Q&A: Separatist Abkhazia's parliamentary election

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (L) meets Alexander Ankvab, President of Georgia"s breakaway region Abkhazia
Image caption Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev (L) with Abkhazia's Alexander Ankvab

Voters in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia go to the polls on Saturday (10 March) to elect their parliament, less than a week after casting their ballots in the Russian presidential election.

The citizens of the self-proclaimed republic on the Black Sea coast number fewer than 250,000. They are strongly supportive of Russia, which supported their war of independence from Georgia in 1993, and the election is highly unlikely to produce any surprises.

Abkhazia's leader Alexander Ankvab was recently targeted in an ambush - thought to be the sixth attempt on his life - which Russia said was an attempt to destabilise the territory before the March 10 vote.

Is there a risk of violence?

Previous elections in Abkhazia have been very hotly contested. The authorities are also wary of the street protests that followed the disputed South Ossetia presidential election in November, the more recent demonstrations against the Russian parliamentary and presidential polls, and the apparent attempt on the life of de-facto President Alexander Ankvab in February.

This time, however, the atmosphere seems calm. The presidential election in August passed off without incident, after the three main candidates signed a pact to avoid conflict.

Who is standing?

The Central Electoral Commission says 150 candidates are contesting the 35 seats. Only 35 hopefuls were nominated by political parties - 11 by the governing United Abkhazia, 11 by the opposition Forum of Popular Unity of Abkhazia, seven by the Communist Party, and six by the Party of Economic Development of Abkhazia.

The remainder were nominated by civic groups, and there is a widespread public view that many of these see parliament as a way of promoting their sectional or personal interests.

In terms of ethnicity, there are 125 Abkhazians, 11 Armenians, eight Russians, two Greeks, two Georgians, one Ossetian, and a Kabardin standing. Georgians made up nearly half of the population of Abkhazia before they fled or were expelled in the early 1990s, and few now remain. Sixteen of the candidates are women.

Is the government worried about the outcome?

Pro-government candidates won 28 of the 35 seats in 2007. Discontent with the authorities is running higher this time round, but the division between government and opposition is not great on most issues. Moreover, neither the official nor the independent media are devoting much attention to the poll.

Who will monitor the election?

The Central Electoral Commission says that many of the observers who monitored previous elections will do so again. These are mainly Russian or Russian-led official institutions, as well as some non-governmental organisations from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

The government also invited observers from other pro-Russian separatist regions - Georgia's South Ossetia, Moldova's Trans-Dniester and Azerbaijan's Nagorno-Karabakh - who are expected to attend. It invited monitors from countries that have recognised Abkhaz independence - Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru and Tuvalu - but there is uncertainty about whether they will come.

What is clear is that the post-Soviet observers will give the poll their approval, as they do routinely in Russian-backed states, recognised or otherwise. Georgia and the rest of the international community refuse to observe or recognise the elections, on the grounds that Abkhazia is under de-facto Russian occupation and Georgian refugees are given no chance to vote.

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