Aslan Bzhania is now set to become Moscow-backed Abkhazia’s fifth leader for a five-year term, winning March 22 repeat ‘presidential’ election, which was called after local court declared September 2019 leadership runoffs invalid on January 12, that was soon followed by Moscow-facilitated resignation of Raul Khajimba later that day.
Noting that Bzhania garnered 53,741 votes, accounting for 56.5% of all ballots cast, the region’s election administration has declared him as the new leader; Bzhania’s running mate Badra Gunba is set to become the new ‘vice-president.’
Adgur Ardzinba, another leadership hopeful, was the second in the three-men race, garnering 33,686 votes, accounting for 35,42%; Leonid Dzapshba received 2,114 votes accounting for 2,22%.
Voter turnout was 71,56%, with 95,109 voters casting ballots amid novel coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of ethnic Georgians residing in Abkhazia’s easternmost Gali district are removed from voters list since 2014 polls.
Adgur Ardzinba, was quick to concede defeat and congratulated Bzhania on victory late on Sunday, local media outlet Apsny Today reported. Acting Abkhaz leader Valery Bganba also congratulated Bzhania, another local media source ApsnyPress wrote.
Bzhania, a Soviet KGB school graduate, has long considered to become the Abkhaz leader. He was deemed the main rival of then incumbent leader, ex-KGB officer Raul Khajimba in 2019 leadership race, but had to quit the contest after being poisoned with heavy metals.
On March 2 this year, Bzhania was hospitalized again and eventually delivered to a hospital in Krasnodar, Russian regional capital some 300 kilometers north from Sochi. On the following day, scores of the Abkhaz, believing that Bzhania had been poisoned to prevent him participating in upcoming repeat polls, stormed the “presidential administration” office in Sokhumi and demanded resignation of then-acting leader acting leader Valery Bganba. Bzhania was discharged from the hospital on March 11 after being treated for double multilobar aspiration pneumonia.
In 2014 polls in which Khajimba won the region’s leadership race with 50,494 votes (accounting for 50.57%), Bzhania was second in the four-man race with 35,91%, followed by ex-defense minister Merab Kishmaria and ex-interior minister Leonid Dzapshba with 6.4% and 3.4%, respectively.
- Aslan Bzhania on Russian Interests in Caucasus and Relations with Tbilisi
- Crisis in Abkhazia: What You Need to Know
- Commotion in Abkhazia: Expert Views