28/03/2004 - Analysis
On 28th March, nearly five months after the last general elections on 2nd November 2003, that were marked by a number of irregularities and the cause of numerous demonstrations leading to the fall of President Edward Shevardnadze three weeks later, the Georgians have been called to vote to renew their Parliament. The results of the last general elections involving the representatives elected by proportional vote i.e. 150 of the 235 members of Parliament have been annulled. Sixty representatives from 2nd November in the majority vote maintained their mandates, thirteen others were elected on 4th January the day of the presidential election and during the by-elections - two candidates are waiting for the confirmation of their results, and finally 10 representatives from Abkhazia elected in 1992 i.e. before the secession of the region and who were not replaced, are still members of the Georgian parliament.
The Georgian Political System
The Sakartvelos Parlamenti that comprises 235 MP's is the only chamber of Parliament. The country is divided into 85 single member vote constituencies and ten where there is a vote for more than one member, each electing between 5 and 24 representatives according to the population. Representatives are elected for a four year period by majority vote in the case of 25 of them and by proportional representation in the case of the 150 others. A political movement must win a minimum of 7% of the votes cast in order to enter Parliament. In addition to this if in one constituency no candidate wins at least 33% of the vote a second ballot takes place between the two leading candidates. Finally half of the electorate registered in each constituency has to go to vote in order for the election to be declared valid.
The election stakes
Mikhaïl Saakachvili, who was elected president of the Republic of Georgia with 96.7% of the vote on 4th January last, pointed out that his first decisions would involve the fight against corruption, omnipresent in the country. The State's coffers are empty, taxes are only partially collected and civil servants are paid on an irregular basis. Generally it is thought that the parallel economy represents two-thirds of the country's activities.
Hence on 13th February Parliament adopted a series of amendments to fight corruption. On 3rd February Merab Adeïshvili, Communication and Transport Minister, an ally of former president Edward Shevardnadze, was arrested as he left his office for misuse of a dominant position and for illegally reducing the tariffs of several transport companies. The crusade launched by Mikhaïl Saakachvili is pitiless. Since his election at the head of State the former Energy Minister, the second in command of Taxes, the President of the National Football Federation have all been arrested for corruption and embezzlement. The new President issued a warning during his investiture speech: "Any corrupt civil servant will be considered as an enemy who has betrayed the nation." This warning that has not failed in causing a problem in a country where 99% of the civil servants are corrupt, since the regime of Edward Shevardnadze had practically raised corruption to being a form of lifestyle. However although the dignitaries of the old regime are not receiving protection in terms of accounting for some of their activities the former President for this part, who has taken refuge in his house near the capital, does not seem to be worried about his future.
At the beginning of February Parliament also reinstated the post of Prime Minister that had been deleted from the 1995 Constitution, adopted after Edward Shevardnadze's rise to power. The present Minister for the Co-ordination of Government activities, Zourab Zhvania, is to be appointed to this post in the near future. Other modifications have been made to fundamental Law. Parliament can now censure government by a majority vote of three fifths and the President can dissolve Parliament if MP's refuse to appoint the Prime Minister he has chosen or to adopt the nation's budget after three votes.
Georgia as an international player
Mikhaïl Saakachvili made a point of positioning himself in favour of his country's integration into the European Union: "Our policy is that of European integration." On 29th January he maintained in the German daily Bild "We share European values and we shall be able to achieve the level of Romania in a few years time." The attendance by Secretary of State Colin Powell in the company of the then Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Igor Ivanov at Mikhail Saakachvili's investiture ceremony bears witness, if it were necessary, of US interest in the Caucasian Republic. The new President whose decided intention it is to establish his country in the Western camp cannot however neglect his powerful Russian neighbour. Mikhaïl Saakachvili travelled to Moscow in February to discuss the problem of the Russian military bases on Georgian territory (Batoumi in Adjaria in the north of the country and Alkhalkalaki in the south). Tbilissi has demanded their withdrawal within the next three years whilst the Russians, who have already evacuated two of their bases, had not planned to do so before the end of a five year period. In 1999 at the summit of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Istanbul both countries agreed to complete negotiations on the future of these bases by 2000. Mikhaïl Saakachvili reassured the Russians that he did not plan to allow the deployment of military bases in his country by a third country (American or NATO forces). Another proof of the President's goodwill: he suggested to the Russian authorities the creation of joint patrols on the most permeable parts of their common border. "From now on all armed people who attempt to enter Georgia will be arrested and handed over to the country from whence they came," he declared. The issue of the permeability of the border between the Republic of the Caucasus and Chechnya has long been a detail in the deterioration of relations between Moscow and Tbilissi, the Russians accusing the Georgians of granting asylum to Chechen fighters.
The domestic situation
The other main subject for the new president is the unification of Georgia. The Caucasus Republic is in fact amongst one of the most diversified regions in the world ethnically speaking (there are around 50 different languages) and it is faced with the separatism of two of its provinces (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and with a number of demands for autonomy (Adjaria and Samtskhé-Javakhétia).
South Ossetia is officially linked to Georgia but behaves like an autonomous republic. It has a president, a government and a parliament. However since it does not have many independent means it is obliged to co-operate with central Georgian power and yet demands the constitution of a Federal State. Recently Mikhaïl Saakachvili offered the 100,000 inhabitants of South Ossetia significant autonomy in exchange that they recognise Georgian sovereignty. The authorities of the small Ossetian enclave, with the diplomatic and military support of the Russians, rejected this offer, answering that their independence was not to be negotiated. "Restoring territorial integrity is the dream of any Georgian leader and we can understand that. But our opinion is completely different," declared Stanislav Kochiev, president of the Ossetian parliament.
In Adjaria the situation is tense after the creation of a new political movement in the capital Tbilissi, Democratic Adjaria, led by Edward Sourmanidze, a close colleague of Zourab Zhvania, that rallied 5000 Adjarian representatives. This new party aims, according to its leader, to "gain a change in power in Adjaria by constitutional means" Theoretically Adjaria is integrated into the Georgian state but enjoys greater autonomy since the province has major resources (Adjaria is the country's richest province) of which it hands over just a tiny part to Tbilissi. President Aslan Abachidze, leader of the Renaissance Party and former close colleague to Edward Shevardnadze has accused Mikhaïl Saakachvili of wanting to chase him from power. He also faces increasing opposition within the Republic itself led by the Kmara Movement that recently multiplied its demonstrations and has demanded the departure of the Adjarian President.
Finally, Mikhaïl Saakachvili has also promised to reintegrate the Republic of Abkhazia into the Georgian fold before the end of his mandate in five years time. Abkhazia, which was integrated into the Soviet Republic of Georgia in 1921, is an autonomous republic that depends on Tbilissi. It declared independence in August 1992 and defended this during a year long conflict, leading to several thousand deaths and the exile of 200,000 Georgians.
After the fraud witnessed during the election on 2nd November 2003 the new Georgian president was praised by Bruce George President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), for the smooth running of the presidential election on 4th January. We hope that the European authorities will show their satisfaction again with the Georgians when the general elections take place on 28th March next - since these are crucial for the country, contrary to the presidential election, all the political forces should be in attendance.