New Abkhaz “national assembly” that held its inaugural session today has elected 32-year-old Lasha Ashuba as its new speaker.
33 deputies unanimously backed Ashuba, the sole candidate for the post. Abkhaz legislature is composed of 35 members, but the remaining two lawmakers are yet to be elected through repeat polls.
He is one of the seven lawmakers — along with Timur Beia, Astamur Arshba, Alkhas Hagba, Venori Bebia, Levon Galustyan, and Ashot Minasyan — from the previous 2017-2022 convocation that retained their mandates in the new legislature.
Born in Sokhumi in 1989, Lasha Ashuba is a scion of a distinguished Abkhaz family, following the footsteps of his father, Nugzar Ashuba who served as the speaker of the Abkhaz “national assembly” from 2002 to 2012.
In 2011, Lasha Ashuba graduated from the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration with a degree in law. From 2011 to 2013 he worked in an unspecified commercial organization in Moscow.
Later from 2014 to 2016, he served at the Abkhaz “interior ministry.” From April 2016 to March 2017 he was a deputy of the Sokhumi city assembly.
The newly-elected speaker is a political ally of Abkhaz leader Aslan Bzhania.
Political Leanings of New Legislature
Various sources have said that at least 25 deputies in the new convocation are loyal to the current executive branch, an unusual make-up for the Abkhaz legislature where independent majoritarians have traditionally trumped political parties.
This would mean supporters of Bzhania can easily pass laws, including the constitutional amendments that require 24 votes.
Izida Chania, a veteran journalist critical of Bzhania’s administration, wrote for Ekho Kavkaza outlet in late March that “after the parliamentary elections, all branches of government have merged into one.”
Chania here also took note of Bzhania’s associate, Saida Butba being appointed as the head of the region’s top court.
The Opening Session
The opening session of the 7th convocation today was held in the building of “the cabinet of ministers” in Sokhumi, attended by Aslan Bzhania, his “prime minister” Alexander Ankvab, and other de facto officials, as well as Russian State Duma member Konstantin Zatulin.
Addressing the inaugural session, Aslan Bzhania listed strengthening the Abkhaz “statehood,” strategic alliance with Russia, as well as economic development as some of the expected key areas of cooperation with lawmakers.
“Our peculiarity, due to historical, geographical, and other factors, is that only within the framework of our state, we can preserve our [Abkhaz] language, culture, and identity,” said Bzhania in his address delivered in the Russian language.
Bzhania also said his administration would soon present draft amendments in the criminal code as well as a draft law on combating organized crime.
The session was held amid controversy as three journalists were barred from attending the event. Anaid Gogoryan and Said Barganjia, as well as the chairman of the Abkhaz Union of Journalists Ruslan Khashig, were prevented from attendance.
“I sincerely don’t understand what will be so secret there? For the sake of what is it worth, once again, for them to demonstrate their bias, lack of logic, and incompetence to the whole society?” Said Bagranjia, journalist of critical Respublica Telegram channel.
“This is a little story about how freedom of speech is understood in our country,” Bagranjia added.
Also today at the session, Abkaz deputies elected three vice speakers, including Fazlibey Avidzba, Astamur Arshba, and Ashot Minasyan.