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Sergei Shamba elected chairman of United Abkhazia

At its sixth congress, held on 27 January, United Abkhazia elected as its chairman veteran politician Sergei Shamba.

Shamba, who was one of the Perestroika-era leaders of the National Forum Aidgylara, has been an independent political force since the 2004 presidential election. After seven years as Minister for Foreign Affairs, Shamba was to have been Sergei Bagapsh’s running mate, but had to relinquish that position to Stanislav Lakoba after United Abkhazia’s alliance with Amtsakhara. He subsequently decided to run for President instead, founding his own Social-Democratic Party. As a result of the power sharing deal between Bagapsh and Raul Khajimba, he rejoined the government as Foreign Minister, and no longer really needed the Social-Democratic Party, which dissolved into the opposition Forum for the National Unity of Abkhazia. (Aitaira similarly faded out of existence after Alexander Ankvab and Leonid Lakerbaia became Prime Minister and Vice Premier under Bagapsh.)

Shamba went on to become Prime Minister during Bagapsh’s second term but lost to Ankvab the 2011 presidential election that followed Bagapsh’s death. This was Shamba’s last opportunity, due to the presidential age limit of 65, and he subsequently retired from active politics. Shamba himself declared that he wanted to make way for younger politicians, hoping that Abkhazia had entered a new phase of sustained development and conflict-free transfers of power.

Shamba returned as one of the leaders of the protests that forced Ankvab to resign in May 2014. In December of that year, he was narrowly by-elected into Parliament, where he became the leader of a seven member-strong faction (out of 35). As chairman of United Abkhazia, he can reinforce his influence with a political party that has an existing machinery and quite extensive membership.

United Abkhazia was founded in 2004 by a number of prominent former government members. It became the ruling party after the election of Bagapsh, but went into opposition after Ankvab became President. Since then, it has been struggling to stay relevant. It supported the revolution against Ankvab, but remained outside the center of power (even though its original chairman Artur Mikvabia is currently Prime Minister) and doesn’t offer any clear political vision apart from the memory of Sergei Bagapsh.

United Abkhazia was in need of a new chairman since Daur Tarba resigned in October, perhaps specifically to make room for Shamba. The election of Shamba seems a classic case of a political party looking for popularity and a strong, well known individual politician finding each other.

United Abkhazia is formally the sister party of United Russia (and Unity in South Ossetia). That relationship never had much substance, but with Shamba at its head, who in Parliament has voiced support for concessions to Russia, it could develop into becoming the most pro-Russian party of Abkhazia.

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