The messenger logo

Fighting fair elections

By Messenger Staff
Thursday, October 29
Georgia is preparing for the local elections which the President has said will be held on May 30, 2010. However this date has not been officially confirmed by Parliament. There is a major condition which must be met before they are held: the drafting, adoption and implementation of a new election code, which is currently being worked on by members of the ruling party and some opposition parties.

Unless this new code is in force there is no chance that fair elections will be held in Georgia. Furthermore there is another lever which the authorities can use to manipulate any electoral process, administrative resources, but that is another story.

One part of the opposition, the so-called radicals, think that there is no point in holding any elections while Saakashvili is the country’s leader, as the ruling administration will rig them as it has previous ones. Another part however says that holding fair elections is quite a realistic possibility. Leader of the Alliance for Georgia Irakli Alasania cites two factors which according to him would guarantee the holding of democratic elections. Firstly he is sure that there are people in the administration who think that fair elections are the only way to rescue Georgia‘s neo-democracy and ensure it is still attractive to the West. Secondly he believes that the West will not turn a blind eye to manipulation of the elections this time. Our partners from Europe and America always demand transparent and free and fair elections and they are ready to contribute financial and political resources to achieve this, thinks Alasania, who has observed that there is unprecedented pressure being applied by the International Community to carry out genuine reforms and conduct fair elections. He is sure that the attitude of the international community to the Georgian elections is not comparable with what it was only two years ago.

The supporters of this idea think that the broader election environment should be satisfactory before fair elections are held. First, the national TV stations should be able to act independently, secondly the police should be depoliticised and of course the election code itself plays a decisive role. However it is obvious that the authorities will not surrender without a struggle. The signs of this are already visible.

Georgia’s national TV stations are State-controlled, which gives the authorities a significant advantage. The two major ‘privately-owned’ TV stations, Imedi and Rustavi 2, are controlled by the Government and nobody knows who their real owners are. There are serious controversies about the Georgian Public Broadcaster as well, as despite its name it is definitely pro-Government. As for the police, the tradition during each of the different Governments has been that it is loyal to the ruling party, and many cases suggest that the same holds true today and will continue to do so.

As for the election code, work on the draft of this is underway but we do not know exactly when it will be ready and whether consensus between the ruling party and opposition will be achieved. The working group’s sessions are confidential, but it is clear that there is terrible time pressure on those involved.

The fiercest battle during the elections would be for the post of Mayor of Tbilisi, who according to Saakashvili will be elected by the direct vote. As Irakli Alasania has stated, who wins Tbilisi wins Georgia and an opposition victor will dismantle the Saakashvili administration. Over 30% of the population and 85% of the economy are concentrated in Tbilisi. As the administration is not going to give up easily big controversies have already arisen abut the rules of the game. The opposition demands that the Mayor should collect at least 40% of the votes to be elected, whereas Ministers insist that only a simple majority should be required. If there are different opposition candidates standing and only one Government candidate that person will certainly collect the most votes, so a Government victory would be guaranteed under the simply majority system, although all the opposition candidates put together would definitely have gained more votes. Recently it has also been suggested that the administration might invent the new position of Governor of Tbilisi, meaning all the political power in the capital will be officially delegated to that person, appointed by the President, leaving the Mayor responsible for nothing more than sewage, waste disposal, electricity and so on.

The local election campaign has already begun. Current mayor of Tbilisi Gigi Ugulava goes everywhere with a TV camera crew and is seen on TV every night meeting people, opening festivals, attending concerts, which is his everyday job but not usually reported with such prominence. Although he has not yet been nominated as the official Government candidate for Mayor one does not need to be a fortune teller to see that he will be. Only Irakli Alasania has been officially nominated for Mayor so far, with former Public Defender Sozar Subari running alongside him for the post of Chair of the City Council, but there is no guarantee that more opposition candidates will not emerge, or what the political scene will look like when the elections actually take place, if they do.

With all these different things going on the opposition is not united. Georgia awaits yet another very intriguing spring.