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The opposition waits for a direction

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, December 16
From the domestic politics point of view 2009 has finished. It is unlikely that anything important will happen between now and the end of the year, at least nothing which will upset the balance between the authorities and the opposition.

This balance is currently tilted in favour of the ruling party, which has managed to rescue itself from a very difficult situation and recover its confidence. Analysts suggest that the opposition themselves are to blame for this. The so-called radical opposition has been unable to capitalise on the high level of discontent in the population and has neither removed the Government nor extracted any significant concessions from it. During the three month-long protest rallies these things were promised, but not now. It is unlikely that the people will come out into the streets again in the numbers they did in spring, as they have lost faith in the opposition. Some parties and individuals have grown so frustrated that they do not even want to participate in the forthcoming local elections, whereas others think that only democratic elections can bring positive results, so we have a messy situation in which both parties and people are divided over tactics and purpose.

Some analysts think that the people will come out into the street only if the administration makes a serious mistake, such as rigging the elections again. However the ruling party is already launching a very serious and powerful election campaign and it will not be difficult for it to beat the fragmented opposition at these elections without having to rig them. The non-Parliamentary opposition are still trying to develop efficient actions plans, but this is not so easy.

The most important of the forthcoming elections is the direct election of the Tbilisi Mayor. The general opinion is that whoever wins Tbilisi wins Georgia. But concentrating on Tbilisi does not mean ignoring Georgia’s other cities and regions. The opposition face many difficulties in choosing a common candidate acceptable to the entire opposition spectrum, either in Tbilisi or elsewhere. If the opposition cannot unite the ruling party will win everywhere, because only an opposition united behind a candidate acceptable to all the opposition-minded public will be able to collect enough votes to beat a ruling party candidate.

The authorities are banking in being able to split the opposition, or let the opposition fall apart on their own, and are trying to achieve this in a very wise and efficient way. They flirt with certain opposition forces, promising them benefits and accepting small concessions to keep them onside. The Government is suddenly offering lots of benefits to the population, such as increased pensions, roads and other infrastructure and so on. The Government has many tools at its disposal: money first of all, and then the State-controlled TV stations, the best vehicles for conveying its propaganda and other administrative resources. The public have seen and heard all this before, but when faced with no alternative they can believe in, the staleness of the message will make no difference.

There are big disagreements within the opposition about who the common candidate should be and how they should be selected. So far the most prominent candidate for Tbilisi Mayor is Irakli Alasania, leader of the Alliance for Georgia, a union of three parties. Other parties however have already proposed their own candidates, suggesting that primaries should be held to determine who has the most popular support. The declared candidates at present are Zviad Dzidziguri, Koba Davitashvili, Davit Iakobidze and Valeri Kvaratskhelia, and possibly others will appear. The most popular of these is Zviad Dzidziguri, who is unlikely to beat Alasania but will most probably collect a certain number of votes. The declared opposition candidates will probably poll more votes between them than the ruling party's candidate could collect, but individually the more candidates stand, the less chance any of the opposition representatives have.

Interestingly the ruling party has not officially nominated its candidate yet. Most probably it will be current Mayor of Tbilisi Gigi Ugulava, who you see several times a day on all the major TV channels participating in charity activities, initiating projects to improve Tbilisi's infrastructure or the living conditions of local residents and so on. He is everywhere, and the general attitude towards him is quite positive, because currently he is refraining from making political statements and is concentrating on Tbilisi's practical needs. So it is most likely that he will be the ruling party's candidate again, and will start from a better position than any of the opposition candidates.

Unless things change Gigi Ugulava is likely to have 4 or 5 opponents. The more opponents he has, the more chance he has. The limited financial resources of the opposition candidates will also be split, again damaging their chances. Much of the opposition's energy is concentrated on the Tbilisi elections, so the general picture is not positive for them. Amendments to the election code have been begun but not finished, and nobody knows who the Chairman of the CEC will be, and if the elections are held under the existing system with a Government nominee running the election commission their results will be extremely predictable.

The only chance the opposition has is if the country faces even more dire economic problems and the Russian occupation continues. However previous experience demonstrates that the Government will certainly try and manipulate the elections to secure victory, and this could eventually cause some serious protests. Maybe the actual result of the election will emerge from the demonstrations afterwards, not the poll itself.