Election preparations across the spectrum
By Gvantsa Gabekhadze and Ashley Challinor
Tuesday, April 24Although the parliamentary elections are still six months away, election preparation has begun. Spurred by the entry of Bidzina Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream, all corners of the political spectrum are gearing up for the campaign.
As the government announced last month, the election period will be opened by the arrival of foreign observers, who have been invited to come early to help ensure transparent and free elections. President Mikheil Saakashvili and his administration have made numerous assurances that democratic norms will be upheld, in accordance with the country's Euro-Atlantic direction. They have also made a series of controversial changes to the Constitution, which they argue will make the country more democratic.
Opposition parties are losing no time, either. Ivanishvili recently launched his official political party, Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia, and while he is currently unable to participate in the elections due to his lost citizenship, he is still leading the party. Whether or not he will have his name on the ballot remains unclear, and even Georgian Dream spokesperson Maia Panjikidze expressed doubt that the constitutional change that could allow him the right to participate will be passed. If this is the case, Ivanishvili has stated that either his wife or his son will run in his place, and they will administer the party jointly.
Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia has also been busy setting up its political infrastructure, intending to open 83 offices across Georgia.
What that party has yet to do, however, is present a platform. Free Georgia and its leader Kakha Kukava has, which puts him ahead of the pack. He expressed a cynical view of the elections, though, saying "The reality is that Georgia is being ruled from Washington and no free elections are possible until the state is free from American commands". His party advocates a military withdrawal from Afghanistan, disassociation from NATO, the rehabilitation of the "victims" of Saakashvili's and former President Edouard Shevardnadze's policies, a return to the Russian market, and the delay of debt repayment.
As analyst Giorgi Khutsishvili told The Messenger, the administration is preparing for the elections through legislative means, such as changing the Constitution to give them an advantage or to cripple rivals like Ivanishvili. "Georgian legislation must not allow the Constitution to be changed [just because] some threat emerges to the ruling power," he said, noting that amendments should not be made for the benefit or detriment of one person.
He noted that the current law being debated in Parliament, which would allow EU citizens who have resided in Georgia for at least 10 years to participate in elections, may have unintended consequences. "[The government] is just thinking about the outcome regarding Ivanishvili’s issue and do not pay attention to possible threats, what would happen if some others from EU states really decide to participate in the elections," Khutsishvili said, but acknowledged that it is possible that as soon as Ivanishvili is granted the right to participate this fall, the law will be abolished. "The authorities behave, concerning the law, as they wish, which is unacceptable".