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Clear options but puzzling decisions from the opposition

Thursday, January 10
The opposition are facing an uphill struggle in protesting the presidential election results, with the international verdict against them and the world’s attention drifting on.

And not only are they protesting without international support, but it is decreasingly likely they can count on Georgians’ support. Many voters may agree the election was far from the “triumphant step” for democracy the OSCE mission coordinator absurdly declared, but fewer and fewer are ready march on icy streets in support of an opposition which is coming across as desperate, not righteous.

The opposition is demanding both a recount and a runoff—surely a fair recount is enough. But instead they insist Saakashvili fell short of an outright victory; not a ludicrous claim, given the many election violations observers noticed, but nonetheless a claim for which they offer no evidence. They say they have reams of protocols to submit to the courts, but it is improbable they are counting on a legal victory—even the Saakashvili administration would readily admit the judiciary is among the least competent arms of the state.

More likely, they are hoping for Imedi TV to resume broadcasts, and start airing their rallies and claims. The three major television networks still operating, all of which are pro-government, have indeed kept political debate off their schedule in the week immediately following the election.

But even if Imedi TV devotes more airtime to whether the slew of Election Day irregularities could have truly affected the end result, barring a major revelation of official wrongdoing the opposition cannot count on public outrage to buoy a protest movement. It is too cold, the roads too icy, the people too tired for the opposition to once again push change by protest.

Parliamentary elections offer a golden opportunity for the opposition. International organizations, in congratulating the country on a successful election, are making it clear they expect to see parliamentary election rescheduled for spring, as exit polls suggested most Georgians want.

Opposition campaigners may genuinely feel robbed by the government and maligned by the media, but the political calculus is clear. Longer, angrier protests will turn off voters; moving into a new election campaign could win them much of parliament. (Collectively, opposition presidential candidates took more than 40 percent of the vote on January 5.)

And rejecting Saakashvili’s offer of cooperation, disingenuous it may be, only further sullies the opposition’s image in the eyes of the public. Winning barely half the vote amid weak turnout and severe misuse of state resources, Saakashvili can hardly claim broad popular support in the country, much less in Tbilisi. The opposition, for their part, can no longer behave like disenfranchised underdogs.

It’s a new political reality, and old tactics won’t work.