21/05/2008 - Analysis
On 23rd March the President of the Republic, Mikhail Saakachvili, announced on the public TV channel, Rustavi 2 that the forthcoming parliamentary elections would be held on 21st May 2008. The Constitution obliges the Head of State to announce that a parliamentary vote is to be held at least 60 days prior to the chosen date. On 5th January last, the very day of the 1st round of the presidential elections, the people of Georgia were consulted by referendum as to the date of the next parliamentary elections, which had initially been planned for autumn 2008. Over three quarters of voters replied "yes" to the question "Do you want the next parliamentary election to be held in the spring?
" compared to 20.82% who voted "no
An argument did arise however with regard to the date chosen by the President of the Republic. Members of the opposition had warned against organising elections on a date too close to or after 26th May, Georgia's independence day (the country declared its independence for the first time on 26th May 1918), considering that this would give an advantage to parties in power. "The opposition did not want parliamentary elections to be held after the celebrations for independence day and the military parade on 26th May. So in my opinion it is better to organise the elections before independence day, i.e. on 21st May 2008
", declared Mikhail Saakachvili.
A long-standing political crisis
On 5th January, Mikhail Saakachvili was re-elected President of Georgia in the 1st round, collecting 51.71% of the votes, compared to 25.38% for his main opponent, Levan Gatchetchiladze, supported by a coalition grouping 9 opposition parties. This early presidential election was held further to a political crisis that had begun two months earlier when 60,000 people went to Tbilissi to protest against the policies of the Head of State. On 5th November the TV channel Imedi TV had shown an interview with the former Defence Minister, Irakli Okrouachvili, arrested a few days earlier on grounds of corruption. This former member of the government accused President Mikhail Saakachvili of having sought to have assassinated Arkadi (Padri) Patarkasischvili, a businessman, who owns Imedi TV (who died of a heart attack on 12th February last in Leatherhead (Surrey) in the United Kingdom) and of having covered up the weaknesses in the enquiry into the death of former Prime Minister (2004-2005) Zourab Jvania, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in February 2005. On 7th November, after a large-scale popular demonstration, put down by the security services, Mikhail Saakachvili declared a state of emergency for two weeks. In the end this was lifted on 15th November.
Strongly criticised for having answered the November demonstrations by force, and particularly for having declared the state of emergency, the Head of State has always stated that he did not have any real choice. "It was the most difficult decision to take. Every baton hitting one of our citizens was also laid against me. But there was no alternative other than chaos and civil unrest,
" he declared on 14th November 2007. "Leaders generally use this kind of event to establish a dictatorship. I immediately put my mandate on the line so that this could be resolved democratically,
" underlined Mikhail Saakachvili who did indeed call an early presidential election. The result of this ballot has been strongly disputed by the opposition, which have accused the authorities of fraud. Since then the situation has remained tense in Georgia.
On 9th March, at the end of a demonstration against the authorities, attended by 7,000 people, 6 opposition members of parliament began a hunger strike in front of the office of the president of Parliament, Nino Bourdjanadzé, in Tbilissi, a strike called by New Rights, the party led by David Gamkrelize, and the National Council for the Opposition which groups 7 political parties from nationalists through to the extreme left. "After holding big meetings we agreed to dialogue. We have had 15 meetings which have resulted in nothing. So we have chosen this means of peaceful protest,
" explained Guia Tortladze of the Movement for a United Georgia, a party set up by the former Defence Minister Irakli Okrouachvili. The latter was arrested in Berlin on 26th November 2007 by Interpol and arrived in France on 9th January after Paris granted him a visa. On 23rd April, Irakli Okrouachvili was also granted political asylum in France. On 28th March he was sentenced in his absence to 11 years prison by the Tbilissi court for extortion.
On 10th March the National Democratic Party joined the movement, as did 4 parliamentarians and several citizens. The hunger strikers and their supporters were demonstrating, amongst other things, against the refusal by the president of Parliament to proceed with a recount of votes in the presidential election. They were also calling for the release of those they call "political prisoners
" that is to say people arrested after the demonstrations held last November, for parity between the forces in power and the opposition within the electoral Commission, for a change to the electoral process and, finally, for the resignation of Nino Bourdjanadzé who they accuse of being responsible for the failed negotiations.
According to an opinion poll published in the weekly Kviris
Palitra, 48.3% of Georgians consider that the election of Mikhail Saakachvili as Head of State on 5th January 2008 did not take place in a democratic manner and 28% want there to be another election. Another poll shows that 45.2% of Georgians believe that the presidential election is riddled with fraud and 45.2% that there should have been a 2nd round. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) declared after the vote that this had been "one step forward for democracy in Georgia
", whilst indicating however that it had observed numerous violations of rights.
On 16th March a demonstration against the authorities included 5,000 Georgians and the number of hunger strikers had reached 70, 12 of whom had been taken to hospital. Four days later, the National Democratic Party decided to put a stop to the movement further to an appeal from the leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II.
The political system
On 4th March, Parliament adopted several constitutional amendments by 168 votes in favour and 2 against. The number of members was reduced, down from 255 to 150. Half of them will now be elected by majority vote in the 75 circumscriptions, whilst the other half will be designated by proportional representation of lists within a single national circumscription. Members of the opposition opposed this new method of voting with most of them wanting the majority of members (100) to be elected by proportional representation. "The authorities are manipulating the law. The oligarchs and wealthy will win the election with no problem in the 75 circumscriptions elected by majority vote. They'll only have to hand out flour and a little money, or else build some roads
" stated the former Minister for Conflict Resolution (2004-2006), Guiorgui Khaindrava, who has joined the opposition.
The percentage of votes cast, as a minimum, in order to be represented in Parliament, previously set at 7% is now fixed at 5%. Finally, in order to be a candidate in the parliamentary elections, any party not represented in Parliament must collect the signatures of 30,000 voters. 9 political parties and 3 electoral blocks are in the running for the parliamentary elections to be held on 21st May. 23 parties have been refused the possibility of running by the electoral Commission on the grounds that they did not present a sufficient number of signatures.
The electoral campaign
The Foreign minister, David Bakradze, will lead the list of the party in power, which will be renamed United National Movement for a Victorious Georgia. The party is chaired by Karlo Kvitashvili. Initially the likely candidate as head of list, the president of Parliament, Nino Bourdjanadzé, finally declined the offer. David Bakradze will resign from his functions as head of diplomacy on his return from the United States and Germany. If his party wins he will become president of Parliament.
The party in power is presenting 194 candidates for the parliamentary elections on 21st May. There are 3 ministers amongst the top ten on the list for the United National Movement for a Victorious Georgia. In addition to the Foreign minister there is Koba Subeliani, minister for Refugees and Housing in 2nd place and Zaal Gamtsemlidze, minister for Environmental Protection in 4th place. 3rd place is held by the actor Georgi Roinischvili. The minister of Agriculture, Petre Tsiskarischvili, will be a candidate in the majority vote ballot in the region of Akhmeta (East of the country). "Over three quarters of our candidates are new faces, who have not previously been in politics
", said President Saakachvili. "I want everyone to know that these parliamentary elections will be very clean and transparent. I am offering the opposition the possibility of setting up an inter-faction group to draw up all the electoral lists and I am offering to invite a large number of observers
", he also declared.
The Georgia Republican Party, headed by David Usupashvili, who left the National Council for United Opposition in February, is standing alone, as is the Labour Party, which also previously belonged to the opposition coalition. The Georgia Republican Party, which is presenting 150 candidates in the proportional representation ballot and 67 in the majority vote, hopes to collect 15% of votes in the proportional ballot and win between 4 and 11 seats in the majority vote. The Labour leader Shalva Natelashvili who is standing in his district of Dusheti, says that should his party win on 21st May, he will quietly get rid of the Head of State Mikhail Saakachvili. On 14th April he violently attacked the President on the Primetime programme on the Rustavi 2 TV channel. "Leaders who treat their people in the way he did on 7th November last year end up like Slobodan Milosevic and Nicolae Ceaucescu
" he said, "I want to give Georgia back its independence and sovereignty, which have been sold by Mikhail Saakachvili to Terry Davis (secretary general of the Council of Europe), to Mathew Bryza (member of the American Secretary of State) and to other bureaucrats
", declared Shalva Natelashvili, who accused the Head of State of being "the puppet of the US administration.
"The distrust expressed was against Mikhail Saakachvili, not against Georgia,
" he underlined, with regard to the NATO decision to put back to December 2008 the decision to sign the membership action plan (MAP) with Georgia. On 5th January the Georgians were consulted by referendum regarding NATO membership of their country: 77% of voters answered "Yes
", to the question "Do you want Georgia to join NATO?
" compared with 23% who were against.
Supporters of the owner of Imedi TV, Padri Patarkasischvili, divided after his death, resulting in the creation of 2 parties, the Democratic Party for United Georgia, chaired by the former commander of interior forces and the former leader of the Grandeur of Georgia party, Giorgi Shervashidze, and Our Georgia, run by Gocha Jojua, who will stand for election alongside the Traditionalist Union of Akaki Asatiani and Guguli Magradze's Our Georgia-Women's Party, who left the National Movement and joined the opposition.
Industry will save Georgia, the National-Democratic Party and Unity, the party headed by Jumber Patiashvili have also formed an electoral block known as Rightist Alliance. The list will be headed by the leader of Industry will save Georgia, Gogi Topadze. Restoration of territorial integrity, economic rebound, the development of agriculture and the establishment of good neighbour relations with Russia are the priorities of the Rightist Alliance programme which will be putting 20 candidates forward in the proportional representation ballot and 29 in the majority ballot.
The National Council for United Opposition and New Rights have decided to unite for these elections. The National Council for United Opposition includes 7 parties: the Conservative Party led by Zviad Dzidziguri, the Movement for United Georgia led by Irakli Okrouachvili, Salomé Zourabischvili's Georgia's Way, Konstantin Gamsakhourdia's Liberty, the People's Front led by Koba Davitaschvili, the National Forum led by Kakhaber Shartava and Ourselves led by Paata Davitaya. Levan Gatchetchiladze will be head of list, the leader of New Rights, David Gamkrelidze, n°2, Konstantin Gamsakhourdia will be in 3rd place and Koba Davitaschvili in 5th place. Levan Gatchetchiladze will be a candidate in Samgori, one of the most hotly disputed circumscriptions.
"This is a union of the opposition without precedent. We are starting the fight for victory in the parliamentary elections, our fight to see the end of Mikhail Saakachvili's regime. The government is illegitimate and must be replaced. They stole the presidential election from us and we will not allow them to steal the parliamentary election
" declared Levan Gatchetchiladze when the constitution of the electoral block was announced. "President Saakachvili, the Interior minister, Vano Merabishvili, and the president of Parliament, Nino Bourdjanadzé, have declared war on the Georgian nation and the opposition can only win this war if it remains united,
" underlined David Gamkrelidze, calling on the Republican Party and the Labour Party to unite with the other opposition parties.
Tension in Russian-Georgian relations
On 20th April, Georgia accused Russia of having shot down, with the help of a Russian Mig 29 over the Gali district (East of Abkhazia), one of its drones, an Israeli made Hermes 450, which was flying over Abkhazia. "This is aggression against the territorial sovereignty of Georgia,
" declared President Mikhail Saakachvili. Initially Russia denied the incident, declaring that flying over the Abkhazan territory was in itself a violation of the 1994 peace agreement, before finally acknowledging the aggression. The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, chose this tense moment to announce normalisation of relations between Russia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia and indicated that he was setting up a new cooperation involving the establishment of diplomatic representations in the two Republics and economic rapprochement. At the same time Moscow decided to re-establish its commercial flights and postal links with Georgia, both of which were stopped in September 2006, when 4 Russian officers were accused of spying and held for questioning in Georgia.
Integrated into the Soviet Republic of Georgia in 1921, Abkhazia is an autonomous Republic under Tbilissi which proclaimed its independence unilaterally in August 1992 and defended it during a conflict which lasted a year, resulting in several thousand deaths and the exile of 200,000 Georgians. No State has recognised its independence. 2,000 Russian soldiers are still stationed in Abkhazia. Since coming to power in 2003, Mikhail Saakachvili has been attempting to bring Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Adjaria back into the Georgian fold. "Russia is trying to annexe one third of Georgian territory and is offering to improve its relations with the remaining two thirds,
" said the Georgian Foreign Minister, David Bakradze, ironically. On 6th March Russia withdrew from the treaty signed in 1996 which banned any military assistance in Abkhazia.
Russian aggression is doubtless a reaction to the declaration of independence of Kosovo on 17th February, independence that has to date been recognised by 37 States, including the United States and 18 of the 27 Member States of the European Union. It is also very probably a reaction to the decision, although adjourned, of NATO to integrate Ukraine and Georgia. However, Moscow cannot go much further and recognise the independence of Abkhazia due to the consequences such action would have within its own borders.
The European Union has reaffirmed its "support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia," and has called on all parties involved to "refrain from any action that could lead to an escalation in the situation in the region
". The secretary general of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, stated "I call on Russia to go back on this measure (the announcement of greater cooperation with Abkhazia) and I call on the Georgian authorities to show proof of restraint.
A month before the early parliamentary elections, the United National Movement for a Victorious Georgia is not the favourite. According to a poll published by the newspaper Resonansi on 21st April, 21.37% of voters have already made their choice and intend to vote for the party in power. 17% say they will vote for the National Council of United Opposition, 6.12% for the Republican Party, 4.62% for the Labour Party, 4.37% for the Christian Democratic Party led by the former presenter on Imedi TV, Giorgi Targamadze, 1% for the Rightist Alliance and for Our Georgia-Traditionalist Union-Our Georgia-Women's Party and 0.5% for the Christian-Democratic Alliance led by Giorgi Kobakhidze. 83% of people questioned say that they will go and vote.
Results of the parliamentary election held in Georgia on 28th March 2004
Source: Georgian Parliament