Abkhazia Gets Recognition Boost After Poll

Bagapsh says his re-election showed Abkhaz desire to be independent.

Abkhazia Gets Recognition Boost After Poll

Bagapsh says his re-election showed Abkhaz desire to be independent.

Monday, 21 December, 2009

In the wake of his re-election as president of Abkhazia, Sergei Bagapsh declared his victory was proof that Abkhaz were united in their desire to build a strong, independent state.

Two days after the election results were announced on December 13, the Pacific island nation of Nauru recognised Abkhazia’s independence, becoming only the fourth country to do so, and bolstering Bagapsh’s defiance of Georgian claims to Abkhazia.

“For our country this is not just the election of a president, it is the choice of a course,” Bagapsh told reporters.

The territory of little more than 200,000 people broke free of Tbilisi’s control in a brutal 1992-3 conflict, and was isolated until Moscow recognised its independence last year. Russia now controls the Abkhazian border with Georgia, and has military personnel in the country, meaning Tbilisi considers it to be occupied.

Bagapsh, who was elected president for the first time five years ago, easily defeated his four opponents. He received 61 per cent, well ahead of Raul Khadzhimba, his former vice president, who came second with just 15 per cent.

Stanislav Lakoba, an Abkhazian historian, said that in voting for Bagapsh, people were voting to maintain calm. The 2004 election led to a lengthy stand-off between Khadzhimba and Bagapsh’s supporters, which was only ended when they ran again on a united ticket.

“Everyone is interested in the country being calm,” he said. “The country needs now serious changes, starting with personnel, ending with programmes of socio-economic development, which have not been started yet. We need decisive steps to avoid stagnation in society. Without significant changes society will stagnate, and the government won’t be able to do anything.”

Some outside observers had speculated that the unrest that followed the elections five years ago could be repeated, and Khadzhimba has yet to concede defeat so there is still a chance of protests.

“I do not think that the elections were honest. Hundreds of people saw violations of the law, which reflect the use of the [government’s] administrative resource. I do not think Bagapsh enjoyed an honest victory, and therefore I have no reason to congratulate him or the people. That would be hypocrisy,” Khadzhimba said.

However, his main support – which came from groups of veterans of the 1992-3 war who feel they are marginalised from government – said they would not contest the result, suggesting Abkhazia will remain calm.

Aruaa, a veterans’ organisation, said the elections had been marred by fraud but said campaigning against the result would do more harm than good. However, Aruaa warned Bagapsh against allowing back any of the Georgians who fled Abkhazia in 1993.

Refugees from Abkhazia live all over Georgia, and the government in Tbilisi insists they must be allowed back to their previous homes.

“We will with all our strength oppose the government in any projects aimed at selling our national property, at changing the demographic situation in favour of a country with which we are in a state of war,” Aruaa said.

Leila Taniya, an Abkhaz political commentator, said the most pressing priority was a campaign against official corruption, but that Bagapsh would be reluctant to launch such a crackdown because it was likely to unsettle his administration.

Other analysts said the government needed to reduce the size of the state bureaucracy and bring in fresh faces to run the country but this was also unlikely to be implemented for the same reason.

Corruption and inefficiency were strangling the economy, they said, meaning they were hindering officials' promises to rebuild schools, hospitals and the rest of the infrastructure, which has crumbled after almost two decades without repairs.

The government of Abkhazia, where the wounds of the war are still visible in ruined houses and depopulated villages, received a welcome boost, however, with Nauru’s recognition. A delegation from the country, which is the smallest island nation in the world, visited Abkhazia directly after the elections. Russia later said that it could expand ties with Nauru following its move, according to the Associated Press news agency.

In a statement, Bagapsh stressed the importance of international recognition as a way of establishing legitimacy.

“The more UN member countries that recognise Abkhazia, the stronger our sovereignty becomes. For us, that strength enables us to plan for the future rather than to fear ever returning to the past. That is reality, and it is irreversible.”

Anaid Gogorian is a correspondent with Chegemskaya Pravda.

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