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. Five 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 would 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 — seem 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 5-7)