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

Opposition leader on course to win by-election in Sukhum

Last Sunday’s by-election in constituency no. 1 in Sukhum has been won by opposition leader Daur Arshba, who will compete with former Vice Speaker Irina Agrba in a run-off on 13 July.

The by-election became necessary after the appointment of MP (and businessman) Beslan Eshba to the post of Vice Premier on 30 April. Eshba had very nearly not been an MP himself, since the original election in March 2012 — in which he had not participated — had only been declared invalid after a recount established the turnout to have been 24,9 rather than 25,1%.

While parliamentary elections in Abkhazia have become more and more competitive during the last ten years, the current by-election drew a particular prominent set of candidates. Arshba, who is Chairman of the opposition Forum for the National Unity of Abkhazia, and former Vice Speaker Irina Agrba, were two of the most surprising losers of the 2012 elections and one will now enter Parliament after all. This makes Leonid Dzapshba the principal loser the first round of this by-election, scoring slightly fewer votes than Agrba (650 vs. 601 votes, 20.1 vs. 18.6%). Dzapshba was Interior Minister until the October 2011 inauguration of President Ankvab and is still under investigation for alleged embezzlement while in government, but he has not shied away from public life, recently founding his own opposition movement.

Dzapshba was in turn not too far ahead of Roman Tskua, who came in fourth place with 509 votes. The most disappointing result was perhaps attained by Roland Gamgia, who had won a plurality in the original, invalidated 2012 election, then came in second place in the re-run behind Eshba but who has now only received a paltry 9.9% fifth place. A sixth candidate, Nadir Bitiev, had run in the same constituency as Agrba in 2011 but now withdrew his candidacy shortly before election day. A seventh candidate, Lyuba Ashuba, came in last place with 22 votes (0,7%).

The close result for second place demonstrates the disadvantage of plurality-based electoral system (even with run-off) that the participation of several like-minded candidates can be detrimental to all due to vote-splitting. In the case at hand, Dzapshba and Tskua together gained more votes than winner Arshba (1043, 32.3%). By the same logic, Agrba may still win the run-off if she can get behind her the support of some of the other candidates, although past experience tells us the gap with Arshba is probably too large for that to happen.

Arshba’s present victory shows that the Forum for the National Unity of Abkhazia is gaining strength, following recent protests against rising energy prices and the liberal awarding of passports to Mingrelian residents in Gali District.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Elections, , ,

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