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

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.

Filed under: Abkhazia, ,

United Abkhazia’s move into opposition prompts exodus of members

Ever since the 2011 Presidential election, it was unclear whether United Abkhazia was still a government party. Unlike former President Bagapsh, Alexander Ankvab had never been a member, and its Chairman Daur Tarba did not return as Vice Premier in the new government. Moreover, United Abkhazia did not perform particularly well in the 2012 Parliamentary elections, returning only 3 of its 11 candidates (most seats were won by independents). Now, at the 5th national congress in which he was reelected as Chairman (and which followed a series of regional congresses), Tarba has announced that United Abkhazia is officially becoming an opposition party.

Even before the announcement, Vice President Mikhail Logua had renounced his membership, but in recent days a flood of officials has followed in his footsteps, including Vice Premier Alexander Stranichkin, five Out of seven governors, Mayor of Sukhum Alias Labakhua and all three of its MPs.

Both the number of officials that previously enjoyed membership of United Abkhazia, and the ease with which they now renounce it, illustrate to what extent United Abkhazia has simply been a party of power.

The two questions that now present themselves are whether United Abkhazia can survive and perhaps develop something akin to an ideology, and whether there will arise a new party of power. The recent announcement by veterans movement Amtsakhara that it would become a fully fledged political party has been interpreted as a move in precisely that direction. President Ankvab, Prime Minister Leonid Lakerbaia and First Vice Premier Indira Vardania are all members of Aitaira, but that party has been all but inactive since Ankvab became Prime Minister under Bagapsh in 2005.

The perseverance of United Abkhazia would be positive for the health of Abkhazian politics. With its well established party infrastructure, it has a real chance of becoming a third force besides the government and the old opposition led by Raul Khajimba.

In the meantime, United Abkhazia has condemned what it calls attempts by the government to discredit it.

Filed under: Abkhazia, ,

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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