The third time proved the charm for 56-year-old Raul Khajimba on August 24, when the ex-KGB-officer-turned-separatist-official-turned-separatist-politician was duly declared the de-facto elected president of breakaway Abkhazia.
With a claimed turnout of 70 percent of roughly 142,656 de-facto registered voters, Khajimba took just over 50 percent of the vote, followed from afar by former State Security Committee boss Aslan Bzhaniya with 35.91 percent, according to preliminary data.
Defeated in 2009 and forced to take a controversial power-sharing deal in 2004, the Moscow-friendly Khajimba has been around the block a few times in his bids for elected office.
The latest bit of drama came earlier this summer when protesters, alleging widespread abuse of power and economic mismanagement, prompted Alexander Ankvab to resign as the region’s de-facto president. Yesterday's vote was to find a successor.
At an August-25 press conference in the Abkhaz capital, Sokhumi, Khajimba pledged “a reform of the system, unification of the people, and. . .to build the state” without creating divisions between “aliens” and “our own people.” (The remark is not thought to be an appeal to Abkhazia’s ethnic Georgians, whose Georgian passports lead many Abkhaz, including Khajimba, to worry about Tbilisi's influence.) He also vowed that freedom of speech would prosper in Abkhazia.
Details were non-existent, but, then, the remarks came from a candidate who had not been able to draw up a campaign platform.
Nonetheless, one detail is clear to Moscow — Khajimba’s previously expressed interest in coming up with a document about “integration” with Russia, its northern neighbor and main source of military and financial support. The expression could mean anything, but has been named as possibly meaning removing all de-facto border controls between Abkhazia and Russia,
Others, struggling to survive in this impoverished territory, might put another spin on the plans. The region has seen a fair chunk of its Russian financial support dry up over the past year.
As residents took to the street for some energetic Abkhaz folk-dancing to celebrate Khajimba’s win, one elderly man told the Russian TV station Rossiya-24 that the vote was the chance for “a new page” in Abkhazia’s relations with Russia.
How exactly Moscow will choose to write its part of that “page” is not clear, however.
In a congratulatory telegram (yes, a telegram) to Khajimba, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Abkhazia’s main financial and military fallback, reportedly expressed the usual best wishes for domestic stability and harmony, with a slightly greater emphasis on tightening the bonds of Russian-Abkhaz friendship.
Tbilisi, which generally avoids overtly butting heads with Moscow over separatist matters these days, has not responded. Neither it nor the European Union recognised Abkhazia’s August-24 vote as legitimate.