The messenger logo

Snap local elections: questions and comments

By Messenger Staff
Thursday, July 23
President Saakashvili’s recent appearance in Parliament has provoked different reactions from his supporters, the opposition and general population. Supporters have evaluated the President’s proposals for balancing power between the branches of Government, his guarantees for media freedom and so on highly. The opposition have labelled the President’s speech as very superficial and inadequate. The general population meanwhile has mostly refrained from comment, suggesting that time will tell what actually happens as a result of Saakashvili’s speech.

One issue which was very distinctly aired by the President was that the date of the next local elections would be brought forward to May 30, 2010. Of course formally this date should be set by Parliament, but it is obvious that the majority will unanimously approve the date suggested by the President. For more than three months the opposition have been demanding Saakashvili’s resignation and snap Presidential elections. Many inside and outside the country have suggested that snap Parliamentary elections should have been appointed. However the current administration and President have decided otherwise and instead will call snap local elections, shifting them from the late autumn of next year to late spring.

Saakashvili also proposed that the Mayor of Tbilisi should be directly elected by the population rather than appointed. The non-Parliamentary opposition does not think this is concession enough, but this is all it has gained from all the rallies and confrontation. He did however also suggest (direct) the appointment of a new Central Election Commission by the end of 2009, which would be done by consensus among the major political groupings.

The President stated that his administration, which took power through revolution, is not afraid of challenges and promised that from now on all Georgian Governments will be changed through the ballot box and not coups, military rebellions, foreign money, barricades and cages. These are fine words, and suggest that under any circumstances Saakashvili’s decision about elections is final. Therefore the opposition should think twice before refusing to participate in the rescheduled local elections, in particular the direct election of the Tbilisi Mayor. If we consider that at the Presidential elections on January 5 last year the President lost in Tbilisi, the opposition might have a chance of winning the Mayorality and a majority of seats on the City Council, and winning seats rather than just protesting is what any political party in a democracy actually exists for.

Some opposition groups have already said that just, fair and unbiased elections must be guaranteed, or there will be no point in participating in them. The opposition should be consistent and principled in demanding from the administration that it carries out serious and genuine changes in the election code, starting with the selection of the members, and most importantly the Chairman, of the CEC. So the challenge is here. The opposition will most probably have to unite to force the Government and Parliament to accept the democratic rules of the game, meaning elections seriously monitored by international observers which are conducted without any manipulations or abuses of voting rights and in which administrative resources are not used to give the incumbent Government an unfair advantage. This is a very difficult task and pretty hard to achieve. But the challenge is here.

The administration on its side might also face serious problems as the international community will be more likely to uphold the results of the elections if they are free and fair. We can presume that the results of the local elections might trigger snap Parliamentary elections as well, but this is only a supposition. Appointing local elections does not necessarily mean that the administration will give up power willingly. On the contrary, it is preparing itself for a fearful and difficult struggle by setting these rules of the game. The ruling party will mobilise all possible and impossible resources, administrative and financial, to keep itself in power in a ‘legitimate’ way.

The administration has a great advantage over the opposition. As well as having more resources to call on it will have visible unity, even if this is imposed from above, as the opposition are unlikely to consolidate around a single candidate for Tbilisi Mayor and probably many different small parties will also participate in the local elections, confusing voters.