Books on Georgia
Update No: 298 - (27/10/05)
Governing party sweeps by-elections in Georgia
Revolutions can become swiftly unpopular. But the Rose Revolution in Georgia,
initiated in late 2003, seems to be holding its own, if recent electoral results
are any guide.
President Mikhail Saakashvili's administration appeared to receive an
endorsement for its policy course, as the governing National Movement Party
swept all five seats at stake in by-elections held October 1, almost two years
to the day after the revolution began.
Despite opposition efforts to present a unified candidate in opposition to the
National Movement contender, the Saakashvili-led party swept the elections.
Prior to the vote, Saakashvili had set up the elections as a referendum on his
administration's performance. "These elections will demonstrate whether the
population supports the policies we have chosen," Saakashvili was quoted as
saying in August by the Civil Georgia website.
The by-election results seem to provide the Saakashvili administration with a
domestic political boost as it attempts to respond to Russia's apparent
determination to maintain a dominating presence in South Ossetia (see below).
Four opposition groups joined together to present a united front against the
National Movement in the October 1 contests. Despite encouraging results during
their primary two weeks ago, the opposition candidates could not make a dent in
the ruling party's popularity.
Voting took place in five districts, Isani in Tbilisi, Tkibuli in western
Georgia, and Kobuleti, Shuakhevi and Batumi in Ajara. The closest race was in
Isani, where the National Movement candidate, Bidzina Bregadze, edged out Giorgi
Mosidze of the New Rights Party by less than 300 votes, according to preliminary
Mosidze said the results were heavily influenced by heavy National Movement
spending on the campaign. Saakashvili also campaigned for Bregadze. Mosidze
characterized his ability to capture 36 per cent of the vote as a 'huge
accomplishment' for the opposition, given that his campaign spent 10-12,000 lari
(up to US$6,680) on the contest.
While celebrating the ruling party's victory, Saakashvili expressed regret at
the "catastrophic" loses suffered by the opposition. "This means
that the weakness of the opposition is a fact. This is not good," he said
in a televised speech. "Every government, even the most successful, needs a
strong, constructive and responsible opposition."
The votes were not controversy-free. Citing fixed voter lists, the
opposition-minded Conservative Party has filed complaints about the elections in
Kobuleti, where its candidate, Jimsher Jincharadze, lost to Koba Khabazi of the
National Movement by over 7,000 votes. Koba Davitashvili, the leader of
Conservative Party, called the elections 'shameful' in an interview with Civil
Georgia on October 2.
However, the Central Election Commission (CEC) is defending the election and its
results. In an interview with EurasiaNet, CEC Chairman Gia Kavtaradze called the
by-elections "the best ever" that Georgia has held. "We received
complaints in only one district," he said. Kavtaradze added that CEC
lawyers were looking into the complaints about the Kobuleti vote.
Independent observers also gave the elections high marks, although there were
some violations noted, particularly with voter lists in Isani, a district within
Tbilisi, and Kobuleti in Ajara. "The elections were conducted according to
the law," Tamar Zhvania of the International Society for Fair Elections and
Democracy told EurasiaNet. "There were some violations but they will not
make a difference in the results."
Zhvania added that while the ruling party followed all of the rules, they were
'artistic' in their interpretation of some points of the election code.
"They know the code very well and we have some articles that are open to
interpretation," she said, noting that the election code was changed a few
months ago. There is a need to refine the election code before the 2006
parliamentary elections, Zhvania added. "In the first place there needs to
be normal voter lists," she said. "[We also need] professionals in the
voting precincts. They should have more training and permanent education."
Kavtaradze agreed that the election code needs work. He outlined three major
areas that the CEC plans on addressing before the 2006 elections: certifying and
training election officials, defining set procedures for the voter lists and
simplifying voting procedure. "The procedure on election day is extremely
complicated," he said. "[Now] a person has to go through 13 steps
before he or she leaves the polling station." By 2006 Kavtaradze believes
that number should be down to four. "You come in, write you name, get a
ballot, drop in the box and go out," he said.
Guranda Tavartkiladze, a representative from the United Nations Association
Georgia Batumi branch, indicated that the main problem with the Kobuleti vote
concerned inaccurate voter lists. At the same time, she stressed that it was
ultimately the responsibility of each citizen to double-check the accuracy of
the lists beforehand. "People came to vote and they weren't on the list
although they had registered," she said in a telephone interview with
EurasiaNet. "People should ... be more active in protecting their
Kavtaradze also called on voters to take the initiative and check the lists.
"The major headache for us was the voter lists," he said.
"Because our voters are passive, not many people [checked the lists
beforehand]." Despite the voter-list problems, Kavtaradze is confident that
the results are valid; according to preliminary findings only 2 percent of
eligible voters were not on the lists.
While Saakashvili is framing the by-elections as an endorsement for his
administration, observers suggest that the vote in Ajara especially was
determined more by individual rather than party loyalties. "People [in
Batumi] really respect Jamal Inaishvili [the National Movement candidate],"
Tavartkiladze said. "They were not voting for the party but for the person
himself." She also noted that less than half of the registered voters went
to the polls in Batumi.
Davit Losaberidze, a program director at the Caucasus Institute for Peace,
Democracy and Development in Tbilisi, also voiced doubts that the election
results served as a clear endorsement for the Saakashvili administration.
"Roughly speaking, a loss would have been more beneficial for the
government," he said during an interview with EurasiaNet. "It would
have shown them that everything is not as well as it should be."
New dissensions with Moscow
The by-elections occurred at a geopolitically tense time, with Georgia and
Russia again sparring over the renegade region of South Ossetia. On October 3,
the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a sharply worded statement condemning the
Georgian parliament's plan to discuss a resolution that would potentially call
for the removal of Russian peacekeepers from South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
"Pursuing clearly provocative goals, the Georgian parliament is preparing
for a destructive discussion concerning the demolition of the negotiating
framework, [including] the abolition of the Joint Control Commission for the
Georgian-Ossetian settlement (JCC) and the Joint Peacekeeping Forces (JPF) in
the region," the Russian Foreign Ministry statement said. "In our
opinion, these bodies remain the only effective mechanism for the resolution [of
Utilities start exploring wind energy
Two years ago, a coalition of Georgia electrical membership cooperatives began
offering customers the option of paying a little extra each month to support
renewable forms of energy. But the response has been under whelming. "We're
a bit disappointed," said Michael Whiteside, president of Green Power EMC,
New Europe reported.
"Wind and solar power are the only completely non-polluting renewable forms
of energy," said Colleen Kiernan, "I hope the test shows we have
enough wind in Georgia to generate some power," said Susan Baker,
spokeswoman for Clarkesville-based Habersham EMC. "But a lot of the
mountains are in the national forest or they're privately owned." Whiteside
said there are only a couple of sites in Georgia where a wind turbine could
conceivably be built. The Floyd County location is one of them, if the test
results are favourable. Even if wind power were added, it would be only a small
part of the overall energy mix used by the 28 EMCs involved in Green Power. In
truth, their households are receiving the same electricity as regular EMC
members, but by purchasing a "block" of renewable energy, they help
support research into alternative power sources. "The more people who sign
up, the more the cost will go down," said Blake House, spokesman for Sawnee
EMC in Cumming. "We've had hundreds of phone calls about the programme, but
when people find out it's going to cost them an extra US$4.50 a month, they
don't want to sign up." Kiernan said the dilemma about renewable power is
that it's very expensive, but only initially. "The cost is up front."
Tbilisi, EBRD discuss aid programme
Georgian finance Minister, Aleko Alexishvili, said on September 16th at a press
conference that the Georgian Finance Ministry has begun talks with the European
bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on extending a credit for
additional financing of projects under the Millennium Challenge Account
programme. Alexishvili said, "The talks are about the EBRD's possible
participation in co-financing projects. Talks on raising additional credit
resources will also take place with other potential investors." The
Millennium Challenge Account Programme, which the US government has agreed to
sign contracts to extend about US$300m in 2005, includes four main areas. These
include rebuilding regional infrastructures and developing entrepreneurship,
such as in agro-business and tourism.
Armenia-Georgian commission meets in Yerevan
The fourth meeting of the Armenia-Georgian inter-governmental commission on
economic issues was recently held in Yerevan, Interfax News Agency reported.
In the inaugural address, Armenia's Prime Minister, Andranik Margaryan,
expressed confidence that this meeting will be the continuation of the efficient
dialogue between Armenia and Georgia.
He also said that issues discussed during the meeting would give an opportunity
to strengthen bilateral economic cooperation. Georgia's Prime Minister, Zurab
Noghaideli, was pleased with the high level of this meeting.
He mentioned the great opportunities for bilateral and regional cooperation,
which will promote the settlement of regional conflicts.
He also expressed his satisfaction with the fact that issues of mutual interest
that were discussed will bring about solutions which will promote growth of
turnover between the two countries and the establishment of joint enterprises.
Noghaideli expressed hope for settlement of problems in mutual understanding and
that the agreements which will be signed will boost development of
Poti Shipyard signs deal with Dutch company
Poti Shipyard signed an agreement worth US$18 million with the Dutch company,
Damen Shipyards Bergum, on September 22nd. According to the agreement, the
Georgian shipyard will construct 12 cargo ships for the Dutch shipbuilder, which
will then distribute the ships in Europe.
Ships like the ones Poti Shipyard will construct carry dry cargo and typically
are used in Europe, between Scandinavia, Great Britain, Holland, and Germany.
Each ship can transport 200 tonnes of cargo.
Georgian Prime Minister, Zurab Noghaideli, and speaker of parliament, Nino
Burjanadze, attended a signing ceremony at the Tbilisi Marriott Hotel. Both
evaluated the deal as a new example of cooperation between a local enterprise
and a foreign company. Noghaideli believes that the contract is the outcome of
economic reforms which will provide 1,000 jobs for people in Poti.
Burjanadze stressed that the project was possible because of the government's
support. Georgian officials label the contract as a revival for Georgian
enterprise. According to the Poti Shipyard, the contract is "the most
serious and important offer that any Georgian enterprise has ever received from
a foreign country."
The shipyard's leadership underlined that the deal will improve the Georgian
investment climate. "We are always looking for potential yards all over the
world where we can build vessels," Manager of the Hull contracting
department for Damen Shipyards Bergum, Walter van Gruythuysen, told The
Messenger. He added that his company plans to invest "knowledge and
experience" in the Georgian shipyard. Damen Shipyards Bergum builds seven
to eight cargo ships per year. It has production facilities in China, Romania,
Meanwhile, Poti Shipyard Director General, Dimitrios Eleftheriou, said that the
Dutch company is interested in long-term cooperation. He thinks that the
contract will be "an important stimulus for development of Georgian heavy
industry." He noted that for the first time in Georgian history, the local
enterprise will build a commercial cargo ship, The Messenger reported.
Kars-Akhalkalaki railway to begin in 2006
The Georgian, Turkish and Azeri governments have finally decided on the
construction of a Kars-Akhalkalaki railway. Turkey will provide the bulk of
financial aid while Georgia will manage to obtain US$252.7 million in grants
from international foundations and Azerbaijan will also contribute. This was
announced at a meeting in Turkey where Turkish Minister of Transport, Binal
Ildrim, Azeri Minister of Transport, Zia Mamedov, and Georgian Minister of
Economic Development, Irakli Chogovadze, were present, The Messenger reported.
The construction of the railway will begin in 2006 and it is planned to be
finished by 2008, by which time the Russian military bases in Georgia will be
completely withdrawn. The railway will reduce transportation expenses to a great
extent and serve to further insure the Silk-Road project will become more
The European Union is also interested in the construction of the
Kars-Akhalkalaki railway. The project of lining Baku - Tbilisi - Akhalkalaki -
Kars railroad will enable the Caspian Sea countries to transport cargoes and
passengers from Baku to Europe through the territory of Turkey, the UN Deputy
Secretary General, Anvarul Choudhur, stated. It was recalled that on December
28th 2004, representatives of Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan signed an agreement
about the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway construction.
The Kars -Akhalkalaki railway will serve to link the Turkish rail system with
the Georgian, Azeri and Russian railway systems, in order to forge further links
with Central Asia.