13/05/2008 - D-7
On 21st May next the Georgians will be renewing their Parliament during a general election that is taking place a few months early (the elections should have been held in the autumn). The constitutional amendments approved on 4th March by Parliament brought changes to the appointment of MPs whose number will drop from 255 to 150. Half of them will now be elected by a majority vote within 75 constituencies whilst the other half will be appointed by a proportional system from a list within one single national constituency. In addition to this the percentage of votes cast to be represented in Parliament is now set at 5% whereas it lay at 7% before. Nearly 3.5 million voters are being called to ballot. 3,552 polling stations will be open.
9 political parties and 3 electoral blocs are running in the election on 21st May:
- the United National Movement for a Victorious Georgia, in power at present whose list will be led by former Foreign Minister David Bakradze;
- the Republican Party led by David Usupashvili;
- the Labour Party led by Shalva Natelashvili;
- the Christian Democratic Party led by former ImediTV presenter Giorgi Targamadze;
- the Christian Democratic Alliance led by Giorgi Kobakhidze;
- Georgian Politics led by Gocha Pipia;
- Our Country led by Tamaz Gugunishvili;
- the National Movement of Radical Democrats led by Shalva Kuprashvili;
- the Sportsmen's Union led by Valery Giorgobiani;
- the Right Alliance a bloc formed by Industry will Save Georgia, the National Democratic Party and Unity (Ertoba);
- the bloc formed by Our Georgia, the Women's Party and the Traditionalist Union;
- and the bloc formed by New Rights led by David Gamkrelidze and the National Council of United Opposition that rallies 7 parties (the Conservative Party led by Zviad Dzidziguri, the Movement for United Georgia led by Irakli Okrouachvili – former Defence Minister who has just been granted political asylum in France – Georgia's Way led by former Foreign Minister Salomé Zourabishvili, Freedom led by the son of former President (1991-1992) Konstantin Gamsakhourdia, the People's Party led by Koba Davitashvili, the National Forum led by Kakhaber Shartava and Ourselves led by Paata Davitaya). The bloc has chosen to run under the banner of "Movement for the Liberation of Georgia."
The ruling party that has been losing ground just one week before the vote is attempting to show that it is attentive to the population. Hence it wanted to involve Georgians in the elaboration of its electoral programme "by taking into account inhabitants' opinions in all of the country's regions." According to the polls unemployment and social problems are voters' two main concerns. "All of our promises have been kept," declared President Mikhail Saakachvili, "we are living in a Georgia void of corruption that has rid itself of clans, of Edward Shevardnadze and his groups, and we have a Georgia that is free of feudalism and Aslan Abashidze (leader of the secessionist republic of Adjaria 1991-2004). But the real challenges lie ahead. We now have to pass the most important tests. Everything that came before was just preparatory work. Now we are going succeed for the salvation of the future generations," added the Head of State, who indicated that the country was committed "to a battle between good and evil."
The Rightist Alliance has condemned the problems encountered by its candidates during the electoral campaign; complaints have been lodged by the New Rights-United Opposition which maintains that its candidates have been victims of intimidation on the part of the police.
On 29th April last the National Council of United Opposition and New Rights asked for the resignation of the Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Levan Tarkhnishvili. They are also accusing the authorities of over-estimating the number of voters. The opposition forces have already said they will demonstrate outside the Electoral Commission on 21st May in "defence of transparency and to impede corruption." "Georgia will succeed this final test by holding free, democratic and transparent elections on 21st May next," reassured President Saakachvili during a campaign meeting.
The general elections will be monitored by 400 observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) who are being led by Boris Frlec. Matyas Eorsi, member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe said he was pleased with the drop from 7% to 5% in terms of the minimum percentage necessary to be represented in Parliament likewise the reduction in the number of signatures required (to run in the general elections – any party which is not represented in Parliament has to rally 30,000 signatures to its name on the part of the electorate) and finally the increase in the number of members within the regional electoral commissions (from 5 to 13) and a greater presence of the opposition (6 members). It recalled what was said during the NATO summit on 3rd and 4th April 2008 in Bucharest: "Georgia will only be allowed to sign the action plan (MAP) in view of joining if the general elections on 21st May next are more democratic than the previous ones."
The OSCE surveyed five TV channels (Rustavi 2, Mze TV, Kavkazia TV, Adjara TV and the Georgian public network) and four newspapers (Rezonansi, 24 Saati, Alia and Kviris Palitra). It was revealed that the Georgian public network granted an almost equal amount of airtime to the ruling party (20% in all) and to the opposition (15%). The coverage of events is still often more positive when the focus is on the United National Movement for a Victorious Georgia than when reports cover the opposition (the tone in this case is often neutral).
The European Commission released two million euros to help towards the organisation of these elections. This sum must be used to improve education and information oriented towards the voters as well election observation mechanisms. A European troika comprising a representative of the present Slovenian Presidency, one from the future French Presidency and a member of the European Commission travelled to Georgia on 8th May last together with a special EU envoy for the Southern Caucasus, Peter Semneby.
Tension is still running high between Georgia and Russia with regard to the situation in Abkhazia. On 25th April last, Moscow said that Tbilisi was planning to use force in the autonomous republic (which proclaimed its independence unilaterally in August 1992), five days later it decided to increase its contingent in Southern Ossetia and Abkhazia by a thousand men (at present there are 2, 542 soldiers in all, the number of soldiers present cannot exceed, according to a CIS decision taken on 22nd August 1994, 3,000 men in Abkhazia). Moscow maintained that Georgia had rallied troops in the Kodori region "making it necessary to increase the Russian contingent."
"I promise that there will be no armed confrontation," maintained President Saakachvili on TV on 30th April, denying any movement of troops. The UN, NATO and the European Union insisted on their attachment to Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity recalling that in the past disputes had always led to acts of violence. On 4th May last the Abkhazian authorities announced that they had brought down two Georgian drones above the areas of Gali and Otchamtchiry, an announcement that was immediately rejected by Tbilisi. Eight days later the Abkhazians repeated their announcement saying that this time they had brought down two Georgian drones, one at 2:15 pm above the village of Sheshelet and the other an hour later above the village of Achguara. Again Georgia rejected these declarations.
In March last President Saakachvili proposed Abkhazia "unlimited autonomy within a united Georgian state, full federalism, guarantees of security and development in peace." "I suggest to the Abkhazians they have the right to veto any amendment to the Constitution and to any Georgian law in view of impeding the adoption of decisions which might harm their right to develop their language, their literature, culture and identity," said the Head of State. In an interview he gave to Le Monde on 25th April, George Baramidze, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for European Integration and Euro-Atlantic Affairs said he was prepared to look into the creation of a free economic zone in the areas of Gali and Otchamtchira. "We are ready to introduce positive discrimination mechanisms to protect the Abkkazian population's rights if refugees return as well as to create a free zone in two areas and to provide guarantees for the protection of Abkhazian identity and the development of culture. "But to achieve this we need a truly neutral international force, a police force and not soldiers to keep peace. The negotiation format also has to be changed. Russia must not intervene as a supposed intermediary but as a protagonist," he said.
The most recent poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (GQR) published at the beginning of May credits the United National Movement for a Victorious Georgia with 44% of the vote ahead of the New Rights-United Opposition bloc which is due to win 12% of the vote, the Christian Democratic Party 11%, the Labour Party 7% and the Republican Party 4% which for the latter means a result lower than the necessary minimum to be represented in Parliament. Will Mikhail Saakachvili maintain his parliamentary majority in spite of the rebellion undertaken against him? The answer will come on 21st May next.