a member of Amtsakhara's governing council who served as prosecutor-general and then as prime minister in the early 2000s, didn't mince words either. He argued that "the authorities proved to be unprepared to govern, and they weren't interested in doing so. For them the main thing was to seize power."
Samanba and Kvitsinia criticized the head of Abkhaz State TV and Radio, Emma Khojava, for her allegedly high-handed management style and for firing journalists with whose political views she disagrees. Some 1,200 people have signed a petition, which Khajimba has ignored, demanding her resignation.
Jergenia and Samanba also questioned the rationale for the criminal case for tax evasion brought against Southern Construction Company (YuSK) head Vadim Matua.
The Amtsakhara congress adopted a resolution enumerating the party's grievances and posing a series of demands, including the replacement of the current government by a coalition government headed by "an opposition politician" -- meaning an Amtsakhara member. The formation of such a coalition government was one of the pledges enshrined in an agreement that all four candidates in last summer's presidential ballot signed.
The congress also demanded the immediate dismissal of Khojava and Prosecutor-General Aleksey Lomia.
Whether or not in response to Amtsakhara's criticisms, on May 29 Abkhazia's Supreme Court acquitted Matua and YuSK's chief bookkeeper, Timur Otyrba, of the charge of tax evasion. Supreme Court Chairman Roman Mushba has since announced his resignation on the grounds that his term is almost at an end.
Then on June 1, the Abkhaz parliament passed in the final reading no fewer than 41 draft legislative acts. Some individual draft laws pertained to reform of the judiciary and setting up a constitutional court. The others included amendments to the existing laws on presidential and parliamentary elections and on banks, the media, the Prosecutor-General's Office, and state secrets; and to the Civil, Criminal, Criminal-Procedural, and Customs codes.
While those various laws go part way toward resolving some of the issues highlighted by the Coordinating Council over a year ago, they do not touch on the key issue of constitutional reform, specifically the redivision of responsibilities and powers between the president and the parliament. Khajimba had termed such reform essential in an interview immediately after his election victory.
Moreover, the hasty adoption of amendments to the laws on presidential and parliamentary elections renders irrelevant the demand in the Amtsakhara congress resolution for the creation of a working group, on which the party would be represented, to draft such amendments.
It remains to be seen whether Khajimba will adduce the package of laws as evidence of the authorities' willingness to respond to criticism, and/or whether Amtsakhara will be encouraged by the official response to its demands to step up its pressure on what it considers a regime devoid of legitimacy.
-- Liz Fuller