Eurasia Daily Monitor

January 7, 2008 -- Volume 5, Issue 1


by Vladimir Socor

Mikheil Saakashvili seems set to narrowly win reelection as president
of Georgia in the January 5 balloting. With the votes from 2,780 of the
country 's 3,511 precincts counted, the Central Electoral Commission (CEC)
reported at 12 noon GMT on January 7 that Saakashvili has garnered 52.1% of
the votes cast; Levan Gachechiladze, candidate of a nine-party opposition
alliance, 25.2%; billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili, 6.5%; left-wing
populist Shalva Natelashvili, 6.4%; New Right (conservative) Davit
Gamkrelidze, 3.9%; and two other candidates, 1% between them. Voter turnout
was close to 60%. The reporting of final overall returns is being slowed
down by heavy snowfall and electricity outages in parts of the country.

If that balance between Saakashvili and the trailing pack holds until
the end of vote counting, a runoff will be unnecessary. Saakashvili's lead
is likely to hold because the vote tallies are yet to arrive from some
districts where he enjoys solid popularity. According to CEC chairman Levan
Tarkhnishvili, projections suggest that Saakashvili will likely garner
between 52% and 53% of the vote countrywide.

However, the opposition is set to force the holding of another
election at almost any price. To that end, the opposition is rejecting the
international observers' validation of the electoral process.

The opposition now rejects not only the returns that presage its
defeat, but goes farther in rejecting the validity of the entire electoral
process, despite its validation by international observers, who had gone out
of their way to register and address opposition complaints. Gachechiladze
claims that he won the election outright. Alleging without proof `mass
violations,' he and the nine-party opposition alliance demand that the
January 5 voting be annulled and that the election be held again.
Natelashvili and Gamkrelidze have thrown their support behind Gachechiladze,
should it come to a runoff.

On the civil society side, the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association
(GYLA), which normally is strongly critical of government and monitored the
election, said, `Despite some procedural violations on election day, the
polls were generally held without any `mass violations.' So we can say that
elections are valid' (Civil Georgia, January 7). Other Western-oriented NGOs
have taken a similar position. Several of them joined together to conduct an
exit poll that showed Saakashvili narrowly winning. The Gachechiladze camp
is now pillorying these NGOs.

The opposition has declared all along -- before as well as during the
campaign -- that it was bound to win the election and that any other outcome
must mean that the election had been rigged. The opposition's many Western
interlocutors very rarely took issue with this type of logic.

Now, however, the danger for destabilization is mounting. Council of
Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis has called on opposition leaders to
`show responsibility, political maturity, and respect for the democratic
process.... If the opposition has any evidence to back their allegations, they
should give it to the international observers and use the procedures that
are guaranteed by the Georgian constitution' (CE press release, January 6).
Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt -- noting that this was `the most
democratic elections ever held in the country' -- admonished, `Regrettably
it is evident that certain parts of the opposition have a strategy of
questioning and sabotaging an election they were not able to win' (Swedish
government press release, January 6). U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of
State Matt Bryza similarly remonstrated, `If the experts determined that the
election was not rigged, then there is absolutely no justification to claim
otherwise, and it would be absolutely undemocratic. How unfortunate that
would be for Georgian society' (Reuters, Mze TV, January 6).

For its part, Moscow has weighed in promptly on the opposition's side,
egging it on. A statement by Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs accuses
Georgia's authorities of `numerous violations of the electoral
legislation...The entire election campaign can hardly be termed free and fair.
It is quite understandable that supporters of opposition candidates are
indignant. In this context, plans by the opposition to hold protest actions
will attract attention' (Interfax, January 6). Such statements -- along
with similar ones by Russian Duma and Federation Council members -- are
designed to encourage disorders in Georgia.

Modest Kolerov's apparatus (which seems in a process of restructuring
in Moscow) dispatched to Georgia a consulting and polling group, ostensibly
>From Ukraine, that names itself Common European Cause. The group claimed to
conduct a survey that showed Gachechiladze winning the election with an
absolute majority, with Saakashvili a distant second and Patarkatsishvili
closely trailing Saakashvili (Regnum, January 3). This move is also clearly
designed to foment instability in Georgia.

Gachechiladze's supporters held a 7,000-strong rally in Tbilisi on
January 6, are pausing on January 7 for Christmas Day (old calendar), and
have announced non-stop demonstrations from January 8 onward.

(International Election Observation Mission [OSCE/ODIHR, OSCE/PA,
PACE, European Parliament], `Statement of Preliminary Findings and
Conclusions,' January 6; Civil Georgia, Messenger, Rustavi-2 TV, January

--Vladimir Socor