SUKHUM, July 10. /TASS/. A referendum on the early presidential election will be held in Abkhazia, a republic that broke away from Georgia in the 1990s, on Sunday. The voters will be asked to answer one question - "Do you think it is necessary to hold snap presidential election in the Republic of Abkhazia?"
The referendum initiated by the opposition is held in accordance with the decree of President Raul Khajimba who was elected on August 24, 2014. His predecessor Alexander Ankvab had to resign after a mass rally held by the opposition on May 27, 2014, which was led by the incumbent president.
Later Khajimba’s opponents began to accuse him of being incapable of improving the situation and bringing the country out of crisis. Besides, the May 2014 events that led to Ankvab’s resignation were seen as a coup.
Abkhazia’s opposition Amtsakhara party demanded Khajimba’s resignation and new presidential election at its congress on October 21, 2015, that brought together more than 3,000 opposition members. The president said in response that he has no intention of stepping down until the end of his tenure in 2019.
However, on March 1, 2016, the initiative group summited an application to Abkhazia’s Central Election Commission on holding a referendum on the early presidential elections in the country. It collected 20,000 signatures instead of required 10,000 between March 17 and April 20, 2016 in support of the referendum. On June 1, the president issued a decree on holding the referendum on July 10.
The opposition said at its extraordinary congress held in Sukhum on July 5 that "the referendum scheduled for July 10, 2016, by a presidential decree has been effectively disrupted by the country’s leadership" and that "it considers postponing the voting until the fall of 2016 to be the only possible way out."
The opposition also demanded "relieving Interior Minister Leonid Dzapshba of his duties at an early date for worsening the crime situation and actions aimed at violating citizens’ constitutional rights related to the participation in the referendum."
The participants in the congress staged a picket outside the building of the Interior Ministry, which escalated into mass riots. In the evening on July 5, the president relieved the interior minister of his duties until the end of the prosecutor’s probe. The crowd dispersed only after this decree was made public.
The president refused to postpone the referendum saying that this would contravene law. Parliament speaker Valery Bganba too said there are no legal grounds for postponing the referendum. "All provisions of the law on popular vote (referendums) have been complied with, that’s why there are no legal grounds for postponing it," he said.
According to the Central Election Commission, there are 133,202 persons on the voters list. A total of 151 polling stations in 33 districts throughout the country will be open from 7am to 8pm Moscow Time. There are no polling stations outside Abkhazia.
The referendum will be declared invalid if less than one half of eligible voters take part in it. "Decisions on the issued submitted to a referendum are considered to be taken if more than one half of citizens who took part in the voting vote for them," the commission’s chairman Batal Tabagua said.
This is the second referendum in the history of Abkhazia. The first - on its independence - was held in October 1999.