Guess who’s in town to monitor the de-facto March 10 parliamentary election in breakaway Abkhazia? It is, of course, Tuvalu's Prime Minister Willy Telavi, the leader of three reef islands (Nanumanga, Niutao and Niulakita), six coral islands (Funafuti, Nanumea, Nui, Nakufetau, Nukulaelae and Vaitipu), the chief of high chiefs (ulu-alikis), sub-chiefs (alikis) and elders (te sina o fenua).
“Welcome to the country that you recognized,” de-facto President Alexander Ankvab proclaimed in greeting his South Pacific visitor, adding that distance is no obstacle for friendship. “I’ve come to express our friendship once more,” declared Prime Minister Telavi, who first made the trek to Abkhazia last September to strike up an official acquaintance.
Presumably, he found something he liked. Aside from keeping an eye on the voting, Telavi will sign a cooperation agreement with the de-facto Abkhaz authorities. While points in common between Abkhazia and Tuvalu do not run strong, both places feature palm trees, both feature picturesque beaches for tourists and both feature ears open to Moscow.
Not all observers for Abkhazia's de-facto vote come from the tropics, however. Aside from Nicaragua and Venezuela, observers from Russia and the fellow post-Soviet separatist territories of South Ossetia, Transdniester and Nagorno Karabakh have also arrived, as well as a mission from the Hague-based Unrepresented Peoples and Nations Organization.
Telavi, in charge of the world’s fourth smallest country (about three times the size of Abkhazia) and heading a two-person delegation (his spokesperson and him), is the highest ranking visitor among them all.
The vote is being snubbed by Georgia and most of the world. Tbilisi has long accused Moscow of bribing various countries to recognize the sovereignty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and describes the separatist governments as Kremlin marionettes. But despite their vital dependence on Russia, the residents of both territories have challenged Moscow-backed candidates in past elections.
Only holders of Abkhaz passports can run for election to the 35-seat assembly. The overwhelming majority of the 148 candidates are ethnic Abkhaz. Eleven ethnic Armenians, six ethnic Russians, two ethnic Greeks, two ethnic Georgians, one ethnic Ossetian and one ethnic Karabdino-Balkarian are also contending for seats.