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Framing the campaign

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, February 29
Last night, President Mikheil Saakashvili gave his annual report to Parliament. He began his speech late in the evening, meaning that opposition responses and parliamentary debate lasted well into the next day. It is unlikely that much of Georgia stayed up to watch it all. But what did they miss? The government emphasizes its achievements, the opposition highlights their failures. The government accuses the opposition of not noticing its success, while the opposition accuses the government of ignoring problems.

One cannot help but get the impression that both groups exist in different countries. There is one country ruled by the President, where happy people live, content with Georgia's achievements and improvements in welfare. Simultaneously, there exists another country, inhabited by the opposition, full of pessimism and problems. Neither side accepts one another's position. The government ignores criticism, while the opposition is never satisfied.

Recently, Saakashvili has been very eloquent with regards to his opponents. Several times he has called them "political mummies", though never by name. We can safely assume that he means the Georgian Dream initiative group, which consists, as authorities claim, in part, of figures from the pre-Rose Revolution period. Saakashvili's criticism is related to three themes he has been pushing in run up to the election – a Western orientation, a fear of Russia, and the achievements of his government since the Revolution. Georgians can make three conclusions from this: The guarantor for the country’s continued pro-Western stance is Saakashvili and his team; Ivanishvili and Georgian Dream are pro-Russia, and want to return the country to its past; and Ivanishvili is a billionaire so is unconcerned with the welfare of everyday people.

Ivanishvili appears to have taken this in stride, running a campaign around the philosophy of “hasten slowly”. His team has made their Western stance clear, while confirming their commitment to normalizing relations with Russia – a hurdle that has been requested of Georgia by the West, and which is currently difficult to achieve thanks to relations between Saakashvili and Moscow. As for the welfare of population, Ivanishvili’s past charitable activities have seen him support Georgian culture, acting as a patron for writers, artists, and actors, as well as building and reconstructing theatres and churches. There is good reason for his popularity among opposition voters.

There are also some speculations – mostly coming from stubbornly independent opposition parties – about appearance of a third party challenger to Saakashvili and Ivanishvili. This is highly unlikely, and it is clear that the ruling party is concentrating all of its attacks against Ivanishvili, whom they recognize as a legitimate threat. Hence, the administration is willing to use any advantage they have – in Parliament, in the media, or in legislation – to challenge Ivanishvili before both parties go to the polls.