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Elections about more than choosing new parliament

By Mikheil Svanidze and Temur Kiguradze
Wednesday, May 21
Today's elections are an important moment in Georgia’s short history of democracy. At stake is not just the next parliament, but also the goodwill of the country’s crucial international allies.

On a trip to Georgia last month, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe official Matyas Eorsi underlined the impact the elections could have on the government’s critical NATO membership bid.

“I would like to remind all Georgians that Bucharest summit of NATO made it possible [NATO] foreign ministers to provide [a Membership Action Plan] for Georgia after the parliamentary elections provided it would be better than the [January 5] presidential elections,” online news source quoted Eorsi as saying.

Georgia, along with Ukraine, was denied a Membership Action Plan at the NATO Bucharest summit this April.

Instead, NATO gave Georgia a communique promising eventual membership. It said the alliance “look[s] forward to free and fair parliamentary elections in Georgia in May.”

Mary O’Hagan, resident director of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in Georgia, told the Messenger that the conduct of the elections is “essential for the future of the country.”

She also said NDI has an “optimistic attitude toward the future elections,” and hopes they will be an improvement on the presidential elections in January.

International organizations noted widespread violations during the January presidential election and the preceding campaign. Nor has the lead-in to today’s elections been entirely clean, but observer missions are withholding judgment until the vote.

A spokesman for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe said the conduct of these elections is “crucial to restoring public confidence in the democratic process,” according to Reuters.

Government officials have echoed international remarks. During a speech in Kutaisi yesterday evening, President Mikheil Saakashvili branded the elections a “test in unity and in support of the entire world, which we should gain.”

Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze said the elections were “test for our country, our democracy” in an address to the nation yesterday.