The U.S. and other statements recognizing the Georgian election’s validity come not a moment too soon. Such recognition can at least to some extent dissuade Georgian opposition leaders from resorting to risky confrontation tactics. Opposition leaders threaten to call continuous demonstrations demanding a recount or runoff and do not recognize the president as legitimate. Their slogans are, “no to injustice” and “defense of our votes.” These goals are supposed to justify unlawful, albeit peaceful, behavior. While disclaiming intentions to resort to violence and even deploring any possible confrontation, opposition leaders nevertheless insist that confrontation is inevitable unless the government agrees to hold a runoff between Saakashvili and the runner-up, Levan Gachechiladze. The two received 53.5% and 26%, respectively, of the votes cast, according to CEC’s officially validated final tabulation (the remainder was divided among five other candidates).
Opposition leaders variously claim to have been defrauded of anywhere between 200,000 and 400,000 votes, depending on the speaker. They variously claim that runner-up Gachechiladze (26% of the votes cast, to Saakashvili’s 53%) won the election outright or that he held Saakashvili below 50%, thus earning a title to a runoff. They variously demand a recount or a runoff. And they intend to pursue their claims in courts, but have not submitted necessary materials thus far.
For now, opposition leaders are staking out irreconcilable positions and issuing inflammatory statements. They regularly do so on television channels that they otherwise accuse of restricting the opposition’s access.
Thus, Gachechiladze claims, “I am the person who won the first place and defeated Saakashvili, and a legal document [CEC protocol] does not matter much to me. I have written that document in my mind and on my responsibility before the public and the nation” (Rustavi-2 TV, January 10). Furthermore, he warns, “The injustice is a major source of confrontation, and Georgia is currently on the verge of such civil confrontation, so injustice should be removed …. And a runoff is the only way out (Rustavi-2 TV, January 11).
“Our fight will continue and we will not allow Saakashvili to steal our votes,” Gachechiladze told the crowd at the January 13 rally. He warned the West generally, “Do not make the Georgian people hate you because of your support for Saakashvili” (Civil Georgia, January 13, 14).
Conservative Party leaders speak in a similar vein. According to Zviad Dzidziguri, “The United States and Europe are throwing a gauntlet to Georgia by foisting Saakashvili on the country.” He asserts that Western election observers were “lying” and that “most of the OSCE observers were drunk on election day.” From a live TV political talk show, Dzidziguri threatened the president of the Coca Cola-Georgia company for having contributed to the Saakashvili electoral campaign: “Temur Chkonia, don’t you have brains in your head ? Be afraid of us” (Civil Georgia, Interfax, January 13,14).
The other Conservative leader, Kakha Kukava, declared after the opposition leaders’ meeting with Western ambassadors, “Saakashvili will never be a legitimate president, we will defend our votes and never let him be inaugurated … He is Georgia’s former president.” Kukava then told the January 13 rally, “We are not relying on the courts [to modify the election results], this is just a formal procedure. We are counting on street protests. Whether or not Saakashvili declares himself president, he won’t be Georgia’s president. He will only be president of Marneuli [an Azeri-populated district that voted massively for Saakashvili]. We will declare general civil disobedience…. We will not allow him to govern or to appoint ministers.” Kukava went on to declare in press interviews that the international observers’ assessment “means nothing. The international community is malleable. They are congratulating him [Saakashvili] now but might want to put him on trial later.” “If the situation is stable, the international organizations will not declare that the election was rigged. But if resistance is commensurate, then the international organizations’ response will also be commensurate” (Rustavi-2 TV, January 13; Prime News, Civil Georgia, January 11-14; Georgian Times, January 14).
A Republican Party leader, Tinatin Khidasheli, warns, “Either Saakashvili will agree to a runoff, or he will not be recognized [by the opposition].” “The international community must choose to either support Saakashvili or support Georgia” (Resonansi, Civil Georgia, January 14). Khidasheli and other opposition leaders had declared Saakashvili “illegitimate” already in October, when the opposition was demanding his removal outright, without a presidential election. (Saakashvili’s November decision to call a presidential election surprised and confused the opposition.) Other Republican leaders (Khidasheli’s husband and the two Berdzenishvili brothers) oscillate between radicalism and relative moderation.
Georgia’s Way party leader Salome Zourabichvili, who is Gachechiladze’s nominee for prime minister, declared at the January 13 rally on Rustaveli Avenue, “He [Saakashvili] won’t rule the country! He won’t be able to be inaugurated here !” Gia Tortladze, deputy head of the Movement for United Georgia — the party of fugitive ex-defense minister Irakli Okruashvili — introduced Gachechiladze to the rally as “the de facto new president of Georgia” (Civil Georgia, January 13, 14).
New Right and its leader Davit Gamkrelidze could be deemed the only authentically conservative group in Georgia. Supportive of strictly constitutional processes and distrustful of mass movements, Gamkrelidze opposed the 2003 Rose Revolution and did not join in 2007 the opposition coalition under the firebrand Gachechiladze. Instead, Gamkrelidze ran separately for president and received 4% of the votes cast. Saakashvili’s victory has radicalized Gamkrelidze. He has thrown New Right’s support to Gachechiladze and participates in protest rallies despite his earlier abhorrence of such events. Gamkrelidze claims that Saakashvili has “no legitimacy” and warns that U.S. support for the reelected president would “turn the Georgian people against the United States and against joining NATO” (Rustavi-2 TV, Civil Georgia, January 10, 13).
In this highly charged atmosphere, an international consensus-breaking report from the OSCE — as hinted at again by German diplomat Dieter Boden in Tbilisi (Prime News, Rustavi-2 TV, January 11) — would risk prolonging and even intensifying the political confrontation in Georgia.