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Elections: to hold or not to hold?

By Messenger Staff
Thursday, January 8
In 2008 Georgia was forced to hold snap Presidential and Parliamentary elections by public demand. In 2009 the prospect of further snap Parliamentary or Presidential elections, or both, is being widely discussed.

The ruling Rose Revolution Administration categorically denies there is any possibility of holding any type of pre-term elections. However political analysts are highlighting the recent statements of President Saakashvili, which sound very much like election campaigning. They argue that the President could be hoping to schedule snap elections at a time convenient for him and leave the opposition unprepared, as he has done successfully before. But even if this is the plans, the authorities have revealed nothing yet.

Some time ago the President stated that elections are very costly. He quoted the extremely exaggerated amount of GEL 1.5 billion, forcing his people to clarify later on what he had included in this figure. Davit Darchiashvili, the Chairman of European Integration Committee of Parliament, says that there is no urgent need to hold elections and has also stressed the high cost. He does not see a sufficient political crisis in the country or any crime at the top which would justify snap elections.

The opposition sees things differently. It maintains that the present administration started the war, lost it and lost Georgian territories. It says there is crisis in the country, no investment and the situation is deteriorating. “If nothing changes, Saakashvili will leave Georgia as the President who lost everything,” thinks Public Defender Sozar Subari, apparently agreeing with the opposition viewpoint.

President Saakashvili himself has sensationaly said, in an interview with The New York Times in which he criticized both the Government and the opposition, that he could demolish the administration in three months if he were in opposition (!!!) But by doing so he craftily highlighted the sad reality. The present administration is no good, but the opposition has not so far become a reliable and serious force which can offer significant improvements to the people. If it fails to displace him in three months, Saakashvili will have proven his pint, and enhanced his credentials as the most competent leader, if no others.

Former Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, now in opposition, cannot see a demand for new elections in society. According to him people are ready to get rid of their rulers but do not see what benefit they will get from doing it. The question is: suppose Saakashvili goes, what will change for the people? Noghaideli is confident that neither the President nor the Parliament will serve their full constitutional terms, but the precondition of this will be the emergence of an alternative force people can rely on, which will lead their bid.

Some opposition members however are demanding immediate elections. Former Chair of Parliament Nino Burjanadze and former Ambassador to the UN Irakli Alasania, both now in opposition, are categorical about this. Burjanadze stated in a recent TV appearance that the country has an autocratic regime and no democracy and needs snap elections. But before elections are scheduled major amendments to the Elections Code and the liberalization of the media, particularly TV, are urgently needed. Only such drastic changes can guarantee the competitiveness of the election process. It looks as if the West it putting certain pressure on the Georgian leadership over this issue, and it has now started introducing democratic constitutional changes, with more promised.

Opposition Republican Davit Zurabishvili comments that the administration will not repeat last year’s farce. “It is already in election mode every day and probably preparing for different elections” states Zurabishvili. In any such election, as things stand, the authorities will have a powerful administrative resource at their disposal whereas the opposition will be forced to rely on the elections being conducted fairly, under the new amendments. The authorities have guarantees behind them, the opposition hopes, so the level playing field the opposition craves remains a pipedream for now.

Ultimately, the decisive factor will be the confidence people have in any one side, irrespective of whether elections are held. But the cost of finding this out would be less severe if it were done in a fair and democratic way.