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Looking back

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, December 22
2009 was quite difficult for Georgia and full of both domestic and international expectations. However no crucial changes have occurred in either direction.

The greatest domestic expectations were aroused by the opposition rallies and the cells erected in central Tbilisi to protest against the nature of the present regime. It was felt that these actions might lead to regime change or at least an alteration of its policies. The greatest expectations in the international arena were aroused by the EU fact finding commission investigating the causes of the August 2008 war, known as the Tagliavini commission, which it was hoped would draw very positive conclusions for Georgia. But ultimately there has been no breakthrough in either domestic politics or the Russian-occupied territories. The administration's main interest this year was in keeping itself in power. Despite its difficulties it has managed to do so. It has neutralised complications inside and outside the country.

On April 9 the non-Parliamentary opposition began a huge protest action, demanding that Saakashvili resign. It lasted a hundred days and was unprecedented in terms of length and level of public involvement. It demonstrated that there is still a very powerful protest mood in the people and many people do not support the President. The action put the Government in a very difficult position, paralysing Parliament, the Presidentís Chancellery and the whole administration. But the opposition did not ultimately achieve its goal. The President did not resign and neither snap Presidential elections nor Parliamentary election were held.

It looks as if the administration has neutralised the threat to it through conducting a rather wise policy. It did not attack demonstrators in an open and direct way as it had done on November 7, 2007, when Georgiaís image as a democratic country was thus greatly damaged. Instead it used other tactics, detaining opposition activists for non-political reasons such as hooliganism, using drugs or possessing weapons. Special state-sponsored brigades beat up and threatened opposition activists, making these actions look like everyday police work rather than political repression. Thus the dreams of the non-Parliamentary opposition forces were frustrated. They had no clear-cut action plan they could adapt to different eventualities. They never asked themselves the simple question, if the President does not resign, what do we do then? The administration used its financial resources to prolong the limbo and eventually the protestors were worn down. All they got from their protests was moving the local elections from autumn 2010 to spring, a very limited carrot to dangle.

The opposition frustrated the people by failing to unite. Instead they started confronting each other, though moderately. Today there is great discord in the opposition, which increases public dissatisfaction as although the people do not support the existing regime they do not see the opposition as an alternative opposition force as well. The public has become passive, not interested in participating in elections. Meanwhile the ruling party is already conducting an election campaign. It has started amending the election code, removed the notorious Levan Tarkhnishvili from the chairmanship of the Central Election Commission and established a constitutional commission to draft a new constitution. In response to Western pressure in all directions the administration has involved some opposition representatives, mainly from the Parliamentary opposition, in these processes, and also invited them to attend Security Council sessions, whatever actual purpose that may serve.

The President has stated that the local elections will be held on May 30, although this date has not been confirmed officially by Parliament. The novelty of these elections will be that the Mayor of Tbilisi will be directly elected by the people. Here as well the opposition is showing its weakness by failing to unite around a single candidate, although all parties say they want this. All the opposition candidates together will probably get more votes than the ruling party's Mayoral candidate, but if they cannot unite the anti-Government vote will be divided into small portions, allowing the National Movement's representative to win with a minority of the votes. The authorities are doing their best to ensure this happens, and therefore it probably will.

But we repeat that the date of the elections has not been officially declared yet. Some suggest that, knowing the Presidentís nature, they could be suddenly brought forward, to mid-spring for instance, giving the opposition less time to prepare. They must be called two months before the date they are held on, meaning that the Government has three whole months in which it can bring the elections further forward to suit its purposes.