Abkhazia Loses a Leader, But Keeps Its Problems
Abkhazia’s hair-trigger uprising ended in less than a week, before it could be properly understood or even noticed by the outside world. The proximity to events in Ukraine, both in terms of geography and the pattern, grabbed attention, but in Abkhazia no geopolitical shifts are expected. Rather, it's a change from within.
De-facto President Aleksander Ankvab resigned on June 1 after putting up only token resistance to a diverse group of opposition groups who have taken over the building from which he governed. A new presidential vote was called for August 24. In the meantime, de-facto Parliamentary Speaker Valery Bganba is serving as the region's leader.
Local observers see this outcome as both the result of Ankvab's own policy-shortcomings and as a failure of the breakaway region's system of governance.
In commentary broadcast by the online Asarkia TV, Inal Khashig, editor-in-chief of the Sokhumi-based Chegemskaya Pravda newspaper, argued that earlier expectations that the 61-year-old Ankvab would serve as Abkhazia's "chief foreman" and fix all of the territory's many problems, ranging from limited jobs to a crumbling public order, had failed to be met. “What was expected of him was to set things in order in various fields,” Khashig said.
Ankvab also made tactical mistakes when handling the crisis on hand, argued RFE/RL reporter Demis Palandov. “He failed to go out to meet the people… which created an image of a president, who is afraid to face his own people and does not respect the authority of the elders, who demanded him to come out to meet with the people gathered outside [the presidential office],” Palandov said in comments to the Tbilisi-based Netgazeti.ge.
In his departure speech, Ankvab blamed his opponents, who led an uprising against him, for past attempts on his life and claimed that his resignation was the only way to bring the temperature down, and preserve Abkhazia's statehood. His current whereabouts are not clear.
Looking beyond Ankvab’s personality, some blamed Abkhazia's de-facto constitution and the powers it vested in the president. Hastily drafted and largely unmodified since Abkhazia cast off Georgian rule in the early 1990s, the document provides for a president, who is a “czar,” “king of the heap,” said analyst Alkhas Tkhagushev. The founding law was a post-war, transitional document, which now does not reflect the current thirst for more democracy and communal decision-making, Tkhagushev told Asarkia.
Moscow, the regional power with the most direct influence on Abkhazia, which houses hundreds of Russian troops, played the role of arbiter between Ankvab and the opposition.
For Tbilisi, developments in Abkhazia remain out of reach, behind a heavy cordon of Russian troops. The most immediate concern for Tbilisi is the fate of those ethnic Georgians who remain in Abkhazia and whose status is debated by separatist politicians.