05/01/2008 - Results
Mikheil Saakashvili was re-elected President of the Republic of Georgia on 5th January with 51.71% of the vote. His main rival Levan Gatchetchiladze, who had the support of 9 opposition parties, won 25.38% of the vote.
The turn out rate rose to 56.70% which was above the obligatory 50% threshold in order to declare a victor after the first round of the election if someone won over 50% of the vote. "The fact that turn out reached this level is quite significant; it shows that the Georgians decided to take their future into their own hands – which is not a tradition in this country," says David Kakabadze, director of Radio Free Europe.
The Head of the Georgian State who had decided to gamble his mandate after a serious political crisis in October-November last year, when many opposition demonstrations had demanded his resignation, has therefore easily won his wager.
On 2nd November around 60,000 people rallied in Tbilisi in protest against the President's policy. On 5th November the TV channel Imedi broadcast its second interview with former Defence Minister, Irakli Okrouachvili, who was arrested in October last accused of corruption and who had fled to Germany in the meantime. The latter, a former MP, accused the Head of State of having tried to assassinate Arkadi (Padri) Patarlasischvili, a businessman and owner of Imedi TV and of having covered up the errors made in the investigation into the death of former Prime Minister (2004-2005) Zourab Jvania, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in February 2005.
On 7th November, following a major popular rally which was severely put down by the police Mikheil Saakashvili declared a state of emergency which lasted two weeks. This was finally lifted on 15th November.
Highly criticised for having responded violently to the November demonstrations and notably for having declared a state of emergency, the President of the Republic continued to maintain that he never really had any other choice. "It was the most difficult decision to take. Every club that strikes one of our citizens is also a blow to me. But there was no alternative apart from civil war," he declared on 14th November last. "I regret nothing. I am certain that we were right," he repeated during his entire electoral campaign. "Leaders usually use this type of event to establish a dictatorship. I immediately placed my mandate on the line after the crisis so that the matter could be resolved democratically," maintained Mikheil Saakashvili.
Undoubtedly this election was less a presidential election than a referendum with regard to Mikheil Saakashvili and a test of the country's democracy. "This presidential election was not an ideal one but it clearly marked great, great progress in comparison with other elections," maintained political analyst Temur Iakobachvili. The opposition criticised the outgoing president of having used State resources for his own electoral campaign. The latter did indeed offers tractors to farmers and he did distribute coupons to pay gas and electricity bills. He also enjoyed greater media coverage than his opponents. Mikheil Saakashvili explains the opposition's defeat saying that their "main mistake was not to organise large scale meetings focussed against him. In a presidential election it is not sufficient to win 50% plus one vote."
During the campaign the Head of State insisted on the importance of this election. "Tomorrow we shall make a vital choice. A choice between the future of Georgia and its past. A choice between a step backwards and progress," he said the day before the first round in Tbilisi. "Georgia is a major success story in our region. Now it is up to the Georgian people to decide whether this success will continue," he maintained after having voted on Saturday.
On the announcement of the first results the opposition forces claimed that there had been electoral fraud and called for demonstrations to denounce this. Around 5000 people answered the appeal and rallied in Tbilisi on 6th January, on the Orthodox Christmas Eve. "We do not believe the figures released by the electoral Commission. We demand a second round, this will be fair and we expect an answer," declared Tamara Roukhadzé, Levan Gatchetchiladzé's spokesperson who accused the electoral commission of "having struggled to give over 50% to Mikheil Saakashvili." "In Georgia there is still a revolutionary syndrome that says that democracy comprises popular rallies in the centre Tbilisi," stressed Ghia Nodia, director of the Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development.
Opposition leaders then announced that they would challenge the presidential election results before the courts and asked their supporters to remain calm. "We do not need another revolution nor destabilisation. Our fight for the defence of democracy and our election will be peaceful, legal and will not destabilise the country," declared Guiorgui Khaïndrava, head of the coalition of the nine opposition parties which supported Levan Gatchetchiladze. "The good news is that this election was the most competitive in Georgia's history," answered Mikheil Saakashvili, adding "You will find no other independent former USSR country where an opposition candidate wins over 30%."
460 OSCE observers attended the election on 5th January to monitor the 3,400 polling stations that were scattered across the country's 76 constituencies. The OSCE said the day after the election that everything had taken place according to the country's democratic commitments, but however "that there had been major faults," – notably with regard the Mikheil Saakashvili's electoral campaign – which would have to be rectified rapidly. "Yesterday in Georgia democracy took a triumphant step forwards. Since the competition was quite clear during the campaign I see the election as a confirmation of the choice made by the Georgian people," declared American parliamentarian Alcee Hastings, one of the mission leaders. "Now it is up to the authorities to listen to our criticism and to provide rapid response to the faults we saw," warned Hungarian parliamentarian Matyas Eorsi of the Council of Europe.
40 years old Mikheil Saakashvili is a graduate of law from the Universities of Kiev, Columbia (New York) and George Washington and from the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg. He initially worked in New York before returning to Georgia where he was elected MP in 1995. He was then appointed to the Committee responsible for the establishment of a new electoral system. In January 2000, Mikheil Saakashvili became Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In October he took up office as Justice Minister within the government of Edward Shevardnadze from which he had to resign in 2001 after accusations of corruption. He then founded his own party, the Unified National Movement (NM-D). In 2003, he challenged the results of the general elections that took place on 2nd and on 23rd November achieved the departure of the Head of State, Edward Shevardnadze, after having taken over the Parliament, rose in hand, with other members of his party. After what was qualified as the Rose Revolution Mikheil Saakashvili was elected President of the Republic of Georgia on 4th January 2004 with 96.05% of the vote.
Relying on his economic results (14% GDP growth in 2007, a 37.1% rise in the volume of trade in the first semester of 2007, foreign investments that reached 575 million dollars in the first quarter of 2007), Mikheil Saakashvili focussed his electoral campaign on economic and social issues and promised a great deal (increase in pensions, in salaries, etc.). Clearly the President has understood that his policy of economic liberalisation, although it produced results, has caused a great deal of frustration amongst the population, amongst those who were formerly the 'privileged few' under Edward Shevardnadze's regime and also amongst the working classes. According to the Georgian Institute for Strategy and Development (StanD), 32% of the population lives with less than 100 laris (42 euro) per month and around 30% of Georgians are unemployed. "In the name of budgetary conservatism we delayed in reacting to price rises in 2007. After four years of reform to establish a real market economy a feeling has set in that we were indifferent to what happened to the population," stressed MP and advisor to the President of the Population, Giga Bokeria.
After having won his wager the Georgian President now has the difficult task of providing all of the Georgian population with confidence again by enabling them to enjoy the fruits of liberalisation and the democratisation of the country.
Results of the First Round of the Presidential Election on 5th January in Georgia
Turn out: 56.70%