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Caucasus Report

Abkhaz Businessman Hints At Presidential Bid

May 17, 2009
Businessman and former parliament deputy Beslan Butba, who is reputed to be one of Abkhazia's wealthiest men, has said he may run as a candidate in the presidential election due this fall.

Incumbent Sergei Bagapsh has already indicated that he plans to seek a second presidential term, and in January this year the Unified Abkhazia movement that serves as Bagapsh's power base formerly registered as a political party.

Six months after Butba failed to win reelection to parliament in the hotly contested March 2007 ballot, he founded his Economic Development Party of Abkhazia. Speaking at its founding congress on September 26, 2007, he said the party will focus on the economy, make political proposals, and seek to stimulate the political awareness of the population and its active involvement in public life. He said the party would not be in opposition to the authorities, and that it would seek support primarily among the younger generation and businessmen.

In early 2009, Butba signed a cooperation agreement with Yakub Lakoba, head of the opposition People's Party of Abkhazia. In late January 2009 he also convened a discussion attended by leading members of all of Abkhazia's political parties except Unified Abkhazia to discuss the possibility of drafting principles, to which all parties would accede, with the aim of ensuring the upcoming presidential ballot is free, fair, and open, according to www.apsny.ru on January 23.

Speaking at a press conference on May 15, Butba argued that even though Abkhazia considers itself an independent state, with Russia’s backing, its economy continues to stagnate, and the authorities have no clear strategy for the republic's further development. It is unclear how systematically the provisions of the grandiose socio-economic development strategy Bagapsh unveiled in September 2005 have been implemented. Following a meeting in Sochi on May 14 with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Bagapsh announced that Russia will make available a 1 billion ruble ($31 million) credit for Abkhazia.

At the same press conference, Butba announced five separate programs intended to "expedite a solution to the most acute problems" Abkhazia faces. They focus on developing small-scale business; preserving and reviving national culture; developing secondary and university education; providing medical care; and developing rural areas, where 60 percent of the republic's population scrapes by on subsistence farming. Butba acknowledged that "we cannot solve all the problems, but we can offer our views on how they can be solved."

Butba also said that the private Abaza TV channel he founded in 2007 is ready to begin digital broadcasting throughout Abkhazia, and has for the past year paid for the frequency that would enable it to do so, but that Bagapsh will not give the green light until after the presidential ballot. At present, residents of Abkhazia's Tkvarcheli Raion cannot watch Abaza, although they can access Georgian TV broadcasts. Butba also owns an independent weekly newspaper, "Ekho Abkhazii."
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