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A bad system, irresponsible leaders, and an unpromising election

Thursday, March 27
After 17 days, the hunger strikes outside parliament ended. They accomplished nothing.

The protest was flawed from the beginning, unclear in its demands and implausible in its expectations. Courageous, frustrated campaigners have their leaders to blame.

Some of those opposition leaders now see the May 21 parliamentary elections—and the day after—as their last best chance to sweep out the Saakashvili administration. They make it explicitly clear that all options are on the table: several have warned of a “revolution” if the elections are rigged.

Talk like that leaves little hope the elections will ease Georgia’s political deadlock. Of no help is the government’s new scheme for electing MPs. It splits parliamentary seats between a country-wide party list and ‘majoritarians’ elected in first-past-the-post voting, with one MP for each of 75 districts.

There is nothing intrinsically unfair about the arrangement. But in practice, the ruling party can expect to take most of the majoritarian seats thanks to resource and organizational advantages. The opposition will fare best in the cities, yet Georgia’s handful of urban centers will together have far fewer MPs than the rural districts.

This leaves the ruling party strongly favored to retain its majority in parliament. Georgia would continue without any check on its strong presidency. And there is a more immediate problem: the certainty of post-election protests.

Opposition supporters assume a government victory is impossible in fair elections; some vote fraud is inevitable; and opposition politicians see their last shot at victory. Combined, this will lead hundreds of thousands of Georgians to believe, rightfully or not, that the elections are rigged. Some will protest. And if they are led by men and women straining at the bit for a repeat of the Rose Revolution, Georgia will suffer.