Authorities in breakaway Abkhazia moved on June 13 to strip roughly half of region’s ethnic Georgian population of right to cast ballot in snap presidential election scheduled for late August.
Acting president and speaker of breakaway region’s parliament, Valery Bganba, has instructed the interior ministry to compile list of those residents of predominantly ethnic Georgian populated eastern districts, whose Abkhaz ‘passports’ have been deemed by the legislative body as illegally issued.
An order signed by Bganba on June 13 also instructs the interior ministry to send the data before June 30 to the election commission, which should then strike off those persons from voters list, Abkhaz news agency, Apsnipress, reported.
The move was expected after leaders of Provisional National Council have declared that they are against of allowing thousands of ethnic Georgians in Gali, Tkvarcheli and Ochamchire districts to cast ballot in the August 24 early presidential election on the ground that they obtained their Abkhaz ‘passports’ illegally.
22-member Provisional National Council, chaired by MP Raul Khajimba, was formed by those political parties and public movements, which ousted breakaway region’s de facto president Alexander Ankvab after demonstrators took over presidential administration building in Sokhumi in late May. While many of cabinet members retain their posts as acting ministers, Ankvab’s allies either resigned or were sacked from some of the key posts in executive authorities; the Provisional National Council controls the breakaway region’s legislative body.
Passportization in predominantly ethnic Georgian populated districts is a long-standing, contentious issue in Abkhazia.
A group of opposition parties and public movements, which led protests against Ankvab, teamed up last year originally for the purpose of challenging him on the issue of distribution of Abkhaz passports to ethnic Georgian residents, viewing it as a threat to the Abkhaz statehood. Although since then opposition groups’ campaign against Ankvab evolved to also include challenging him on much broader issues like corruption, social and economic problems and his “authoritarian tendencies”, passportization was still remaining part of opposition’s agenda.
In September, 2013, as a result of opposition’s campaign, the Parliament instructed prosecutor’s office to inspect legality of distribution of Abkhaz passports by commissions set up in Gali, Ochamchire and Tkvarcheli districts since 2008. Through those commissions it was possible to obtain Abkhaz passports for ethnic Georgians, although the process was burdensome and lengthy. Opposition has long been arguing that issuing of passports through those commissions was illegal as it was bypassing requirements set in the Abkhaz law on citizenship. Many of ethnic Georgians, who received Abkhaz passports, were also retaining their Georgian citizenship, which constitutes violation of breakaway region’s laws.
Prosecutor’s office presented its findings before the Parliament in April, 2014, according to which data of total of 26,197 passports were verified; prosecutor’s office said at the time that violation of law on Abkhaz citizenship was “definitely established” in 1,188 cases.
But the Abkhaz Parliament passed on April 4 a resolution, which said that passports, issued upon the recommendations of “illegally” set up commissions in Gali, Ochamchire and Tkvarcheli, “cannot validate citizenship of the Abkhaz Republic.”
Number of such passports is estimated by the Abkhaz officials to be about 25,000 or possibly 26,000. Over 46,000 ethnic Georgians live in Abkhazia, according to 2011 official Abkhaz census.
Citing Parliament’s April 4 resolution, chairman of Provisional National Council, Raul Khajimba, said at a news conference on June 12 that 25,000-26,000 holders of those passports, issued by “illegally” set up commissions should not be allowed to vote in the August 24 early presidential elections.
“These are the people, who should build this state together with us, but their legal status should be defined in line with our laws,” Apsnipress quoted Khajimba as saying on June 12.
According to chairman of breakaway region’s central election commission, Batal Tabagua, only those 1,188 persons were so far removed from the voters list, whose passports were found by the prosecutor’s office to be illegally issued. But he told Sokhumi-based Abaza TV on June 12 that the election commission will remove others as well from the list if the Parliament issues such instruction.
For this and some other reasons, Tabagua was slammed by the National Provisional Council during a meeting on June 12. The council demanded from him to resign.
In 2009 when then Abkhaz leader, Sergey Bagapsh, wanted to amend the law to simplify distribution of Abkhaz citizenship to ethnic Georgians in Gali, opposition cried foul, arguing that the authorities wanted to capitalize on votes of ethnic Georgians; Bagapsh had to veto the bill.