04/01/2004 - Results
As expected Mikhail Saakachvili (National Movement) was elected by a wide majority President of Georgia winning 85.5% of the vote. The two candidates after him won only 0.4% each and in all the scores of his four adversaries together (Temour Chachiachvili, Kartlos Garibachvili, Roin Liparteliani and Zaza Sikharoulidze) did not go beyond 1%. The leader of the "rose revolution", who forced President Edward Shevardnadze to resign on 23rd November last after three weeks of peaceful demonstrations, during which the population challenged the results of the general elections that were held on 2nd November, was well and truly voted in as leader of Georgia. In spite of the call to boycott the elections by those loyal to Edward Shevardnadze, the participation rate rose to 83%. Half of the electorate had to go to ballot in order for the election to be declared valid - a result that was achieved just two hours before the end of the election. Four hundred and fifty international observers monitored the presidential election for which no particular problem was detected.
The presidential election was boycotted by the province of Abkhazia. In South Ossetia only the inhabitants living in the area controlled by Tbilisi took part. In Adjaria, Aslan Abachidze's stronghold, the state of emergency was only lifted at the last minute hence just a small number of voters went to ballot. Abachidze had challenged the establishment of new electoral roles as well as the dissolution of the previous electoral Commission; therefore he suspended the organisation of the presidential election in his region.
Mikhail Saakachvili, who is thirty-six years old is a qualified lawyer and comes from an intellectual background (his mother is professor of history at the University of Tbilissi and his father is a doctor). He studied in the Ukraine, France (Strasbourg) and the USA (University of Columbia - New York). After having worked for a legal practice in the USA for nine years he returned to his native country. Edward Shevardnadze, the former president noticed him since he was looking for young blood to rejuvenate his team and Mikhail Saakachvili became the leader of the Citizens' Union Party before being appointed Justice Minister in 2000. He resigned from this position 11 months later in protest against the corruption and the inability of the head of State to fight it. Mikhail Saakachvili had even produced documents and photographs during a ministerial meeting showing the properties of the corrupt ministers. In 2001 he created his own party, the National Movement that rapidly took over as the main challenger to Edward Shevardnadze.
"I would like to thank the entire nation, all of my supporters. It is not just my victory but that of the Georgian people", he declared during a meeting where his supporters came together in the capital, Tbilisi after the election. He added, "There are many problems to resolve but we are going to rebuild this country together and take the path towards democracy". The new president, who held a bunch of red roses in his arms, the symbol of the popular movement that ended Edward Shevardnadze's regime six weeks earlier, promised to re-establish "peace and prosperity". "We have proved not only that we are able to win but also that we can maintain our victory", stated Nino Bourdjanadze, the interim President. Finally the State Minister for the Co-ordination of Government Activities, Zourab Zhvania, announced, "it is a new era, a new epoch".
Former president Edward Shevardnadze admitted having voted in favour of Mikhail Saakachvili on Sunday. "You have guessed what my choice was", he answered journalists who were interviewing him, "Mikhail Saakachvili has one sure quality and that is the gift to talk to people, he is young, and he has a lot of energy and he is highly educated". He did add however, "he will have to work more and talk less. That's enough populism for now, it is now time to start work"
Mikhail Saakachvili has been elected for five years and will officially become the youngest head of State in the world on 25th January. His first task will be to organise general elections and to form his government. He indicated that his first decisions will involve the fight against corruption, a real blight for the country. The new President, who is known for his pro-Western positions would like to bring his country closer to Europe and the USA, but he will have to handle his relations with Russia carefully. The latter do not consider the increasing American influence with a positive eye in a country that it believes to be its private territory. Donald Rumsfeld, the American State Secretary for Defence who was visiting Tbilisi on 5th December revealed US support for the new team in power and repeated the American request for the withdrawal of Russian forces stationed in Georgia. At present Georgia is the only former USSR country to be submitted to a visa regime by Moscow. In addition to this Russia has continued to operate two military bases within the Caucasian republic (Batoumi in Adjaria and Alkhalkalaki in the south). The new president has declared that he would like to travel to Russia on his first official trip.
This presidential election was also closely followed by the all of the West and particularly by the USA because of the strategic position the country occupies in terms of oil exports from the Caspian Sea. The Caucasian Republic is about to crossed by an oil pipeline Bakou-Tbilissi-Ceyhan that is to be built by Western oil companies with US support.
A heavy task now awaits Mikhail Saakachvili if he is to meet the tremendous expectations of his people. The candidate, who did not really undertake an electoral campaign, has however promised to double pensions and to correct the country's economic situation and to bring the separatist regions of Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia back within the folds of Georgia within the next five years. The new President will have to refloat a country that faces a terrible economic crisis and major poverty. More than half of the 4.5 million Georgians (52% according to Nodar Kapandze, head of the Statistical Research Department) live below the poverty line, established at 65 dollars per month. Privatisations (particularly those of the major companies) remain, for the greater part, incomplete and corruption is rife. The State coffers are empty, taxes are only partially collected and civil servants are paid irregularly. On 1st December the international community committed itself to providing 5.33 billion euros in aid to the country for it to ensure a peaceful democratic transition. The European Commission alone will provide up to 2 million euros.
Georgia, that was the first former Soviet republic to declare its independence on 9th April1991, was also until now the last country in the Community of Independent States (CIS) to be governed by an ex-apparatchik (Edward Shevardnadze, former first secretary of the Georgian Communist Party, was Mikhail Gorbatchev's Foreign Secretary). Mikhail Saakachvili's election therefore will enable the Caucasian republic finally to turn the page on the Communist era.