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Has Moscow Endorsed Ouster Of Abkhazia’s De Facto President?

Aleksandr Ankvab
Aleksandr Ankvab
The parliament of Georgia’s breakaway Republic of Abkhazia approved on 31 May by 24 votes in favour with one abstention a resolution declaring its speaker Valery Bganba acting de facto president in place of incumbent Aleksandr Ankvab. Ankvab and National Security Council secretary Nugzar Ashuba have rejected that resolution as unconstitutional.

Unnamed opposition politicians claim nonetheless that Moscow has endorsed it. And the formulations used in commenting on the situation by Aleksei Chesnakov, an adviser to Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov who flew to Sukhum(i) on May 28 to mediate between the two sides, substantiate that possibility.

Chesnakov pointedly failed to refer to Ankvab as president. He was quoted as saying that “for all the ambiguity of the parliament’s decision…that decision is the result of a broad dialogue within Abkhaz [society]. A peaceful dialogue. And that is the most important thing. The negotiators, both from the side of Aleksandr Ankvab and from the side of the opposition worked out this decision together. It remains to hope that Mr. Ankvab will proceed in his actions from the priority of civic peace and non-violent methods.”

National Security Council secretary Ashuba, however, has publicly denied that the parliament resolution was the result of an agreement reached during talks between himself (as Ankvab’s representative) and Vitaly Gabnia, representing the opposition. Adducing the Republic of Abkhazia constitution, the May 31 parliament resolution cited as the rationale for removing Ankvab his inability to exercise power (he is currently at the Russian military base in Gudauta where he took refuge after vacating the presidential administration building during the night of May 27-28); the resignation (in December 2013, purportedly on health grounds) of Vice President Mikhail Logua; and its May 29 vote of no-confidence in de facto Prime Minister Leonid Lakerbaya.

The parliament simultaneously scheduled a pre-term presidential election for August 24. Forum of National Unity of Abkhazia Chairman Raul Khadjimba, Ankvab’s long-time rival, has said that he will not run. Ankvab is at reportedly at liberty to do so. In the August 2011 ballot in which Ankvab was elected to succeed Sergei Bagapsh, who had died in May, Khadjimba polled third with less than 20 percent of the vote. Khadjimba has since spearheaded several successive attempts to oust Ankvab, in February 2013, August 2013, and the current one launched in late April.

In the wake of Ankvab’s flight from the presidential administration building, the 11 political parties and movements aligned in the Coordinating Council created last summer declared the formation of a Provisional Council of Popular Trust, of which Khadjimba was appointed chairman. Initially, it was announced that the Provisional Council would name a provisional government within two days. On May 31, however, Khadjimba was quoted as saying that the opposition’s primary objective was to force Ankvab’s resignation, and “we don’t have time for cabinets and positions.” Khadjimba implied that the current cabinet would remain in office “until these political battles are over.”

The previous day, in an apparent attempt to rationalize the opposition’s actions, Khadjimba had argued that “there are two legitimate organs of power in Abkhazia, the parliament and the Provisional Council” which, Khadjimba claimed, is legitimate by virtue of having been endorsed by a popular gathering. That line of reasoning is difficult to reconcile with the Republic of Abkhazia constitution, Article 36 of which reads “all legislative authority established by this Constitution shall be exercised by the People's Assembly - the Parliament of the Republic of Abkhazia.”

True, Article 2 of the constitution declares that “the bearer of sovereignty and the only source of authority in the Republic of Abkhazia shall be its people - the citizens of the Republic of Abkhazia. The people shall exercise authority directly or through their representatives.” The constitution does not, however, make any reference to the practice of convening a popular gathering at times of crisis -- such as the standoff between supporters of rival candidates Bagapsh and Khadjimba following the first round of the 2004 presidential election. It certainly does not specifically acknowledge the legitimacy of such gatherings.

Bganba is scheduled to travel to Gudauta on June 1 to meet with Ankvab. Meanwhile, the pro-Ankvab political party Amtsakhara plans to convene a popular gathering in Gudauta on June 2 “in support of constitutional order.”
In a June 1 statement, Amtsakhara denounced as unconstitutional the parliament resolution naming Bganba acting president. It warned that the actions taken by the Provisional Council, which it claims lacks legitimacy, could “lead to unpredictable and catastrophic consequences disastrous for our people and our state.”

-- Liz Fuller

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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