After poor showing in elections last year, it seeks to present a united front.
By Anaid Gogoryan - Caucasus
CRS Issue 545,
28 May 10
The Abkhazian opposition, stung by its crushing defeat in December’s presidential elections, is seeking ways to unify its forces for polls next year.
Raul Khajimba, a former vice-president, scored just 15 per cent in leadership contest won by incumbent Sergei Bagapsh, who gained 60 per cent of the vote.
Observers say the opposition activists failed to unite behind a single figure, and instead fought amongst themselves. After five months of silence, their Forum of National Unity party re-emerged on May 12, to discuss how to improve its prospects.
“The opposition made mistakes and significant oversights, and there was a split within the party. As a result of the split, we lost those who sympathised with the opposition and those were not a few,” said Daur Arshba, formerly co-chairman of the party, who stepped aside to allow Khajimba to take over.
His words were echoed by Khajimba, who had already lost one presidential election to Bagapsh.
“Today our main aim is to make sure the opposition does not look in society like a structure fighting only for some places in government. We all must have a single idea – in opposition as well as in government – to preserve the state, and to create conditions for our state to become what our government wants it to become,” he said.
The opposition has a difficult position in Abkhazia since it is claimed by Georgia, and forced to rely for support on neighbouring Russia, which recognised it as an independent state in 2008. It has sometimes been hard for opposition leaders to criticise the government without appearing disloyal to Abkhazia, which broke free from Tbilisi in a 1992-3 war.
Khajimba has repeatedly criticised the government for its overdependence on Moscow.
“That the population has started to live better is not the result of better economic policies. The country is living on external aid,” he said
Other members of the opposition are prepared to consider lining up behind him. Akhra Bjania, leader of the Akhyatsa movement, said he was not prepared to unite into a single group, but that cooperation would be in the interests of the country.
“In future, we intend to cooperate with other opposition organisations. In the election time, we worked with the Forum of National Unity, and many members of Akhyatsa are members of the forum,” he said, in words also echoed by Vadim Smyr, leader of the Aruaa veterans’ group.
Bagapsh says his government has overseen a significant improvement in living standards, and laid the groundwork for further gains. Speaking on May 24, after the first 100 days of his second term as president, he said Russia aid would go on improving the country’s potential.
“I’ve read letters to us, I’ve heard speeches, and seen press conferences by various politicians. I’m sure that we do have to listen to what the opposition says, but we also have to basically look at the numbers and look at what is behind the rise in our budget,” he said.
Independent experts say it is too early to assess the opposition’s chances in local elections next year, and parliamentary elections in 2012, since it depended on how the population reacted to the government’s actions over the next year or two.
“The government could prove a good ally of the opposition, if it only meets the expectations of its supporters and not broad swathes of society,” Leila Tania, director of the Civil Initiative and Person of the Future Fund, said.
She said that an organised opposition was still being created in Abkhazia, and the picture could change significantly.
“It is possible that new parties could be formed. It is possible that there could be shifts within these parties, and we will see new people emerging. I cannot rule out that the ranks of the opposition could be swelled by people currently in government,” she said.
Anaid Gogoryan is a reporter from the Chegemskaya Pravda newspaper.