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Government takes strong step toward fair election, but it’s only a start

Tuesday, May 6
One ruling party MP took a nosedive from good graces yesterday, and the country is better for it.

The nine-party opposition coalition released kompromat of an incumbent government MP in a rural district: a tape of the gentleman campaigning for reelection by allegedly threatening to fire state employees if the ruling party doesn’t romp to victory in the district. (See “Ruling party MP quits election race over intimidation allegations,” P.4.)

The ruling National Movement’s response was muted and measured, but fully appropriate. A party leader pledged full cooperation with an investigation—and said the candidate is withdrawing from the race.

In an editorial last week, this newspaper urged the government to take the lead in discouraging vote fraud with high-profile prosecutions, and to declare in the strongest terms to village chiefs across Georgia that this election will be a clean one.

Sacking this MP is a good start.

The ruling party is running a strong campaign, and may well earn a victory in the May 21 elections. (A poll released by an American firm yesterday shows them with 52 percent of the vote from likely voters, compared to the opposition coalition’s 12 percent.)

But in Georgia, legal legitimacy can fall hostage to political legitimacy. If a government majority appears to be unfairly won, it will be worse than worthless.

The January presidential election was flawed but begrudgingly accepted. The onus is again on the government to convince voters it will respect their ballots, and their right to cast those ballots without fear.

Pulling candidates with the appearance of impropriety, as they did yesterday, is a strong step toward ensuring that a government victory carries political legitimacy.

But for these internal reprimands to be truly meaningful there must be real consequences. The government cannot stop at removing political liabilities from its election list. It must prosecute, visibly and convincingly, any who taint these elections by breaking the law.