Abkhazia insists independence from Georgia assured after disputed election
Pro-Russian incumbent President Sergei Bagapsh won a crushing first-round victory this weekend with 59.4 percent of the vote critics say was fraudulent.
It was a highly-controversial election, attended by almost no official observers, in a country most of the world refuses to recognize.Skip to next paragraph
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But officials in the Georgian breakaway state of Abkhazia and its only big friend, Russia, say they are highly pleased with the results of weekend polls that saw incumbent president Sergei Bagapsh win a crushing first-round victory over four opponents, netting 59.4 percent of the vote.
The rebel Black Sea republic's deputy foreign minister, Maxim Gunjia, reached by phone in the capital Sukhumi, says the elections may help Abkhazia break out of the diplomatic isolation that's been its lot ever since Russia's recognized its independence, along with the Caucasian breakaway statelet of South Ossetia, following a lightning war with Georgia over the territories last year.
For example, Mr. Gunjia says, the Pacific nation of Nauru plans to officially extend diplomatic recognition to Abkhazia and South Ossetia on Tuesday, making it only the fourth country in the world to do so, after Russia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.
"We believe the successful conduct of these elections will put more weight behind our claim to independent existence," he says. "These elections went smoothly, and we regard them as a test of democracy. They are a sign that we are growing up into full nationhood."
No Western country or official organization sent observers to the Abkhazian polls, which are not viewed as legitimate.
Georgia, which has not been able to enforce its rule over Abkhazia and South Ossetia in post-Soviet times, says the statelets remain its sovereign territory under international law. Georgian officials have denounced the election as illegal.
At least one Abkhazian opposition candidate is crying foul and claims he will challenge the outcome in court. But officials say that even if former vice president Raul Kadzimba's claims of inflated voter turnout are recognized, the results will still show that Mr. Bagapsh -- who ran on a platform of closer relations with Russia -- won overwhelmingly among the Black Sea territory's 127,000 registered voters.
Mr. Kadzimba, who won 15 percent of the votes, has complained that Russian TV in neighboring territories -- widely watched in Abkhazia -- campaigned openly for Bagapsh. He also alleges government workers were compelled to vote for the incumbent and that there was vote fraud in some polling stations.