Top Abkhaz officials vie for presidential post

(RIA Novosti / Valery Melnikov)
Presidential elections are being held in the Republic of Abkhazia on August 25. Two major candidates competing for the post told RT about the challenges Abkhazia is facing as well as their aspirations for their country’s future.

The poll scheduled for August 26 will be the fifth presidential election in Abkhazia’s history and the second since it was recognized as an independent state in 2008. Among the candidates are two top Abkhazian officials – acting President Aleksandr Ankvab and Prime Minister Sergey Shamba.

In exclusive interviews with RT, both candidates spoke candidly about the current state of affairs and as well as their plans to make their country more prosperous.

When asked if it was hard for Abkhazia to be an independent state, acting president Ankvab said that the most important thing was to ensure the security of the independent nation, a task which Abkhazia has succeeded in. “The most important thing is that following our country’s recognition, we’ve had its security ensured. Now all we need to do is get down to work, as there are a lot of things to be done for the country and the people,” Ankvab said. Prime Minister Shamba stressed that Abkhazian society was becoming more democratic. “Democracy is working its way into our society and so, each time, elections get more democratic, the public gets involved more actively, and so we expect a democratic process this time as well,” Sergey Shamba said.

Both candidates are top state officials and they both assured that the elections would be held in strict accordance with Abkhazian law and internationally accepted norms. However, while the acting president stressed that conformity with domestic laws was of primary importance, the prime minister said that there were plans to invite international monitors whose reports could help further development of the democratic procedures. “The observers reported that our previous election conformed to democratic standards, and that the election process was well thought-out, although there has been some feedback from the candidates on what could be improved, and it has been considered by parliament in order to make the election outcome even more reliable,” Prime Minister Shamba said.

When the officials were reminded of the political crisis that shook Abkhazia in 2004, they both said that the current situation is completely different and the election would never lead to any forms of confrontation other than civilized political ones. However, Prime Minister Shamba, who was leading the polls at the time the interview was conducted, warned of possible tensions if there are attempts to rig the vote.The acting president Ankvab disagreed, saying that such fears lacked any foundation. “We – I mean Abkhazian society – do not share the opinion of those who believe that this election will end up in some kind of confrontation. We have entirely different plans,” the official said.

Both candidates said that though Georgian policies were still extremely hostile, the unity within Abkhazian society and strong support from Russia assured that there was no imminent threat of a new conflict. “Abkhazia’s present legal standing allows us to say that any aggression will be repelled. Besides, the presence of Russian servicemen feeds our optimism about the future,” the acting president said. “We have a strategic partnership with Russia which defines our mutual obligations, it gives us reliable security guarantees, and our society has stopped considering the external threat to our security as a priority issue,” the Prime Minister agreed.

Speaking of the problem with Georgian refugees who are seeking to return to their homes in Abkhazia, both candidates agreed that the situation now is different than before, with refugees returning home and the Abkhazian government issuing passports to those who come back. However, Sergei Shamba said that the process of return was already finished and now it was time to concentrate on providing housing, while acting president Ankvab said that the process of return was still in full swing.

Also, both officials said their country was open to foreign investment, but added that Abkhazia was doing well in its current position, with most investment coming in from Russia. They also said that the Russian plans to build Olympic infrastructure in the city of Sochi, which is located quite close to Abkhazia, was a good opportunity to broaden economic cooperation between the two countries. At the same time, while the prime minister said that Abkhazia was successful in securing some Olympic contracts, the acting president expressed regret that the amount of cooperation in Olympic construction was negligible so far.

Watch the full video of RT's interview with acting President Aleksandr Ankvab:


­Watch the full video of RT's interview with Prime Minister Sergey Shamba: