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Abkhazia needs reforms to resolve issues, election to be tough — experts

An expert believes that Khajimba has lost a part of his electorate in the last few days, while there is not yet a strong figure to be fielded by the political group supporting Khajimba

SUKHUM, January 13. /TASS/. Abkhazia has faced protests because economic, social and legal issues have not been addressed for a long time and consequently the country needs ambitious reforms in many areas. The current situation suggests that the election campaign before the upcoming rerun of the presidential election will be difficult, experts polled by TASS believe.

Abkhazia plunged into a political crisis on January 9 when protesters gathered outside President Raul Khajimba’s office demanding his resignation and stormed into the building. The office remained under their control until late Sunday. Later on January 9, the Abkhaz parliament convened for an urgent meeting to adopt an appeal to the president asking him to step down, while the country’s Supreme Court on Friday overturned the Central Election Commission’s ruling on the election result and ordered a rerun scheduled for March 22. Khajimba claimed that he would appeal the decision made by the court and the commission but announced his resignation on Sunday.

Facelift won’t uproot corruption and crime

Experts say that protests in the republic’s capital of Sukhum broke out as a result of the developments that dominated Abkhazia in the last few years.

"The country does not need a facelift but more serious changes, the system of government needs changing, state institutions need to be established anew or modernized — they are now incapable of regulating the economic conjuncture or ensuring public order," economist and public figure Tengiz Jopua believes.

He underscored that protests were not politicized from the start — they flared up after information emerged that one of the people arrested in the case investigating murder of three people in Sukhum in November 2019 was the president’s security guard officer. "These crimes galvanized people to gather. There were more ordinary people who were outraged by what happened, by authorities’ failure to take action — they came out to hold power to account. Politicians 'entered' the building [of the president’s administration] carried by the people," Jopua added.

Former Director of Abkhazia’s Presidential Center for Strategic Research Oleg Dameniya told TASS that "corruption had expanded enormously lately, crime and other destructive elements started overtaking our society."

At the same time, political scientist and ex-Secretary of the Abkhaz Civic Chamber Natella Akaba emphasized that Khajimba failed to establish dialogue with the opposition even though the public was offering that. "During his previous presidency when I was the Civic Chamber’s secretary, we tried to facilitate a dialogue," she clarified. "But he could not find common ground with them [opposition]."

Tough election with legal loopholes persisting

Jopua believes that Khajimba has lost a part of his electorate in the last few days, while there is not yet a strong figure to be fielded by the political group supporting Khajimba.

The second most influential political group is organizations opposing the current authorities led by the Amtskhara political party. Its candidate Alkhas Kvitsinia came second at the September election with the smallest of margins and later organized protest rallies and appealed the officially declared results of the election. Earlier, Kvitsinia said he had not yet thought about taking part in the rerun.

"We are staring down an election, the election will not be easy. I think that the election campaign will be tough, both sides will be fighting for the votes. The society is growing increasingly suspicious of the old authorities. However, I can’t say that people are content with what happened, they [Abkhazia’s people] do not have much of a choice," he pointed out.

Another important feature of the upcoming vote is that the Abkhaz election laws contain numerous legal loopholes, which stirred up the crisis. Both the Abkhaz Central Election Commission and expert circles point to the need to amend the legislation. "The legislation has a lot of confusing moments," Dameniya said. "Because of this, we are facing serious problems — how to hold a new presidential election and in what way our legislation can regulate processes and manage them." Only the national parliament can change the legal basis for elections to avoid difficulties in the future. Parliament’s speaker Valery Kvarchiya has already announced that lawmakers want to start working on those changes this week.