Independents defeat prominent politicians in Abkhazia’s parliamentary elections
Commentary, current affairs and book reviews from Abkhazia and the wider Caucasus
Last Saturday, on the 10th, Abkhazia held the first round of its fourth parliamentary elections since gaining independence. I have fitted the results into a big table on Wikipedia. The results from constituency 21 are not yet known, due to heavy snow fall, and there will be a rerun in constituency 1 as the 25% turnout threshold was missed by a hair.
These elections fit into a long-term trend: Abkhazian elections have been becoming ever more competitive. 148 candidates competed for just 35 seats, out of a total 156 that had originally been nominated. On average, four candidates competed in each constituency. And while there were five constituencies with just two candidates, there was also one constituency with as many as ten candidates. Accordingly, only 13 candidates won an outright first round majority, and no candidate won more than 75% of the votes cast.
The results are something of an upset, as many prominent politicians lost out to new, independent candidates. This includes a number of experienced MPs, like Communist Party leader Lev Shamba (11%), Chairman of the Human Rights Committee Batal Kobakhia (9%) and Vice-Speaker Sergei Matosyan (25%). Others, like Speaker Nugzar Ashuba (28%), Vice-Speaker Irina Agrba (27%) (a political ally of President Ankvab) and former Gali Governor Ruslan Kishmaria (27%) will have a very tough time winning their second round.
The elections were also disappointing for a number of former government members seeking to become MP. These include Anri Jergenia (22%), Prime Minister under President Ardzinba and once considered his successor, who in recent years supported opposition leader Raul Khajimba. Similarly unsuccessful was Almasbei Kchach (25%), Internal Affairs Minister and Security Council Secretary under Ardzinba, running mate of opposition leader Beslan Butba in 2009 and since then a prominent member of Butba’s Economic Development Party. Or Daur Tarba (9%) and Vakhtang Pipia (15%), both Vice-Premiers under President Bagapsh and the former Chairman of ruling party United Abkhazia. Indeed, opposition leader Raul Khajimba is about the only exception, achieving the highest first round win with 73% of the votes in his constituency — he may very well try to succeed Nugzar Ashuba as Speaker.
In general, all parties appear to have performed badly. The Communist Party saw none of its seven candidates win or even reach the second round. Only one of the six candidates nominated by the Economic Development Party reached the second round. Of the eleven candidates nominated by United Abkhazia, only one was elected outright, and only four reached the second round. Of the eleven candidates nominated by the Forum for National Unity, one candidate was elected outright (Khajimba) and six reached the second round. This means that independent candidates will form a majority in the new Parliament. Even though these may still end up forming pro-government and opposition camps, this could mean a more active and self-conscious Parliament.
In the light of the very poor performance by United Abkhazia, the question is justified whether these results constitute a defeat for President Ankvab. The answer is probably no, Given that United Abkhazia is not Ankvab’s party, even though it supports him, and that he has distanced himself somewhat from the United Abkhazia-led government of his predecessor, Sergei Bagapsh. That said, the results do indicate that voters are thoroughly dissatisfied with the current Parliament and with past governments. This should provide a strong incentive for President Ankvab to intensify his reforms.