Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2008 > March 29, 2008 > Georgia: Saakashvili Manipulates his Return to Presidency

Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 15

Georgia: Saakashvili Manipulates his Return to Presidency

Saturday 29 March 2008, by Mansoor Ali

While the US position in the former Soviet republics, which once constituted the formidable USSR before the 1991 disintegration, has considerably weakened over the years, Georgia has, in its latest presidential election in January this year, witnessed the return to power of President Saakashvili, perhaps the most brazenly loyal friend of Washington in the region whose antipathy to Moscow does not bear repetition.

This unrepentant pro-American head of state, whose Georgian citizenship itself is in doubt in view of his proximity to the US leadership, mounted every form of propaganda and administrative pressure on the electorate to win the election. But those did not succeed; so he finally managed to emerge victorious in the first round of the presidential poll through ballot-rigging on a massive scale. Without waiting for the counting of votes from even 100 polling stations he declared himself the President of Georgia once again, thereby fuelling wide resentment among his political adversaries and opponents.

The hollowness of the election process has been exposed by not only the Opposition leaders but impartial foreign—Western—observers as well. According to a noted Opposition leader, G. Yaindrava, “the originals of the Election Commission’s protocols do not coincide with the papers concocted in the Central Election Commission”; by way of illustration projecting Saakashvili’s falsification, Yaindrava mentioned the results of voting in the provinces populated by Azerbaijanis and Armenians—the pro-US leader received almost 100 per cent votes here although it’s quite well known that he is not popular in those areas.

Some European Union (EU) observers feel that the election campaign witnessed many violations from the side of the ruling party: everywhere administrative and financial resources were indiscriminately used to garner votes while at the same time there was tight control over the mass media and irrefutable facts surfaced about genuine voters being frightened away from exercising their franchise. On the other hand, as compared to Saakashvili the Opposition candidates had little scope and opportunity to conduct effective propaganda campaigns.

Several groups of foreign observers, including those from the International Expert Centre for Electoral Systems (Israel), Independent American Centre of Political Monitoring (USA), Central European Group for Political Monitoring (Great Britain) were of the considered view that the elections could not be characterised as democratic, transparent, legal and in conformity with the European principles of democracy and the norms of international law. According to German political analyst E. Schnaider, “the elections could not be called legitimate, even with great reserve. People were threatened and forced to give their votes to Saakashvili.”

Then we have the case of Dieter Boden, a prominent German diplomat heading the OSCE Observer Mission in Georgia. A day after the voting, the OSCE observers gave a positive evaluation of the election. Subsequently Boden said in an interview to the newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau: “We are receiving more and more reports from our observers about widespread and serious violations during vote counting in the election. These include gross, careless and deliberate rigging, for example, in Batumi.” In his opinion, the situation in the Georgian Central Election Commission (CEC) was one of chaos.

On why the OSCE gave a positive assessment of the Georgian presidential poll a day after the vote, Boden proferred an explanation even if it did not carry much conviction: “Those serious violations were not yet exposed by that time.”

He also urged the Georgian Opposition to submit to the OSCE and the Georgian CEC the facts they have at their disposal confirming electoral rigging. He felt the CEC was the only body which could revise the election results and declare them invalid.

Boden’s credentials are impeccable: he enjoys the reputation of being Georgia’s loyal friend, a person well acquainted with the situation in the country: he headed the OSCE mission is Georgia in the mid-nineties; he was a Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Georgia from 1992 to 2002—currently he is working for an international observer mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

However, whatever Boden may belatedly say, the Western community members from the US have preferred to “close their eyes” to the electoral violations and finally accepted Saakashvili’s victory.

THERE is yet another striking development: according to the country’s Central Election Commission (CEC), 48 per cent of the voters took part in the elections and of them 72.5 per cent voted in favour of the country joining the NATO, that is, only about one-third of Georgians want their country to join the Alliance—this exposes the failure of the massive pro-NATO propaganda of the state’s power structures, a majority of the political parties, NGOs; it further brings out the unreliability of the research conducted by several sociological services claiming that 80 to 90 per cent of the Georgian population was ready to vote for the NATO. In this context Georgia’s expeditious entry into the NATO is fraught with unforeseen consequences: observers maintain that such a move on the part of Tbilisi would not only worsen Moscow’s present ties with Washington but also lead to internal violence, problems with regard to the legality of deployment of American contingents on Georgian territory and counteractions and counter-campaigns against full scale deployment of American bases in the country.

Nonetheless, what is beyond dispute is a weakening of Saakashvili’s position. This is an objective reality without any subjective colouring or bias manifest in the presidential poll outcome. The Opposition, on its turn, is able to comprehend its own power to shape events and has thus started preparations to seriously compete with the ruling party taking into consideration the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Georgia to be held shortly.

Meanwhile there is another apprehension: wide international acceptance of the presidential election result and direct support to the Saakashvili regime from the side of the West could influence his line of action in relation to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Observers and analysts fear Saakashvili may regard the Western behaviour as giving him a right to permissiveness and he could thus be prompted to take a risk in using force in order to solve the problem of “separatist regions”. Such apprehensions and fears cannot possibly be brushed aside.

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