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Abkhazians say ‘no’ to referendum on early presidential elections

July 11, 2016, 0:01 UTC+3 SUKHUM

The voter turnout was unprecedented low, beneath two percent

1 pages in this article
© Artur Lebedev/TASS

SUKHUM, July 10. /TASS/. Abkhazia’s citizens have ignored Sunday’s referendum on early presidential elections, a fact, which, according to political analysts, can be interpreted as a lack of constructive dialogue between the authorities and the opposition fraught with further instability.

The voter turnout was unprecedented low, beneath two percent. "Abkhazia has never seen such a low turnout, even at elections to local self-governments," chairman of the Central Election Commission Batal Tabagua said.

The low voter turnout at Sunday’s referendum on early presidential elections in Abkhazia shows that there is no productive dialogue between the authorities and the opposition, Natella Akaba, the secretary of Abkhazia’s Public Chamber, told TASS. "Such low turnout at the referendum may entail further destabilization. It is regrettable that the authorities and the opposition have failed to establish a constructive dialogue," she said. "The referendum has failed. It is a defeat for the opposition but it is not a victory for the authorities either. It could have been a victory if people had voted against the early elections."

Sergei Shamba, the leader of the United Abkhazia party, which hold a neutral position, shared her point of view. "Our party has been saying from the very beginning that a referendum is a constitutional right of the republic’s citizens. But, at the same time, we have been saying that the referendum will bring about no positive effect and now we see that the situation is being aggravated," he said, adding that his party is in consultations with various political forces in the country "to talk them to sit down at the negotiating table." "There is no alternative to talks," Shamba said. "The results of the referendum say nothing about what people want."

The final decision on the referendum’s validity is up to Abkhazian President Raul Khadzhimba, who has promised to continue dialogue with the opposition. "The referendum [on early presidential elections] has failed and under our law we can readdress it only in two years. We will continue to speak with the opposition," he told TASS, commenting on the referendum results. Despite all its efforts, the opposition has failed to set the people against the incumbent president. He kept silent throughout the day. On Saturday, he called on all political forces not to hamper the referendum and to refrain from clashes and riots.

Meanwhile, the opposition also said it is ready for talks with the authorities. "We are ready for talks. Otherwise, how can we maintain dialogue? We want them [the authorities] to speak with us, to offer options. We will look at them. We don’t want to deteriorate the situation," Garik Samanba, a secretary of the presidium of the Amtsakhara party’s political council, told TASS after the referendum. "All have lost today - both the authorities and the opposition," he said.

The referendum was held in conformity with the decree of Abkhazia President Raul Khadzhimba who was elected to that post on August 24, 2014. His predecessor, Alexander Ankvab, was forced to resign after a mass opposition rally on May 27, 2014 which was led by the incumbent president. Some time later, Khadzhimba came under criticism from his opponents who accuse him of inability to improve the situation in the republic and take it out of the current profound crisis. Apart from that they said Khadzhimba had come to power in a state coup.

Five days ahead of the voting, on July 5, Abkhazia’s opposition party Amtsakhara passed a resolution at its extraordinary congress demanding postponement of the referendum on early presidential elections from July 10 to autumn and resignation of Abkhazian Interior Minister Leonid Dzapshba over the deterioration of the crime situation and actions aimed at violating people’s constitutional rights. The president suspended the minister until the prosecutor’s check is over.

On Saturday, the bloc of opposition force that initiated the referendum called on people not to take part in the voting demanding it be postponed till autumn.

"The authorities frustrated the referendum already before the voting day. That is why on Saturday, July 9, we called on people not to take part in the voting," Aslan Bzhaniya, the leader of the Apra fund and a co-leader of Abkhazia’s Bloc of Opposition Forces, told TASS. "The referendum was necessary and useful in conditions of political crisis" but the authorities "have failed to create conditions for free expression of will of the people." He said the opposition will decide about its further actions at an extended political council meeting next week.

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