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Politicizing election dates

By Messenger Staff
Monday, February 20
Thanks to a suit filed by Georgian NGO New Generation-New Initiative (NGNI), we are not merely discussing who will win the elections, but when the elections will even be held.

One day after the submission, NGNI withdrew its claim, preventing it from being heard by Georgia's Constitutional court. But the idea is not dead, and it has both government and opposition members talking.

The NGO raised a serious question about the constitutionality of the election dates. Amendments passed in 2006 set regular elections in October of the year in which parliamentary and presidential terms expire. Parliament is elected for four years, whereas presidents serve for five years. But the current President and Parliament were elected in snap elections held in January and May of 2008, respectively. This means that elections held in 2012 and 2013 prolong Parliament's seating by five months and the President's term by 10 months. So NGNI was technically correct to suggest that parliamentary elections should be held in May of this year, with the presidential election in January 2013.

Some commentators have speculated that NGNI is a government-backed NGO, as moving the elections up would benefit the ruling United National Movement (UNM) which, unlike its opponents, is ready for an election. Furthermore, one of NGNI's founders is Koki Ionatamishvili, an active member of the Tbilisi City Assembly who supports the UNM. This does not explain, however, why this initiative was proposed and then so quickly withdrawn. Analysts attributed this to controversies within the ruling party itself. It may have been a test flag, to gauge the public's opinion of early elections.

It is notable that major government figures have been especially active in recent weeks –President Saakashvili opens new hospital almost every week, while Parliamentary Chair David Bakradze is traveling around the country publicizing infrastructure projects. Mayor of Tbilisi, Gigi Ugulava, has become vocal about his administration's attempts to help citizens during the recent cold snap. This high rate of activity may be difficult to sustain for the remaining eight months until October, suggesting we are in fact watching UNM's campaign.

Saakashvili has also twice mentioned that a new parliamentary session will be held in Kutaisi on May 26, 2012 – and he may mean a very new session. According to the Constitution, a 60-day campaign period is necessary before parliamentary elections, which means that a date could be set for May as late as next month. If this happens, elections could be held at the beginning of May and the first session of a new Parliament could occur as early as May 26 – just as Saakashvili planned.

The opposition, meanwhile, waits for news, and continues to slowly prepare itself for battle. The strongest challenger is Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream, but even it has only just announced an initiative group. It appears as though the UNM is, not surprisingly, the only challenger ready for a May election.