SUKHUMI, Georgia, July 11 (UPI) -- A referendum on early presidential elections in Abkhazia, a breakaway state from Georgia, was declared void because of low voter turnout, the country's president, Raul Khajimba, said Monday.
The Central Election Commission said 1.23 percent, or 1,528 people, turned out and at least 50 percent of the 132,887 registered voters was needed for the referendum to be recognized. Of the totals, 750 people voted for early elections and 761 against. One hundred and seventeen ballots were invalid, the chairman of the commission, Batal Tabagua, told TASS.
"Abkhazia has never seen such a low turnout, even at elections to local self-governments," Tabagua said Sunday.
Khajimba said early elections are "not relevant to our society."
Five days before the voting, Abkhazia's opposition party Amtsakhara approved a resolution at its congress demanding the referendum be postponed until the fall and the resignation of Abkhazian Interior Minister Leonid Dzapshba over worsening crime and violation of people's constitutional rights. The president suspended the minister until the prosecutor's investigation is over.
On Saturday, the opposition force that initiated the referendum urged a boycott.
"The referendum was necessary and useful in conditions of political crisis," Aslan Bzhaniya, the co-leader of Abkhazia's opposition told TASS. But he said authorities "have failed to create conditions for free expression of will of the people."
Khajimba became president in 2014 and was criticized for his inability to improve the situation in the republic. His opponents also said he had come to power in a state coup.
"The referendum [on early presidential elections] has failed and under our law we can readdress it only in two years. We will continue to speak with the opposition," he told TASS Sunday.
Abkhazia, with a population of about 250,000, is in the northwestern corner of Georgia and was once known as a prime holiday destination for the Soviet elite. After the Georgian-Russian war in 2008, Moscow recognized the area as an independent state, though the United Nations, Georgia and the majority of the world's countries consider the state to be part of Georgia.