Former leader of Abkhazia Alexander Ankvab appears to be contemplating a comeback to politics, this time as a member of parliament, threatening further turmoil in Abkhazia's already stormy political scene.
This week news emerged that Abkhazia's Central Election Commission has registered a nomination for Ankvab in parliamentary elections scheduled for March 12. Ankvab himself, who has lived in exile in Russia since he was forced out of the de facto presidency in 2014, hasn't commented.
Predictably, the news has triggered a harsh response from supporters of Ankvab's successor Raul Khajimba, condemning Ankvab for a host of misdeeds committed while he was president, including illegally granting Abkhazian citizenship to Georgian residents in Gali District (since reversed under Khajimba) and misspending Russian financial aid. They also claim that in the early days of Abkhazia's 1992-1993 war with Georgia, Ankvab, then interior minister, authorized the transfer of weapons to Georgian special forces.
If Ankvab wins a seat in parliament, he may try to return to Abkhazia, protected by the legal immunity MPs enjoy. Having survived six assassination attempts while in power, he would still have reason to fear for his physical safety, especially since the court case against the suspects has stalled under Khajimba.
It is not certain Ankvab will be allowed to participate in the election, as the authorities may try to have his registration declared invalid. But blocking him would risk another wave of opposition protests, following on the heels of the tense stand-off in early December. This may in fact be part of the strategy of the opposition, which gained only meager concessions as a result of the demonstrations.
If Ankvab is allowed to run, his chances to win a seat are far from certain, as parliamentary elections in Abkhazia are notoriously unpredictable. In the past, parliament speakers, government ministers, opposition leaders and even the widow of modern-day father of the nation Vladislav Ardzinba have on multiple occasions suffered surprise losses, often to independent candidates with local support. If Ankvab does run, the ruling authorities will no doubt do their utmost to rally support around one of Ankvab's opponents.
Besides Ankvab, a number of other politicians that have fallen out with Khajimba's government are trying to make comebacks in parliament, including former foreign minister and academic Viacheslav Chirikba, outgoing Central Election Chairman Batal Tabagua and former First Vice Premier Shamyl Adzynba, who will directly compete with Ankvab for a seat.
If Ankvab wins, it's not clear whether his intention is to keep a low profile or to again become one of the opposition's leaders. Even if that is his plan, Ankvab has but a slim chance to return to the presidency, as he will reach the legal maximum age of 65 this year.