On August 26th extraordinary "presidential" elections were held in occupied Abkhazia. These elections were caused by the death of leader of the puppet regime Sergei Bagapsh, in which, according to available information, the hand of Russia is clearly seen. The population of Abkhazia, which in summer is usually focused on resort problems, had to engage in political battles. Three candidates aspired to the post of leader – Alexander Ankvab, who after the death of Bagapsh performed his duties, Sergey Shamba, head of the puppet government and opposition candidate Raul Khajimba, who did not quite got to becoming the "president" in 2004. This year, as it is already known, the chair of "president" of Abkhazia will be taken by Alexander Ankvab.
Two out of these three candidates came to the elections from the government. Therefore, probability of use of administrative resources in these elections was quite high. The third candidate (Khajimba) had long been in opposition, had a stable number of voters, was considered the successor of the ideology of Ardzinba and came from nationalist positions. Interest towards the elections was caused by one thing - what ideology, what values would win and what demands the Abkhazian society had. There are no two opinions about the fact that the elections were illegitimate and it was carried out without participation of the population that were expelled as a result of the ethnic cleansing. There was no doubt that whoever would win, the prospect of warming of the Georgian-Abkhazian relations would not increase, because all candidates were coming from the pro-Russian positions, they could not see Abkhazia without Russia and spoke only of "good-neighbourly" relations with Tbilisi.
At the beginning of the election race Sergei Shamba and Alexander Ankvab had pretty good positions. We also note that compared to 2004 Khajimba had significantly lost poisitons. He has almost no chance of winning. With regards to him the interesting thing was whether he retained his contingent of his supporters or not. At the same time Khajimba was interesting because if it was to be the second round of elections his supporters could have decided the fate of the election.
Shamba began her campaign quite actively. First, he waited 40 days to pass from the death of Bagapsh and only then began his official campaign. This should have had a positive effect on his image. After that, choosing the right strategy Shamba began to hold meetings with groups that would guarantee him victory. Such group was primarily considered to be Armenian population of Abkhazia, as Georgians, compared to 2004, had limited resources to support any candidate. We should remind that since it was Georgian votes that decided the fate of the election in 2004, it was decided to limit their participation in elections by allowing to take part in the elections only that part that had "Abkhazian passports." And such people were only around 8000 in the Gali district. Thus their votes could not have become decisive.
Neither Ankvab sat around idly. Despite the fact that he had administrative resources that would have been definitely used by him his team actively held meetings with voters. His rivals were spreading rumours that allegedly members of his team were paying voters for their votes; however there was no determined information on this point. Ankvab did not disregard Georgian population of the Gali district. During campaigning there headquarters of Ankvab urged Georgians to get "Abkhazian passports" as quickly as possible to have opportunity to take part in determining the path of future development of Abkhazia. It should be noted that other candidates also encouraged Georgians to obtain passports and that to a large extent determined the victory of Ankvab.
At the starting position chances of Shamba looked more solid. Moreover, his team was pursuing an aggressive to a certain extent campaign. By early August few doubted that Shamba would win. But ... he, his team and his Moscow lobbyists made serious mistakes resulting in solid victory of Ankvab.
Russian Moskovskaya Pravda interview with former Georgian Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani in which he accused Ankvab of cooperation with the Georgian special services during the war of 1992-1993 was like a strike of thunder for the Abkhazian society. The purpose of the spread of this propagandistic material is clear. It aimed at dealing a serious blow to the image of Shamba's main rival, at setting people against him, or even completely eliminating him from the campaign after which chances of Shamba would have doubled. In any case, by recalling the past the Shamba team tried to play "Georgian card" against Ankvab where name of Vladislav Ardzinba was used. As it is known Ankvab and Ardzinba had disagreements in connection with the war period. That was the question the Shamba team decided to raise anew. It should be also noted that Shamba cannot be altogether blamed for starting this smear campaign. Or rather, it looks more like a style of those Russian lobbyists, who were behind the Shamba team and who were willing to go to any lengths for Shamba to win. As some noted it was the same lobbying group that "sunk" Raul Khajimba in 2004 - brothers Kolesnikov and PR group of Beslan Butba. Russian publications such as the Moskovsky Komsomolets and its journalist, propagandist Marina Perevozkina who was awarded with a medal by Eduard Kokoity, emerged as defenders of interests of Shamba.
Dirty methods of political struggle provoked a backlash. Abkhazian society deemed playing the "Georgian card" unacceptable. It condemned Shamba's tricks and accused him of running the dirty campaign. Besides, it was not just an expression of dissatisfaction of society. Answers were demanded of Shamba. Members of the old and the new convocation of the parliament summoned all three candidates and demanded answers from them for those processes that have caused tension in the society. It was Shamba who was having the worst time. It was his team that picked up the statement of Kitovani, gathered veterans that lived in different parts of Abkhazia in the centre of Sukhumi and publicly showed interview of the former Georgian minister directed against Ankvab. Shamba had to justify himself and say that he did not do it and it was the doing of his team. This was followed by fair question of parliamentarian Irina Agrba that if he could not control his staff, how he would control the entire country. After the meeting it became known that Shamba confessed with regards to the Kitovani statement: "It was an order, but it did not come from Sukhumi." Given this, it became clear that the Shamba campaign was controlled from Moscow. Since one of the PR managers of his team was one of the brothers Kolesnikov, it seems that his team also was controlled from Moscow. Accordingly, all this mud throwing which was used by the Shamba team was work of those people who are not familiar with the Abkhazian mentality, who do not understand Abkhazian reality and acted upon their usual dirty methods accepted in Russian reality. Because of this, many have turned away from Sergei Shamba. It should be noted that statements in support of Ankvab were made by "grandees" of the Abkhazian deputation - Socrat Jinjolia, Stanislav Lakoba, Oleg Damenia, Leonid Lakerbaya and a number of well-known names. And although some members of the parliament (old and new convocation) supported Khajimba, none of them supported Shamba.
One of the mistakes of Sergei Shamba was that he lost support of the former ruling party of Abkhazia the Edynaya Abkhazia Party. Originally, this party was seen as a supporter of Shamba. Information was coming from behind the scene that they have already reached an agreement among them but suddenly the party supported Ankvab. It was the first bomb in the election campaign. The second one was support of the organization of Abkhazian veterans "Amtsakhara" of direct competitor of Shamba - Ankvab. Although this fact is less surprising since "Amtsakhara" was a force that, to some extent and along with the Georgian factor, ensured the victory of Sergei Bagapsh in the previous elections. But Bagapsh's victory was achieved due to the image of Ankvab and his efforts. Accordingly, it is not at all surprising that "Amtsakhara" remained loyal to Ankvab. We can consider erroneous manipulation of figures on the part of Shamba (as though he was supported by 47.7 % of population) and his threats of revolution if he was to lose the elections. The population of Abkhazia is fed up with revolutions and this statement caused great dissatisfaction among them.
Another major mistake made by Shamba in his campaign was a statement that was as follows: when I come, I will remove all officials. Thus he forced all officials to use administrative resources or various other methods to retain their positions. We emphasize that while Shamba maintained that the only threat coming from his main rival was that he could use administrative resource, his statement was a huge mistake. And though later Shamba said that he made the statement not accidentally, but deliberately to refuse administrative resources, it's more like a lie. Otherwise, it is not clear what Shamba expected in the elections. Russian and pro-Russian population of Abkhazia was considered as his supporters. He was supported by an organization such as "Officers of Russia." He was also supported by Cossacks, but later it became known that the statement was false and the union of Cossacks of Russia denied that they supported Shamba. Armenian community, with the exception of some of their leaders, who worked directly in the Shamba camp, expressed support for Ankvab. The most surprising thing was that there was not one veteran organization that would support Shamba, who during the war served as "deputy defence minister," and who was head of the ideological hotbed of Abkhazian separatism "Aidgilara." he only got support of around a hundred Abkhazian veterans. Then what did he hope for? Only Russia's support? Two weeks before the election, the election situation in Abkhazia changed dramatically and in the last few days it became clear that Shamba had no support.
Raul Khajimba, as we have already noted, got "his" 20% and, in principle, should be pleased with this. His election campaign was not very grand and it was overshadowed by the Shamba-Ankvab clash. Khajimba was not visible, he was not using the media, was focused mainly on nationalist (though in Abkhazia they call it patriotism) orientated masses, used to say during his campaign that all ethnic groups are equal, but Abkhazians are above them all as they do not have another homeland. Khajimba did not claimed to have any administrative resource, neither had he unlimited financial resources, and at the same time he tried to conduct his campaign quite honestly and worthily. Of course, one cannot even dream about winning in such circumstances. However, it would be a good lesson for him. We also note that neither inclusion of Ardzinba's wife in his team helped him, as we assumed before. And hope that population would support Ardzinba's wife just because of her name was a mistake. Elections have shown that Ardzinba already belongs to the history.
As for Ankvab, a number of interesting processes developed around him. We have already mentioned troubles associated with the Kitovani statement. This gave Ankvab additional supporters, as opposed to the assumptions of Russian lobbyists of Shamba. PR campaign against Ankvab was a precondition for his victory. A great part in this was played by those Russian journalists, who almost daily tried to pour dirt on Ankvab in favour of Shamba. He was reminded about Ardzinba, and then about Lominadze ... Shamba even tried to use against him the fact that Georgian politicians, former Georgian officials, experts and the media called Ankvab a decent and honest man, as if he was a traitor, just because Georgians said good words about him. Journalist and Shamba's great supporter Marina Perevozkina kept pace with him. There was nothing that she did not thought of to complete the task; she used every forged material and analysis that had nothing in it against Ankvab other than confirmation that he really is a worthy and honest person. Perevozkina left no statement of the Club of Experts uncommented. We do not consider it necessary to comment on those fantasies that Perevozkina used against us, as the population of Abkhazia already gave a clear answer to them. Moreover, Ankvab showed dignity in these elections and it was mentioned many times in his rival camps. That is why personal qualities such as honour and dignity are appreciated in Tbilisi, as well as in Sukhumi or Grozny. But Russian journalists cannot understand and perceive the Caucasus in general.
All political processes show attitude of society and its needs. These elections were not exception either and they make it possible to draw certain conclusions. The most important conclusion to be drawn on the results of these elections is that the ideology of deified in Abkhazia Vladislav Ardzinba has ended. This is the end of that violent separatist ideology that Abkhazians have been using for the past 20 years were and on which their so-called "Independence" was built. the elections was once again won by Ardzinba's rival camp and this indicates that the Abkhazian society is fed up with playing "Georgian card", it is fed up with tensions, they want peace and stability, they need a steady hand to stop lawlessness of criminal clans. They just want to live, work, raise children and be happy like everyone in the world. Therefore, the defeat of Khajimba (who acted in tandem with Ardzinba's widow) and Shamba (whose campaign was based on the ideology of "Aidgilara") is the beginning of the destruction of the ideological foundations which led to Abkhazians' being "independent" minority. But even then this is independence when even their own fate does not depend on them.
It should be noted that and a special role in this election was also played by Armenian and Georgian population. If everyone understood importance of the first from the beginning, importance of Georgians was taken into account to a lesser extent, due to reasons which we have already mentioned above. But it was the fact of Georgian population acquiring "passports", their support for Ankvab that played a quite interesting role in this election.
In general, these processes have shown that non-Abkhazian population supported stability. As we have already noted, Khajimba was coming from the nationalist positions, so he should not have laid great hopes on non-Abkhazian population. Armenians of Abkhazia, as we know, are fully engaged in the service sector, whether it concerns receiving tourists, their transportation services, or etc. They do not want war, they want money. And money loves peace, they say. At the same time they got pretty fed up with lawlessness of Abkhazian criminals, increasing number of drug addicts and thieves, and by supporting Ankvab they expressed hope that it all would come to an end. The main thing for the Georgian population is peace and stability, so that they are not robbed, that they can have normal development, that they have ability of free movement into the Georgian-controlled territory as Ankvab promised them, so they can learn and develop in their native language. For all these 20 years, the most affected was the Georgian population of Gali district. Just during the period of deployment of the Russian peacekeepers over two thousand Georgians were killed. They are absolutely powerless, and have been living in the status of third-rate people for the past 20 years in conditions of daily fear. Another interesting fact is that part of Russians also supported Ankvab, for example, in the mountainous village of Pskhu.
For us this election changes nothing. No matter who will be a Russian puppet in Abkhazia – Ankvab, Shamba or Khajimba the issue of territorial integrity of Georgia remains open and we should not hope for any warming of relations. However, it should be noted that rivalry is always more attractive with a worthy person than unworthy one. Unfortunately, this worthy person has little saying in the painful for us question and nothing depends on him since any move against Russia's interests may result in the same things that happened to Bagapsh. It will be good if this worthy man at least let Georgians living there feel that they are not third-rate people and will ensure their safety.