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Analysis, book reviews and photography from Abkhazia and the wider Caucasus — updates when time permits

The meandering political career of Sergei Shamba

The politics of Abkhazia revolve around individual politicians and temporary alliances, and less around political parties and ideological current. The run-up to the recent Presidential election in Abkhazia added another chapter to the already very interesting post-Soviet political career of Sergei Shamba.

Sergei Shamba first became Foreign Minister in May 1997, under former President Vladislav Ardzinba. In May 2004 he was among the group of (former) government members who founded the opposition party United Abkhazia, and he subsequently resigned from his position as minister. According to an interview Shamba gave at the time, the original plan was for him and Sergei Bagapsh to be United Abkhazia’s Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates for the election of 3 October 2004. But United Abkhazia entered into an electoral alliance with Amtsakhara, and the combination nominated Bagapsh and Amtsakhara’s Stanislav Lakoba.

Shamba then participated in the election independently, coming in third place, behind Bagapsh and Prime Minister Raul Khajimba, who had the outgoing government’s support. During the post-election stand off between Bagapsh and Khajimba, Shamba presented himself as the  third-way candidate, founding his own Social-Democratic Party and at one point even calling upon both candidates to withdraw in favour of someone unaffiliated, presumably himself. In the end Bagapsh and Khajimba agreed to share power and to run as one team in a new election to be held on 12 January 2005.

This seemed to spell the end of Shamba’s ambitions, even though Ardzinba had again appointed him as Foreign Minister on 15 December. Bagapsh did not want to keep Shamba in his post, preferring Natella Aqaba, head of the NGO Association of Women of Abkhazia. But under the power sharing accord, appointing the foreign Minister was Khajimba’s prerogative, and Khajimba was already angry that his preferences had been ignored for some of the other cabinet positions. In the end Bagapsh submitted to the pressure from both American and Russian officials who were content to deal with Shamba in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict negotiations.

Given the above history, it would have seemed that Shamba was now a political ally of Khajimba. Indeed, Shamba’s Social-Democratic Party stayed in opposition, even officially joining the Forum for the National Unity of Abkhazia, bundling those forces which had supported Khajimba in the election. However, during the following five years Shamba again shifted position. Much of the opposition criticism in the run-up to the 12 December 2009 Presidential election regarded the government’s foreign policy. Shamba clearly dismissed this criticism and he stayed on when Khajimba resigned on 28 May.

Shamba’s long tenure as foreign minister both under Ardzinba and Bagapsh has made him the politician with the most government experience in Abkhazia. There was some speculation that he might have another go at the presidency in this election. Instead, Shamba seems to have kept totally silent throughout the entire election period, thus tacidly supporting Bagapsh. The two will probably have agreed on this beforehand in return for Shamba being allowed to stay on as Foreign Minister. Bagapsh might then support Shamba in the next presidential election, Bagapsh himself being constitutionally barred from a third term.

As an interesting footnote to this story, Shamba seems to have parted ways with his Social-Democratic Party, even though at the time of its founding he seemed to be its principal sponsor. In the end, the Forum for the National Unity of Abkhazia did not subsume the various movements it intended to unite, instead becoming a seperate political party. Still, the Social-Democratic Party has consistently joined the Forum in its government criticism. Its principal figure now seems to its chairman Gennadi Alamia, who during the Soviet period was a poet and an activist for Abkhazian separation from Georgia and who served as chief of staff of the army after independence.

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