Abkhazia to vote for new parliament

Voters in Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia will be electing a new parliament on Sunday. Some 119 candidates are competing for 35 seats. More than 100 independent observers will be monitoring the election.

Abkhazia is unrecognised internationally as a state. It broke away from Georgia after an armed conflict in the early 1990s.

There are no rallying crowds and not much visible campaigning, but the region is ready to go to the polls.

‘We had no particular difficulties – just the usual hassle, getting the polling stations ready, checking the electoral lists. We have prepared leaflets for members of local electoral commissions so that they know exactly what to do,’ Batal Tabagua, the Chairman of the Central Election Committee of Abkhazia, says.

A part of Georgia since the 1930s, Abkhazia was once a prime holiday spot for the Soviet elite.

When the USSR disintegrated, calls for a break with Tbilisi grew strong. In 1992 Georgia sent troops to enforce the status quo. They were driven out the following year amid bloody fighting called here the Patriotic War. Abkhazia declared independence, but has never been internationally recognised.

‘This election is an important step towards establishing this state. As Abkhazia is unrecognised, they are much more than simply choosing the legislators. More than a hundred international observers will be coming. The interest is huge, taking into account what is happening in Kosovo now. Everything is seen in the context of legitimisation of the self-proclaimed states,’ Oleg Sapozhnikov, Managing Director of Free Europe Fund, comments.

No settlement with Georgia’s been reached and peace is fragile. Russian tourists are returning. But the border-crossing with Russia remains Abkhazia’s only link to the outside world.

The candidates for the single chamber Parliament are elected in single seat constituencies. The competition is tough, but analysts say the voters aren’t actually offered much choice.  

‘I wouldn’t say that the programmes of different movements or candidates are very much different. I would say that most of the programmes are based on the same principles, on the same slogans. Because we are a very small country and everybody knows everybody, the voters will choose the candidates based on what they do rather than what they say,’ Liana Kvarchelia, the Deputy Director of the Center for Humanitarian Programmes, states.

Batal Kobakhia is one of the candidates. He wants to strengthen security, fight corruption and reform education and healthcare. He also wants one thing all candidates have in common.

‘I see my main goal in this parliament as achieving international recognition of our independence. It is important for us to show the whole world and our neighbors, Russia and Georgia, that we are a civilised country, that our civil society institutions are working, that we have an opposition. These are the main signs that a country has fulfilled itself,’ he stresses.

 The upcoming election is seen as another step towards proving to the world that Abkhazia can and will one day take its place on the map as a fully-fledged sovereign state.