On October 4, Abkhazia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) declared Raul Khajimba winner of the October 3 presidential election. Outgoing Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba had backed Khajimba’s candidacy. According to the CEC, Khajimba received 101,500 votes (52.84%), runner-up Sergei Bagapsh took 64,500 (33.58%), Sergei Shamba 19,050 (9.92%), Jakub Lakoba 5,259 (2.73%), and Anri Jergenia 1,800 (0.94%). The commission also made the surprising announcement that all earlier reports released through the newswires regarding preliminary results are not valid.
Information about the election results remains confusing. The numbers released by the media, which also gave Khajimba 53% of the vote, were reportedly direct from Abkhaz electoral officials. Early on October 4, a website attributed to the Abkhaz CEC even posted a graph showing the distribution of votes. But later that same day the graph was removed, and the CEC denied it even had a website at all.
Based on CEC data, 192,109 people cast votes for the five candidates. The turnout, according to CEC was 71%. These numbers are much higher than CEC data released in late August-early September, which put the total number of all voters in Abkhazia at around 160,000-180,000.
One day after the balloting, frontrunner Khajimba said that the elections had been marred with widespread irregularities. “The violations that took place yesterday prove that the elections were unfair and unjust,” Khajimba told RIA Novosti at an October 4 rally held in Abkhazia’s capital, Sukhumi. He said that violations were particularly acute in Gali District, which is mostly populated by ethnic Georgians. Khajimba said that voters there faced pressure and intimidation.
The chairman of the Abkhaz CEC, Sergei Smir, told a news briefing that the announcement of the election results had been delayed because two presidential candidates, Khajimba and Bagapsh, had filed complaints over the procedural violations reported during the voting on October 3.
The confusing reports about the results of the October 3 presidential elections have triggered confusion and embarrassment among Abkhazia’s opposition groups. Sergei Bagapsh, the main opposition candidate, has already challenged the validity of these results. According to Russian NTV, Bagapsh has claimed victory based on copies of documents received from district election commissions, which show that he received 56% of the vote. Backed by an alliance of three opposition parties, Bagapsh argues that he won an overwhelming majority but that the elections were rigged by his rival. Meanwhile, Interfax reported an exit poll by EGSUPD showing Khajimba winning 56 percent and Bagapsh trailing him with 25 percent.
The opposition has condemned the election results as rigged and demanded a recount of the votes. The Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that around 100 Bagapsh supporters gathered outside the CEC office in Sukhumi on October 4 and demanded that the officials publicize the election results. News agencies working in Abkhazia describe the current situation in the Abkhaz capital as “tense.”
The outcome of the elections has confirmed the pessimistic forecasts expressed shortly before the vote (see, EDM September 29). Georgian authorities and the international community unanimously dismissed the race as illegal. Nevertheless, in a statement issued on October 4, the Russian Foreign Ministry described presidential elections in Abkhazia as “calm” and “democratic” and expressed hope that the Abkhaz “elections” will encourage both the Georgian and Abkhazian sides to continue talks to resolve the ongoing separatist conflict.
The newly appointed chairman of the Tbilisi-based Abkhazian government-in-exile, Irakli Alasania, said on October 2 that supporters of Abkhaz presidential candidates might provoke tensions among the predominately Georgian population of the Gali district of Abkhazia and then accuse the Georgian side of trying to destabilize the situation there. “We want to declare openly that the Georgian authorities do not intend to organize any provocations in Abkhazia. However, any pressure on the Georgian population during the presidential elections [on October 3] will have an adequate reaction from Tbilisi,” Alasania told Tbilisi-based Imedi television on October 2. That same day, Georgian Ministry of State Security Vano Merabishvili told Rustavi-2 TV that Georgian forces are on alert and ready to protect the Georgian population of Gali from any violent actions by the Abkhaz.
Yesterday [October 4] some Georgian politicians and analysts made conflicting statements about Tbilisi’s preferences among the Abkhaz presidential hopefuls. “It makes no difference for authorities in Tbilisi which candidate will win the presidential elections in Abkhazia,” Giorgi Khaindrava, Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues, said. However, he added that it would be better if Khajimba wins. “When the positions of Georgia and Russia are approached, it will be easier to negotiate with Raul Khajimba, who is Russia’s favorite candidate,” he added. Meanwhile, Paata Zakareishvili, a prominent Georgian analyst of Abkhaz issues, prefers Bagapsh as the next leader of Abkhazia. “We must prefer Bagapsh to win the elections because Bagapsh is basically supported by nationalist groups and the part of population that is against Abkhazia’s integration into Russia,” he said.
The next few days will reveal whether the Abkhaz establishment can manage to reach a consensus or if the region will deteriorate into further political unrest.
(NTV, RIA-Novosti, Rustavi-2 TV, TV-Imedi, Civil Georgia, ORT, Interfax, October 3-4).