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Georgians betrayed again

Wednesday, December 26

On November 7, as riot police lobbed tear gas and struck with clubs, the demonstrators did not look angry. They looked betrayed.

They’ve been betrayed again.

The tapes of Valeri Gelbakhiani and Badri Patarkatsishvili cockily spilling their grand scheme for a violent coup have shocked and disheartened Georgians.

It looks like an open-and-shut case of conspiracy; some will insist the government invented the whole thing, but the evidence, as it stands, is overwhelming.

The air has been clouded. The effects are predictable, and frightening.

In one sense, the government has pulled a brilliant political maneuver. Dismayed voters, not sure whom to trust, will either lean toward the incumbent or stay home—and low turnout will benefit the organizationally superior ruling party.

There are seven candidates vying for the presidency, but the government has sought from day one to portray Patarkatsishvili as the main force opposing Mikheil Saakashvili. They look to have succeeded in restructuring the dynamics of the contest.

The rest of the opposition, meanwhile, have failed to immediately distance themselves from Patarkatsishvili. They may indeed be tied, willingly or not, to his fortunes. It will not help their campaign efforts.

But the political warfare hardly matters given the danger of real violence. January 5 is no longer an election—it is a high-stakes showdown. When rash opposition politicians spoke of putting ruling party MPs on trial for their crimes should they come to power, they upped the ante to a terrible level.

Everyone has been backed into a corner. The government will be confronted with an extremely difficult situation following a decisive election. Preemptive arrests and a ban on protests could become a necessary precaution.

Ultimately, only the Georgians themselves can avert another crisis. It is a burden they neither wanted nor deserved, but hope remains that they can carry it.