On August 25, 2019, the first round of the 7th presidential election was held in the Republic of Abkhazia. Unlike the 2014 elections, preparations were going in an ostensibly calm atmosphere. On August 6, 2019, the incumbent President and Presidential candidate Raul Khajimba met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, following which most experts agreed that Moscow supports this particular candidate. However, the political history of Abkhazia, the heterogeneity of its society and the extremely complicated socio-economic situation in the country can produce surprises and ultimately lead to unexpected voting results, that is, to the victory of the opposition candidate Alhas Kvitsinia.
Call for election
The legislative basis for the Presidential election in the Republic of Abkhazia is provided by the Constitution, the Constitutional Law “On the Election of the President of the Republic of Abkhazia” and other enactments, as well as resolutions of the Central Election Commission (CEC).
In accordance with the Constitution, on April 4, 2019, the People’s Assembly (Parliament of the Republic of Abkhazia) session adopted the Resolution “On calling the election of the President of the Republic of Abkhazia”. The regular election was scheduled for July 21, 2019. On April 12, the CEC endorsed the Calendar Plan for the main activities under the Presidential elections, according to which the election campaign started on May 22, 2019. In case the President is not elected in the first round, the Calendar Plan provides for the second voting within the next 14 days, in accordance with the law.
Voting date postponed
On April 18, 2019, the main rival of the incumbent President, the People’s Assembly deputy and the opposition leader Aslan Bzhaniya was taken in critical condition to the Buyanov Moscow City Clinical Hospital. According to the official version, hospitalization was caused by viral pneumonia; however, the version of poison used to remove the popular politician was spread among the opposition circles.
On May 16, 2019, Aslan Bzhaniya’s hospitalization in Moscow was discussed at the People’s Assembly meeting, also attended by Prosecutor General, Head of the State Security Service and Minister of Health.
On May 17, a statement was made by representatives of the National Movement for Protection of Statehood of Abkhazia (OND) – an association of political parties and organizations in opposition to the incumbent President. The statement reported that medical analysis of biodata performed by a group of specialists in Germany indicated the fact of a criminal external exposure aiming to physically eliminate the opposition leader. The incident was called an assassination attempt against Bzhaniya associated with his political activities. In this regard, the OND demanded the election to be postponed until the autumn of 2019, so that Aslan Bzhaniya could recover and have an opportunity to participate.
At the same time, a meeting of support attended by over 200 people was held in Bzhaniya’s native village Tamysh, Ochamchyr district. The residents of Tamysh also demanded that the authorities postpone the presidential election to a later date, until Aslan Bzhaniya’s full recovery.
When the information about possible poison case was published, the opposition initiated rallies and demonstrations demanding the election postponement. Protests became more intensified after the Republican leadership refused to compromise; the protesters blocked roads and public transport in Sukhum was paralyzed. On May 20, 2019, the People’s Assembly refused to revise its decision on setting the election date. This provoked growing protests and threatened with civil confrontation in the Republic.
Negotiations between opposition representatives and the Republican authorities held on the late evening May 21 – early morning May 22 resulted in a compromise decision on postponing the presidential election to August 25, 2019. On May 22, President Raul Khajimba introduced draft amendments to the law “On the election of the President of the Republic of Abkhazia”, which enabled the presidential election to be postponed to August 25. On May 28, 2019, the President signed the amendments adopted by Parliament and on the same day the People’s Assembly decreed to hold presidential election on August 25, 2019.
On May 29, 2019, the CEC of the Republic of Abkhazia approved a new Calendar Plan of major activities under presidential election, which envisaged the campaign start on June 26, 2019, that is 60 days before the voting day.
Any person of Abkhazian nationality who is a citizen of the Republic of Abkhazia, fluent in the state language, not younger than 35 and not older than 65 years old, who enjoys the right to vote, is eligible to be elected President of the Republic of Abkhazia. Also, the candidate must have resided permanently in Abkhazia for at least the last five years. The President is elected for a five-year term and the same person may not be in office for more than two consecutive terms. The Vice-President is elected simultaneously with the President of Abkhazia and is nominated by the presidential candidate.
Candidates for presidency may be nominated by a political party registered in accordance with the procedure established by the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Abkhazia and an initiative group of voters. To nominate a candidate for President, a political party must register with the CEC and hold an ad hoc congress thereafter. The initiative group should consist of at least 10 persons, get registered with the CEC, and must collect voter signatures in support of the nominee (minimum 2,000, but not more than 2,500).
The CEC of the Republic of Abkhazia completed the registration of presidential candidates on July 26, 2019, 30 days before the voting date. Each candidate presented his Vice-President nominee to be jointly elected. The August 25 ballots placed the candidates in alphabetical order; the list below shows them by registration order:
1. Adzynba, Shamil Omarovich (Ampar, Rafael Shlaterovich);
2. Arshba, Oleg Nurievich (Bartsyts, Oleg Msasovich);
3. Dzhapua, Almas Severyanovich (Smyr, Vadim Alekseevich);
4. Dzapshba, Leonid Yuryevich (Ashba, Vianor Grigorievich);
5. Kvitsinia, Alhas Alekseevich (Dbar, Dmitry Sergeevich);
6. Tarba, Astamur Borisovich (Ketsba, Tamazi Ivanovich);
7. Khajimba, Raul Dzhumkovich (Bartsits, Aslan Chachurbeevich);
8. Ankvab, Arthur Mirodovich (Salakaya, Soslan Shotaevich);
9. Kakaliya, Astamur Valerievich (Ayba, Astamur Vyacheslavovich);
10. Otyrba, Astamur Mikhailovich (Dasania, David Mkanovich).
On July 15, before the presidential nomination was finalized, Aslan Bzhaniya addressed his supporters with a statement, in which he refused to run the elections for health reasons and urged both them and OND members to support the candidacy of Alhas Kvitsinia, Chairman of Amtsakhar party.
On July 29, 2019, the People’s Assembly introduced amendments to the law “On the election of the President of the Republic of Abkhazia”, proposed by the CEC. These amendments implied removal from ballots some information about candidates for presidency and vice-presidency (year of birth, place of residence, main place of work or service, and position), as well as information about the nominating body. Information excluded from ballots was posted at each polling station for free voter access. The ballot design (stipulated by Article 16 of the president election law) was modified due to the large number of running candidates, so that placing bilingual text would require a significantly increased format and/or reduced hard-to-read typeface.
On the same day, free airtime on Abkhaz state television was distributed by lots, in two stages. The first determined the order of TV presentations for presidential candidates (one hour of airtime) and the second – for vice-president candidates (half an hour). Presentations of presidential candidates were held August 2-11, while candidates for vice-presidency made their speeches on August 12-21. On August 23, there was a TV debate between the candidates, where they mostly criticized Raul Khajimba and Oleg Arshba who refused to participate in the debate. The candidates were also given the opportunity to broadcast a 1-minute election video.
On the day of voting, 152 polling stations opened in the Republic of Abkhazia. Three polling stations envisaged outside the country (in Moscow, Cherkessk and Istanbul) were assigned to Sukhumi electoral district constituency No. 6. However, the Istanbul polling station did not open on August 25 (exact reasons were not revealed publicly), and the vote from this polling station was declared void. According to the CEC chairman, cancelled voting in Istanbul would not affect the overall election results.
Voter lists and conflicts around their formation
Voter lists are passed from the CEC to district commissions 10 days prior to the election; after that the district and precinct commissions make their adjustment. According to the CEC preliminary data, about 117,000 voters were included in the lists, which is almost by 20,000 less than the voter number in the 2017 parliamentary elections. One of the possible reasons for this voter decline was the new voting requirement: possessing the national Abkhaz passport of a new type. According to the CEC Chairman Tamaz Gogia, about 5,000 pending passports were yet unreceived by August 17, their future holders still had time to get and further apply to be entered in the voter lists. A total of 121,627 voters were included in the finalized lists; 2,702 voters were included in additional lists on the voting day.
On August 12, 2019, the CEC canceled vice-presidential registration of David Dasania (the candidacy was proposed by Astamur Otyrba) upon his request. When the registration of a vice presidential candidate is canceled, the candidate for presidency must nominate his new vice presidential candidate no later than five days before the voting day. Failing to do so, he gets also removed from the presidential race. As stated by the candidate for vice presidency David Dasania, his withdrawal was caused by the situation when voting access was denied to holders of old-type Abkhaz passports, who had no time to change for new document. Thus, according to the ex-candidate, many Abkhazians could not take part in the election.
Since the presidential candidate Astamur Otyrba failed to nominate a vice president candidacy to replace self-recused David Dasania within the established timeframe, the CEC of the Republic of Abkhazia decided to exclude Astamur Otyrba from the list of presidential candidates on August 20. Thus, the ballots contained nine candidates for the top state position.
Observers at the election of the President of Abkhazia
Electoral legislation of the Republic of Abkhazia provides for the possibility of monitoring presidential election. Each presidential candidate may send up to three observers to each polling station on the election day, where they have a right to observe by turns the voting room. Observers must be registered with the district election commission. Also, international observers invited by the top legislative or executive authorities of the Republic of Abkhazia may attend the Presidential election.
The “Civil Control” Association of Russian NGOs for the Protection of Voting Rights announced their telemonitoring of Abkhazia’s presidential election on August 25, 2019.
The elections were observed directly on the territory of Abkhazia by delegations of the Republic of South Ossetia (headed by the first deputy speaker of parliament), Council of the Federation and the State Duma of the Russian Federation, as well as representatives of Germany, China and MEPs. In total, more than 50 international observers participated in the observation process.
Preliminary results of the first voting round
According to the finalized CEC data, the election was declared valid; the turnout exceeded the required 50%threshold and reached 65.18%. None of the candidates received more than half of the votes needed to ultimately win in the first round.
The frontrunners of the first round were the incumbent President Raul Khajimba (24.83% of the vote) and Alhas Kvitsinia (22.91%). Candidate Oleg Arshba was the third (with over 21%) and acknowledged results of the vote.
In accordance with the law on the election of the President of the Republic of Abkhazia, the second round should be held within two weeks thereafter, that is, no later than September 8, 2019. In line with the results of the first round, the incumbent President Raul Khajimba and Alhas Kvitsinia (supported by the leader of Abkhaz opposition Aslan Bzhaniya) were to contest the runoff.
Reference materials: Republic of Abkhazia on the global political map
The Republic of Abkhazia is a partially recognized democratic legal state. Its area is 8,665 km², population number – 244,800 (2018). The capital Sukhumi (Sukhum) has a population of 65,200. Abkhaz and Russian are the state languages. Form of government: presidential republic. State power is exercised through its legislative, executive and judicial divisions. The Constitution of the Republic of Abkhazia was adopted at the referendum on October 3, 1999. Abkhazia’s administrative territorial units are represented by seven districts (rayons) named after their major cities/ settlements: Gagra, Gudauta, Sukhumi (Sukhum), Gulrypsh (Gulrypshi), Ochamchyr (Ochamchira), Tkuarchal (Tkvarcheli), and Gal (Gali). The capital Sukhumi enjoys the status of a city of republican subordination.
Geopolitical status of the Republic of Abkhazia
Abkhazia is located in the north-western Transcaucasia; it borders with Krasnodar Kray (region) and the Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia in the north-east; the border is over 200 km long and passes through the main peaks of the Caucasus Range. In the south-east, Abkhazia borders with Georgia; the border length is less than 100 km. The south-western Abkhazian border is the Black Sea coastal strip with a length of above 200 km.
A 221-km railway line was laid across the territory of Abkhazia, from the Psou platform (Abkhazian-Russian border) to the Ingur platform (Abkhazian-Georgian border) along the Black Sea coast, as well as the Ochamchyra-Tkuarchal branch. In 2012, the Moscow-Sukhum passenger train line was opened; from June 2014, additional summer train service was introduced at St. Petersburg – Sukhum and Voronezh – Sukhum lines. Abkhazia has seaports in the cities of Sukhum and Ochamchyra.
The system of state authorities of the Republic of Abkhazia
The President of the Republic of Abkhazia (since September 25, 2014 – Raul Dzhumkovich Khajimba) is the head of state elected for a five- year term. He also avails the full executive power. The elected President of the Republic of Abkhazia shall be a person of Abkhaz nationality, a citizen of the Republic of Abkhazia, not younger than 35 and not older than 65 years old, and who is entitled to vote. Elections of the President of the Republic of Abkhazia are based on universal, equal and direct suffrage, performed by secret ballot. If no candidate gains more than 50% of the vote in the first round, the second round is held no later than in 14 days. One and the same person may not be President for more than two consecutive terms. The President ensures the observance of human rights and freedoms, the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Abkhazia, its international obligations; determines the key directions for domestic and foreign policy; is Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Abkhazia; forms and leads the Cabinet. The President of Abkhazia may not be member of parties and public associations, Member of Parliament of Abkhazia, hold other positions in state and non-governmental bodies, or business structures.
Abkhazia’s Vice-President is elected jointly with the President (from September 25, 2014 till August 22, 2018 – Vitali Viktorovich Gabnia; position is currently vacant), his nomination is made by a presidential candidate.
The People’s Assembly (Parliament) of the Republic of Abkhazia is the state legislative body consisting of 35 members (deputies) elected upon the universal, equal and direct suffrage, by secret ballot, for a 5-year term. Any citizen of the Republic of Abkhazia, who has reached the age of 25 and has the right to vote, can become a Member of Parliament.
The Parliament adopts the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Abkhazia; examines and approves the state budget, exercises control over its implementation; appoints and dismisses, upon the President’s proposal, the Prosecutor General, the Chairman of the National Bank and other officials, in accordance with the law; decides on a motion of no confidence to individual members of the Cabinet of Ministers; decides on the legitimacy of imposing a state of emergency and martial law.
The judiciary is represented by a system of courts headed by the Supreme Court. The judicial system of the Republic of Abkhazia includes the Supreme Court, the Arbitration Court, the Military Court and local courts (in districts, cities). The Supreme Court of the Republic of Abkhazia examines cases on all matters related to the constitutionality of decisions adopted by the President, Parliament, and other bodies of state power or local governments; examines cases of disputes between the state and local government bodies; implements criminal, civil and administrative proceedings. Local courts (in cities and districts) administer justice by reviewing and resolving in court civil cases, criminal cases, cases of administrative offense.
Political parties and electoral processes
There were six elections of the President of the Republic of Abkhazia, in 1994, 1999, 2004, 2009, 2011 and 2014 (the last two were extraordinary).
The sixth presidential election was held on August 24, 2014, in connection with the violent political crisis (President Alexander Ankvab resigned on June 1, 2014).
Four candidates run the election: Merab Kishmaria, Leonid Dzyapshba, Aslan Bzhaniya and Raul Khajimba. Candidate applicant Beslan Ashba was denied registration for his inadequate Abkhaz language proficiency. The vote count showed that Raul Khajimba got 50.57%, Aslan Bzhaniya – 35.91%, Merab Kishmaria – 6.4%, and Leonid Dzyapshba – 3.4% of the vote. The turnout made 70 %.
Elections to the Sixth People’s Assembly of the Republic of Abkhazia were held on March 12, 2017 (first round) and March 26, 2017 (second round). In the first round, deputies were elected in 12 districts; winners in another 22 districts were determined in the runoff. Elections were declared invalid in one constituency (No. 17, Gudauta First Municipal); repeated elections were held on May 14, 2017.
In the People’s Assembly (with a total of 36 MPs), 26 MPs are non-partisan; 6 MPs represent the Forum for the National Unity of Abkhazia (association of political parties and organizations); and three MPs represent the United Abkhazia party. Valery Ermeyovich Kvarchia has been the Speaker of the People’s Assembly since April 12, 2017.
Presidential election in August 25, 2019: Biographies of key persons
Born March 21, 1958, Tkuarchal city, Ochamchyr district, Abkhaz ASSR
1975: graduated from Tkuarchal secondary school No. 5
1976-1978: served in the Soviet Army
1984: graduated from the Law Faculty, Abkhaz State University
1986: graduated from the USSR KGB School, Minsk
1986-1992: KGB officer, Tkuarchal city
1992-1993: Chief of the Eastern Front intelligence and counterintelligence during the Patriotic War of the Abkhazian people
1993-1995: served with the state security bodies of Abkhazia
1996-1999: Head of Anti-Smuggling Department, Deputy Chairman of the Republican State Customs Committee
1999-2003: Chairman of the State Security Service, Minister of Defense, First Deputy Prime Minister
2003-2004: Prime Minister of Abkhazia
2005-2009: Vice-President of Abkhazia
2009-2015: Head of the “Forum for the National Unity of Abkhazia” Republican Political Party
Since September 25, 2014: President of the Republic of Abkhazia
Major General, awarded with the Order of Leon
Married, has two children
Aslan Georgievich Bzhaniya
Born April 6, 1963, Tamysh village, Ochamchir district, Abkhaz ASSR
1985: graduated from the Moscow Automobile and Road Construction Institute
1985-1986: employed at the Capital construction department, Ugran lespromkhoz (timber industry enterprise), Smolensk region
1987-1989: employed at the Komsomol Ochamchir district committee
1991: graduated from the USSR KGB Higher Courses
1991-1992: employed at the State Security Service of Abkhazia (1992-1993 – in Gudauta)
1994: commercial activities in Moscow
1998: graduated from the Academy of National Economy under the Government of the Russian Federation
2009- 2010: Adviser at the Embassy of the Republic of Abkhazia in the Russian Federation
March 26, 2017: elected MP to the People’s Assembly (Parliament of Abkhazia), VIth convocation (2017-2022)
Alhas Alekseevich Kvitsinia
Born June 23, 1969, Kutol village, Ochamchir district, Abkhaz ASSR
1986: graduated from the Nestor Lakoba secondary school No. 10, Sukhum city
1986-1988: laboratory technician at Kinda Tea Factory
1988-1990: served in the Soviet Army
1990-2005: technologist at Kinda Tea Factory
1992: graduated from the State Institute of Subtropical Agriculture with a specialization “agricultural scientist”
2005-2014: Deputy Head of Administration, Sukhum city
2013-2015: Co-Chairman of Amtsakhara political party
October 2015 till present: Chairman of Amtsakhara political party
Veteran of the 1993-1995 Patriotic War of the Abkhazian people, combatant in the Sukhumi battalion.
1995: awarded with Medal “For Courage”, by Decree of the President of the Republic of Abkhazia Vladislav G. Ardzinba
Oleg Nurievich Arshba
Born May 5, 1964, Tkuarchal city, Abkhaz ASSR
1981: graduated from Tkuarchal secondary school No. 1
1984-1986: served in the Soviet Army
1988: graduated from Abkhaz State University with a specialization “teacher, translator-consultant”
1988: English language teacher at secondary schools No. 1 and No. 4, Tkuarchal city
1990-1992: Head of department, Raduga OKB (experimental design bureau), Tkuarchal city
August 14, 1992: volunteered for the front with Tkuarchal militia
1994: detached for further service with State security bodies; held various leadership positions at the State Security Service
2006: appointed as Chief of Intelligence Department, General Staff of the Armed Forces
2008: appointed as Head of Personnel department, Ministry of Defense
2011: appointed as Deputy Chief of General Staff of the Republican Armed Forces
2018: appointed as Advisor to the Minister of Defense of Abkhazia