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A party strengthened, a state weakened

By Winston Featherly
Tuesday, May 27
The ruling National Movement may have proved its strength in last week’s elections, but the country was ultimately weakened.

Thanks to a superior message, a stacked electoral system and the realities of Georgian administrative power, the ruling party has likely won 119 of 150 seats, well beyond a two-thirds majority.

It took 59 percent of the popular vote, but amid widespread allegations of intimidation and fraud.

Georgian politics needed either a popular consensus or more representative government. Last week’s elections provided neither.

Instead, Georgia is home to a one-party parliament and all the baggage that brings. The National Movement now holds nearly eight in ten seats in parliament—even Putin’s United Russia has just seven in ten in their State Duma.

The Saakashvili administration’s bold and vigorous agenda of reform has been dutifully, even slavishly, served by the previous parliament. The newest incarnation of an increasingly irrelevant legislature—if it manages to convene in the face of continuing opposition protest—will do the same. This is fine, as long as the government’s reforms are successful and the country is satisfied with its leadership.

But this election, and the presidential election before it, was called nearly a year early because the country is unsatisfied, and because the dividends of reform are not widespread. Four weeks of campaigning did not change many minds.

Georgia has careened from one political crisis to another over the last six months, and tensions may cool as this opposition campaign falters. But President Saakashvili’s parliament is in office until 2012, and the man himself until 2013.

There will be no one else to blame for mistakes between now and then, and no elections to serve as outlets for frustration. Political aggression—now inflamed by stacked elections—will spill into the streets again before next decade’s national elections.

After the November 7 crisis, the president said, reasonably enough, that he would rather see the opposition in parliament than in the streets. So would most voters. But last week’s election will keep the opposition in the streets for years to come.