August 25, 2011

UNPO Abkhazia Election Observation Guide Provides Background on Presidential Elections

In concert with the UNPO's recently deployed Election Observation Mission to Abkhazia, the organization has released a guide to 2011 Presidential Elections that provides pertinent information on Abkhazia's history, government structure and electoral system.  It also presents media observation of the candidates and election issues running up to the 26 August election.

State in the Balance: A Primer on Abkhazia’s Independence

Situated on the Eastern shore of the Black Sea coast, Abkhazia is a territory whose efforts towards international recognition as an independent state have been curtailed by reticence from the international community.  Although the state claimed independence from Georgia in 1992, foreign governments and organizations alike continue to support maintenance of Georgia’s supposed territorial integrity.  As a result, Georgia maintains a ‘Government of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia’ although this body enjoys little, if any, legitimacy within Abkhazia.  The dual territorial and national claims on the region have led to several violent episodes in the last two decades.   Since the four day Russo-Georgian War in 2008 the region has been relatively stable, although regional tensions continue to aggravate the situation in the South Caucasus.  

Due to the unexpected death of President Sergey Bagapsh on 29 May 2011, Abkhazia will hold a special presidential election on 26 August 2011.  The Central Election Commission (TsIK) cited the Constitution of Abkhazia in its decision to hold elections three months after Bagapsh’s passing which also marks the third anniversary of the Russian Federation’s formal recognition of Abkhazia.

The presidential elections represent an important step in Abkhazia’s development as a stable state.  The normative structure in which this election will take place signals Abkhazia’s enduring commitment to the democratic process.  Citizen participation in politics is vital to a strong democratic sentiment and the emergence of Abkhaz civil society as well as a demonstrated reliance on the tenets of good governance strengthens Abkhazian assertions of independence. 

Abkhazia’s close economic and, more recently, military partnership with Russia will be a key factor in this election.  Abkhazian attitudes on this relationship are mixed.  Some citizens perceive the relationship to be one-sided and fear that growing dependence will compromise Sukhum’s actual power.  Other groups, however, believe that the benefits of Russian friendship and recognition far outweigh the costs.  While the last election proved that Kremlin support is not the sole factor Abkhazian voters consider, the regional dimension will certainly influence the election results.

A shift towards a multiparty system has been observed in elections dating to 2005.  In 2008, the Central Election Committee (TsIK) decided that while presidential nominations could still be posited by initiative groups, candidates must legitimize their candidacy via membership in a political party.  Three candidates have been nominated for the position and they are supported respectively by the Forum of the National Unity of Abkhazia, the Party for the Economic Dependence of Abkhazia and United Abkhazia.

Media observation of the upcoming election has been mostly regional and a substantial portion of the media coverage has focused on candidate profiles, speculation as to Russian favorites and campaign tactics.  UNPO has scheduled an Election Observation Mission to ensure that international attention is given to the democratic legitimacy of Abkhazia’s election process.  This mission represents a continuation of the work UNPO began in 1994 when Abkhazia became a member of the organization and of UNPO-sponsored fact-finding missions conducted during the 1990s and the 2000s.

To read the full report, please click here.