Georgia: Breakaway Abkhazia to Elect President
The breakaway region of Abkhazia will hold its first presidential vote on December 12 since recognition by Russia, Venezuela and Nicaragua as an independent country from Georgia.
Tbilisi was quick to call the election a Russian-orchestrated "comedy," and claims that hundreds of ethnic Georgian former residents of Abkhazia are disenfranchised in the poll. Since the 2008 Georgia-Russia war, Moscow has stationed troops in Abkhazia, and in the twin secessionist region of South Ossetia, to prevent any attempt by Tbilisi to reclaim the territory.
Current de facto President Sergei Bagapsh is viewed by many Abkhaz and Russian commentators as the odds-favorite to win the election, although a run-off, they contend, is possible. Bagapsh faces four challengers - former de facto Vice President Raul Khajimba, businessmen Beslan Butba and Zaur Ardzinba, and university professor Vitaly Bganba.
Inal Khashig, the editor-in-chief of the Abkhaz newspaper Chegemskaya Pravda, believes that a second round looks likely, but says that differences among Bagapsh's three main rivals -- Khajimba, Butba and Ardzinba -- may foil attempts to unite behind a single candidate to oppose Bagapsh in a run-off, the Gazeta.ru news site reported on December 11.
Bagapsh may also gain momentum from the fact that polls will for the first time also be open in Russia. Complaints about a strong pro-Bagapsh media bias -- both within Abkhazia and in neighboring Russia -- have already surfaced, along with allegations of bribery, RFE/RL reported.
The election will be monitored by Abkhaz non-governmental organizations, but not by international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe or the European Union, neither of which have recognized Abkhazia as an independent country.