December 12 is the day of Presidential elections in Abkhazia. The election campaign there is closely followed in Georgia. Vestnik Kavkaza talked about this issue with Gocha Gvaramia, representative of the Club of Experts and editor of the information and analytical website Georgia Online.
How calm are these elections going to be? In 2004 there was the fiercest confrontation between main rivals – Sergai Bagapsh and Raul Khajimba - who are once again main rivals in the presidential elections.
There is an increase flow of information in the Russian media about supposed activization of Georgian security services who are sending agents in Abkhazia. For example, there was information that a large arsenal of hidden arms was found in a village of Sakeni (Kodori gorge in Abkhazia). This is an indication that situation will become more tense. But I think that processes will not be as dramatic as they were back in 2004. Now in Abkhazia everybody and everything is controlled by Russian militaries and FSB and Russia is determined to demonstrate to the whole world that Abkhazia is a new democratic country. Therefore they will try to avoid incidents.
Can you name main rivals in these elections?
The main rivals again will be Raul Khajimba and Sergei Bagapsh. The Kremlin will not interfere openly and officially in the rivalry. As I already mentioned, they are trying to show that Abkhazia is a sovereign democratic country and they (Russia) does not intend to interfere in their internal affairs and that people of Abkhazia has ability and possibility to independently express its will. But I would remind here that in Spring 20034, before the elections Vladimir Putin officially awarded Khajimba with a title of FSB general and publicly congratulated him on that. So Vladimir Putin will undoubtedly support his colleague chekist. But it is unlikely that this support will be openly paraded. Also Khajimba's position has changed in some ways. During the last elections he was for Abkhazia joining the Russian federation. That's why Abkhazians did not vote for him. Today the opposite is right - Khaijmba is trying to declamatorily distance himself from Russia and pro-Russian policies of Bagapsh. But in any case, he will pursue the Kremlin policy. So, to say the truth, now Moscow does not care who the winner will be. The only thing is to prove that Abkhazia has a democratically elected president.
What can you say about the third candidate – businessman Beslan Butba?
Today Butba is in Bagapsh's opposition. So if there is a second round between Khajimba and Bagapsh then Butba will enter into negotiations with Khajimba who might be able to offer him a post in a future government in case of his victory. That means that they might unite against Bagapsh.
Who will Georgian population support?
According to the current Abkhazian legislation Georgian population of Gali district of Abkhazia do not have a right to vote without Abkhazian passports. Only around 3 000 people in Gali today have passports of Abkhazian citizens. That means that the rest of the population is deprived of a right to vote. Until now it was possible in Abkhazia to vote using old Soviet passports but now this norm/regulation is overruled. The Parliament of Abkhazia approved a law according to which only new Abkhazian passport holders have a right to vote.
How favourable all this will be for Khajimba? We know that almost the entire population of Gali voted for Bagapsh in the 2004 election.
Naturally, this situation is more favourable for Khajimba than Bagapsh. It was the population of Gali that decided the fate of the elections in 2004. It is not a coincidence that issue of whether to give residents of Gali Abkhazian passports or not caused such uproar in Abkhazia. Abkhazian elite are not entirely sure who Georgian population of Gali will vote for - Georgians who amount to the fourth part of the entire electorate of Abkhazia. Abkhazian opposition is convinced that residents of Gali will vote for Bagapsh. Therefore they are trying to exclude population of Gali from electorate list, to not issue passports to them refusing them a right to express their view only because they are ethnic Georgians.