Mar 05, 2007

Abkhazia: Elections A Success

International observers report parliamentary elections were held in a calm, peaceful and democratic atmosphere, with final voter turnout nearing 48 percent.

Below is an excerpt from an article published by The Tiraspol Times:

Residents of Abkhazia went to the polls Sunday [4 March 2007] to vote for parliament in elections that the unrecognized country's president said should boost Abkhazia's bid for international recognition. 12 parties competed, with voting taking place in a calm and peaceful atmosphere with no violent incidents or disruptions of any kind. With 130,000 eligible voters, final turnout was nearly 48 percent, the Central Elections Commission said.

A total of 84 international observers were part of election monitoring missions from Russia, Belgium, France, Italy, Poland, Jordan, Germany, Armenia, Ukraine, Moldova, Pridnestrovie, South Ossetia and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Georgia boycotted the elections and refused to send observers, calling the voting "illegal" since it was not organized by Georgia's authorities.

" - The situation was calm and voters went to the poll in a peaceful, democratic atmosphere," said Oleg Gudymo, the spokesman for four Pridnestrovie MPs who participated as election observers. A rumor of an explosive device in a polling station was later deemed to be a hoax, and voting was not suspended there or in any other district.

12 parties and a vibrant opposition

More than a hundred candidates from twelve different political parties competed for 35 parliament seats, and President Sergei Bagapsh said the pluralism bolsters Abkhazia's campaign for legitimacy.

" - World society should understand that we have not simply declared the principles of democracy, but that we live in a society where we have brought in the democracy aspired to by all people," Bagapsh said.

All sides are in favor of continuing Akbkazia's de facto independence and reject unification with Georgia under any circumstances, but have their differences over domestic policy. The vibrant and active opposition is hoping to use parliament as an arena with which to challenge the president.

" - If in the opposition gets control of the next parliament, it’s quite possible that they will use the support of several independent deputies to raise the question of bringing in constitutional amendments that will redistribute power between the executive and the legislature in favor of parliament," said Tamaz Ketsba, who heads the non-governmental organization Civic Initiative and Person of the Future in Abkhazia. […]

Abkhazia, which incorporates both the subtropical Black Sea coastal region and snowy mountain peaks, has been a popular tourist destination since Soviet times. However, an unresolved territorial claim by Georgia and threats of a renewed Georgian invasion has caused tourism to drop precipitously, leading to unemployment and economic hardship for many residents. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has vowed to bring Abkhazia under his control, despite the will of most residents and all of Abkhazia's major political parties.

Foreign Minister: "We meet modern European standards"

Abkhazia's independence is only recognized by other non-recognized countries, […].

Seeking international recognition, the Abkhaz's Foreign Minister, Sergei Shamba, told the BBC on Sunday that he was confident that this would be achieved. While international organizations and a number of governments privately admit that Abkhazia is in many ways more democratic than neighboring Georgia, they can not declare so publicly for political reasons.

" - International organisations and states are not yet able to recognize our elections because this would also mean recognition of our state," BBC reported Shamba as saying. "But our objective is to show everyone that we meet modern European standards," continued the Foreign Minister.

As he cast his vote, Abkhazia's President Sergei Bagapsh said the elections were being held in a state where there was both an opposition and a free press.

Officials in the capital, Sukhumi, hope the polls will demonstrate Abkhazia has the potential to become an independent democratic country.

Georgia can't turn back the clock

In Sukhumi, which still bears the scars of the war more than a decade ago, voters echoed their President's views and said there should be no return to violence.

" - I think this new government should bring peace and stability to Abkhazia because we're a country that survived such a tough war," BBC reported one female voter as saying. Others said that for Abkhazia's future, it is really important for it to become a sovereign democratic state.

" - It is very important because these elections will mean that Abkhazia is a self-reliant republic," another woman said. "For me personally, as an ordinary citizen, it means I have the right to come and make my own choice."

The Georgian government has denounced the democratic election. It says Abkhazia must be a part of Georgia, but many in the international community agree that its territorial claim has little basis in today's actual reality, and that Georgia has been unable to enforce its sovereignty on Abkhazia for most of the past two decades.

" - A joint union state at this late stage would simply turn back the clock," a German diplomat said. "At this point in time, I can't see it happening. It would disregarding the current reality on the ground. I know that Georgia's Mikhail Saakashvili is forced to say that to keep his own voters happy, but the international community does not have those constraints."