Opposition candidate Raul Khadzhimba has claimed victory in the August 24 presidential poll in the breakaway Georgian republic of Abkhazia. Khadzhimba's campaign staff said he had taken around 60% of the vote in the first round of voting in the unrecognized state.
The head of Khadzhimba's campaign, Artur Mikvabiya, told Russia's Itar-Tass that information collected by its observers at the polling stations indicated his candidate had won. "The vote count hasn't yet been completed at all stations, but we can already speak of our convincing dominance," Mikvabiya said.
Official data also indicates a victory for Khadzhimba, though by a smaller margin. Late on August 24 the chairman of the Central Electoral Commission of the self-styled Republic of Abkhazia, Batal Tabagua, announced preliminary results which gave Khadzhimba victory with 50.57% of the vote, according to Russia's RIA Novosti. Turnout was about 60%.
Georgia and the EU have said they won't recognise the results of the "presidential election" in the breakaway region. "The European Union supports the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia, as recognised by international law," a spokesperson for the EU External Action Service said in a statement.
Four candidates - acting State Security Service chairman Aslan Bzhaniya, former interior minister Leonid Dzapshba, acting Defence Minister Mirab Kishmariya and Khadzhimba - stood in the presidential election.
RIA Novosti reported on August 25 that Bzhaniya's campaign had conceded the victory in the poll to Khadzhimba. "We are waiting results from Gagra and Sukhum. According to information we possess and election observers report, Khadzhimba is leading [in the vote count]," Leonid Lakerbay, the head of the campaign, said.
As a result of a severe political crisis which broke out in Abkhazia this May, former president Alexander Ankvab was forced to resign and flee to Russia. On May 31, the regional parliament appointed speaker Valeriy Bganba as acting president and called a snap presidential election.
Abkhazia broke away from Georgia following the 1992-1993 war. It is one of several frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union - including Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, South Ossetia in Georgia and Transdniester in Moldova. Following the short war between Georgia and Russia over Abkhazia and South Ossetia in August 2008, Moscow has recognised the two breakaway regions' independence and has since been their patron state, providing both political and financial backing. The UN and major foreign powers continue to consider Abkhazia to be part of Georgia.
However, on the ground, it is Moscow and the local political elites that hold sway. Presidents are elected by a direct popular vote for a five-year term. In order to win a candidate should win at least 50% of the vote plus one vote.
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