28/03/2004 - D-7
On 28th March next the Georgian people will elect 150 of the 235 MP's that comprise their Parliament, the Sakartvelos Parlamenti. The Constitutional Court recently validated the results of the last elections that took place according to a district election system in single name constituencies on 2nd November 2003. Those elected according to this type of vote therefore maintained their positions. On Sunday the 150 new MP's will be selected according to a proportional vote.
Five coalitions and fourteen political movements will be standing during these general elections. The main parties will be as follows:
- The National Movement, President Mikhail Saakachvili's party;
- Democrats United, a party led by Minister of State Zourab Zhvania and Parliament's spokesperson, Nino Bourdjanadze. The union of President Mikhail Saakachvili's party, the National Movement (EM) with that of Minister Zourab Zhvania and Parliament's spokesperson, Nino Bourdjanadze, Democrats United, that had been planned for 4th February did not take place in the end and has been postponed sine die ;
- The Labour Party, a social democrat opposition party led by Chalva Natelachvili, who is protesting again the "forced" resignation of former President Edward Chevardnadze;
- Renaissance, a party led by Adjarian President, Aslan Abachidze;
- The Rightwing Opposition, a party led by Guiorgui Topadze and David Gamkrelidze, founder of the insurance company Aldagi, one of the country's leading companies;
- The National Democrat Party, a movement led by Bachuki Kardava and Akaki Asatiani.
We should note that two opposition movements led by the Adjarian President Aslan Abachidze, Koba Khabazi's "Our Adjaria" and Eduard Surmanidze's "Democratic Adjaria", have united under the banner "Our Adjaria".
The 7% minimum threshold of the vote in order to be represented in Parliament was maintained in spite of pressure from the Council of Europe in favour of a decrease. The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Walter Schwimmer recommended that the threshold be established at 4 or 5%. The European organisation also said that it was worried about the over representation of the ruling parties within the Electoral Commission responsible for monitoring the upcoming general elections. On 2nd March last President Mikhail Saakachvili's National Movement finally accepted to relinquish two of its nine seats to the opposition parties within this commission that comprises fifteen seats in all.
Finally we should say that the ethnic minorities that make up Georgia will be the particular subject of attention since the polling stations should be able to provide the electorate who do not speak the country's language with forms that have been printed in Azeri, Armenian and Russian.
Mid March President Mikhail Saakachvili appointed his government. The majority of the fifteen members that comprise it are all in their 30's and were educated in the West; four women are part of the new government team including 51 year-old Salomé Zurabishvili, former ambassador to France in Georgia, who has been appointed Foreign Affairs Minister. The new head of Georgian diplomacy was born in France of Georgian parents has French nationality but will now become a Georgian national. This appointment is a first in the annals of diplomacy and politics. Gela Bejuachvili, (37 years old) a lawyer who trained in Texas and the University of Harvard, is former Deputy Minister of Defence appointed to be Defence Minister since Mikhail Saakachvili wanted a civilian to occupy this position in line with the norms applied in countries belonging to NATO, an organisation that Georgia hopes to join in the near future.
Since his election on 4th January and as promised, Mikhail Saakachvili has gone to war on corruption. Several Mafiosi and former dignitaries of Edward Chevardnadze's regime who were suspected of corruption were arrested recently and sometimes in a spectacular manner. Hence the former President's son-in-law is accused of having taken advantage of his family links to become the national leader in mobile telephones and was arrested on a plane that was about to take off for Paris. "Accept no money from anyone and grant no advantages to your family. You should be aware that if you do so you will go straight to prison", these were the first words addressed by the President to the members of his government.
Mikhail Saakachvili recently travelled to Washington where he met with George Bush and to Paris where he was received by his counterpart Jacques Chirac. In the French capital he spoke once again of his enthusiasm about the European Union that he hopes his country will integrate in the next few years. "Geographically and culturally Georgia feels European and Georgians are enthusiastic Europeans", he declared to the newspaper Le Monde on 10th March last.
On 14th March a crisis irrupted between Georgia and Adjaria when armed men twice stopped President Mikhail from crossing the administrative border between the two territories. The Adjarian President, Aslan Abachidze, who was visiting Moscow at the time immediately accused Tbilissi of wanting to overthrow him. The same day Mikhail Saakachvili sent an ultimatum to the Adjarian government threatening it with an economic blockade if it continued to bar him access to its territory. The President demanded that free movement be established across all of Georgia, that people being held for political reasons in Adjarian prisons be freed and that candidates in the general elections on 28th March might campaign freely in Adjaria. Mikhail Saakachvili also requested the disarmament of "illegal armed groups" who were at large in the country. If Aslan Abachidze did not respond then links between Adjaria and abroad would be cut from Monday night on by an air, sea and road blockade. An atmosphere of siege started to settle over the Adjarian capital whilst armed men monitored the administrative border with Georgia closely. Both Presidents found themselves locked in a struggle that might have degenerated into armed conflict at any moment.
But on 17th March after seven hours of negotiations between Parliament's spokesperson Nino Bourdjanadze, and the Adjarian President an agreement was finally reached and Mikhail Saakachvili was able to go to Batoumi to meet with Aslan Abachidze. The latter committed himself to organising general elections on 28th March on his territory and consented to disarming local militia; he also accepted Georgian control of trade undertaken via the port of Batoumi and he finally agreed to lifting the state of emergency and curfew that had been declared three days previously. The upcoming general elections will therefore comprise a real test in this area where Renaissance, Aslan Abachidze's party, usually win 95% of the vote. Guela Vassadze, spokesperson of the new coalition Our Adjaria, declared that militants were planning to hold electoral meetings this week.
These negotiations are an undeniable victory for Mikhail Saakachvili who succeeded in peacefully obtaining, on the one hand, the democratic organisation of the future general election and on the other a footing for Tbilissi in Adjaria again. It will be more difficult however to win any more concessions from the Adjarian President who is determined to hang on to his all powerful post in Adjaria.
On 28th March the general elections should provide Mikhail Saakachvili with the majority he needs to take on the heavy task he has set himself, that is putting his country back on track and to bring it forwards along the path towards democracy and economic development.