Abkhaz Opposition Names Presidential Candidate

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 58

The upcoming October 3 presidential election in the self-proclaimed republic of Abkhazia has caused a flurry of re-grouping among local political forces. The incumbent, Vladislav Ardzinba, cannot run for another term. New candidates are declaring their intentions and the front-runners seem to change daily.

Sergei Shamba, the former foreign minister of Abkhazia, was considered one of the strongest presidential hopefuls, as he was openly backed by at least two influential Abkhaz organizations: Amtsakhara and United Abkhazia (see EDM, June 25).

However, on July 20, the Abkhaz news agency Apsny-Press reported that United Abkhazia had officially nominated Sergei Bagapsh as its presidential candidate.

After the meeting, Shamba held a small press conference to announce that despite differing opinions, United Abkhazia had decided to nominate Bagapsh as its candidate for the presidency and Stanislav Lakoba as its candidate for prime minister. Shamba endorsed the decision to nominate Bagapsh and also declared that he is not going to leave politics despite his disappointment at not being his party’s candidate. “I’m not embarrassed that United Abkhazia has not supported me as a presidential candidate. Although some circles still offer me the chance to run for president as the candidate of an initiative group, my decision is not to participate in the elections as a candidate to president,” he revealed (Interpress, Resonance July 21).

Another influential Abkhaz organization, Amtsakhara, which together with United Abkhazia is a member of the coordinating council established to consolidate political forces opposing Ardzinba’s rule, has not officially endorsed the Bagapsh-Lakoba ticket yet, but sources say that it will do so at its next congress, scheduled for August (Interpress, July 21).

Although Shamba has put on a brave face and claims he will stay in politics, sources close to the Abkhaz ruling circles say that United Abkhazia and its allies have actually left Shamba with nothing. If Bagapsh wins, Shamba will be sidelined and eventually removed from Abkhaz politics altogether.

Sergei Bagapsh is currently the chief of the Abkhazian energy company ChernoMorEnergo. He represents the influential Ochamchire clan of the Abkhaz establishment, which has always pursued a moderate agenda with regard to Georgia and ethnic Georgians, unlike the influential but extremist Gudauta Clan, which Shamba represents. Bagapsh embraced the secessionist agenda while in the government, but he also stood willing to enter constructive negotiations with Tbilisi. Georgian government leaders have always considered Bagapsh as a moderate, compared to hardliners such as Shamba.

Meanwhile, Tbilisi appears to be accommodating some of the demands made by the Abkhazian leaders. The Georgian parliament has called an extraordinary session for August, during which it will revoke the mandate of the exiled pro-Georgian Abkhaz deputies. Twelve parliamentary slots designated for Abkhazia have been automatically renewed since 1992, when they were elected. This delegation, like the government-in-exile, has stood as a symbolic alternative to the separatists’ own government and parliament in Sokhumi. The Abkhaz separatists have continuously demanded that Tbilisi abolish the ousted pro-Georgian government and parliament, making it a precondition for productive peace talks (Resonance, July 21).

This unexpected shift in the Abkhaz political terrain, coming so near to the presidential elections, suggests that hard-line separatist leaders like Ardzinba and Shamba are losing their popular appeal.

As other Abkhaz political and public organizations declare their presidential preferences in August, they will help decide the future of Shamba and the hard-line secessionist movement.