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

Abkhazian local elections show lack of competitiveness outside Sukhum, Gagra and Gudauta

Abkhazian democracy has many weaknesses, but presidential and parliamentary elections during the last 10 years stood out for their high level of competitiveness. The recent local elections, held on February the 12th, illustrate how uneven Abkhazia’s development has been.

Voters elected the fifth convocations of the local assemblies of Abkhazia’s districts and the capital Sukhum, in single seat constituencies, according to the first-past-the-post system also used for the United Kingdom’s Lower House. From the elected deputies, President Sergei Bagapsh then appointed the district heads and the mayors of the city of Sukhum and the towns of Novii Afon and Pitsunda, so effectively the current heads of the executives also stood for re-election.

The results varied greatly from region to region.

On the one hand, 85 candidates competed for 26 seats in Sukhum, with as many as 8 candidates competing for one seat in constituency #25. Only 15 incumbent deputies stood for re-election, and only 5 of these succeeded (including incumbent Mayor Alias Labakhua). Ruling party United Abkhazia fielded candidates in all constituencies, but only won in 16. Some 20% of the candidates were aged between 20 and 25. And when the first meeting of the new assembly attempted to elect a new chairman, the vote resulted in a draw and had to be rescheduled.

On the other hand, none of the 26 seats in the Gali District were contested by more than one candidate. All 26 candidates were nominated by United Abkhazia. And only a minority of the population enjoyed the right to vote, since only a minority holds Abkhazian citizenship.

The other districts rank somewhere in between these two extremes. In the Gagra and Gudauta Districts, there were 61 and 59 candidates for respectively 25 and 29 seats. The head of the Gudauta District Daur Vozba actually failed to be re-elected, losing by 92 votes. But in the Sukhum, Ochamchira, Gulripsh and Tkuarchal Districts, a significant number of constituencies went uncontested.

There were also negative trends affecting all regions, such as the scarcity of female candidates. Sukhum’s new City Council does not contain a single female deputy. Another general problem was the apathy of the opposition parties, none of which had nominated candidates, preferring instead to back individual independent candidates. And while the high turn-over rate of deputies in Sukhum and the large number of very young candidates can be seen as a positive fact, some commentators think that it could also point to candidates mostly seeing the job as a good business-opportunity.

There was also a curious detail to the election in Sukhum: the new secretary of the City Council is none other than Astamur Adleiba. Adleiba had been appointed mayor by President Bagapsh after the latter was first elected in 2005. But in 2007, while Bagapsh was in Moscow for medical treatment, it emerged that Adleiba and some other municipal officials had embezzled large sums of money. At the time, it was thought that perhaps the scandal had intentionally been brought to light by Vice President Raul Khajimba to discredit Bagapsh. In any case, Adleiba was dismissed as mayor, had to repay 200,000 rubles and eventually resigned as deputy of the City Council. Now he has again been elected, on a United Abkhazia ticket.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Elections, , , , ,

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