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Key Economic Data
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 3,937 3,324 3,100 126
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 830 650 590 145
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 326 - (28/02/08)

The year of elections 
1848 was the year of revolutions in Europe. 2008 is the year of presidential elections in the Caucasus. The elections to the presidency in Georgia on January 5 were the first of three vital presidential elections in the Caucasus this year. Armenia followed suit on February 19, predictably electing PM Serge Sargsyan president. Azerbaijan is holding the equivalent in October. 

The official results of the Georgian elections were to give the incumbent, Mikhail Saakashvili, a resounding although disputed victory with 53% of the vote. But the validity of the outcome is certainly open to doubt.

Opposition demands recount
Georgian opposition parties gave President Mikhail Saakashvili an ultimatum on January 29, demanding a recount of the disputed presidential vote, fair access to state television, and dismissal of the interior minister. 

The ultimatum signed by leaders of all leading opposition parties had a Feb. 15 deadline for Saakashvili to meet their demands. Should he fail to do so, the opposition said it would boycott the parliamentary elections expected in the next few months (probably May) and stage a permanent rally outside the parliament building.

A pledge by a 12-party opposition coalition to hold "permanent protests" if major reforms are not implemented suggests that the country’s recent political distemper is lingering on. 

Aside from the nine opposition parties backing former presidential candidate Levan Gachechiladze, candidate Davit Gamkrelidze’s New Rights Party, the Industrialists parliamentary faction and former candidate Giorgi Maisashvili’s Party of the Future also support the demands. "All the opposition presidential candidates worked on the document . . . about the necessary changes that are today Georgian society’s demand number one: setting up once and for all in Georgia a free judiciary, elections and media," Gachechiladze told a January 30 press conference in Tbilisi. 

Former presidential candidate Shalva Natelashvili, leader of the Labour Party, has been hospitalized following a heart attack and did not sign the manifesto. Fellow candidate Irina Sarishvili, widely seen as pro-Russia, was not included in opposition consultations. 

A boycott of Georgia’s upcoming parliamentary elections – expected sometime in May – has also been pledged. (The date of the vote is another point for contention: the coalition wants April, before the expiration of the current parliament’s term). The manifesto’s signatories stated that they will only take part in the vote if the government and opposition are given equal representation on all election commissions and have an equal say in the appointment of the chairperson of the Central Election Commission. Gachechiladze’s supporters have called for a criminal prosecution against the current chairman, Levan Tarkhnishvili, claiming that he facilitated falsification of the vote. 

Terming Mikhail Saakashvili a "self-proclaimed president," the opposition group has also called for a recount of the January 5 presidential vote in some districts that were flagged by international observers. 

New government disappoints 
The January 24 presentation of Georgia’s proposed new cabinet in some ways proved an anti-climactic development, some local observers say. Despite pledges made by President Mikheil Saakashvili to include opposition representatives in the cabinet, leading opposition figures reportedly refused all offers of top-level government posts. 

Soon after securing re-election in the January 5 presidential vote, Saakashvili pledged to shake-up the Georgian government and bring in new faces. According to Saakashvili, the new cabinet is "a promise" kept to the country. Speaking to journalists in Strasbourg on January 24, he applauded the choices as a "broad representation" from a "broad spectrum" of society. 

"The new cabinet also features persons who have never been affiliated with any political party, including the prime minister [Lado Gurgenidze, the former board chairman of the Bank of Georgia]," Saakashvili said. The president explained that the new government did not contain opposition members because they themselves declined offered posts. Saakashvili noted that he retained hope that he could recruit an opposition leader into the government, the Interfax news agency reported. 

"Working in this cabinet depends on the personal desire of different members of the opposition. A relevant desire has been expressed for our part," Saakashvili said in Strasbourg, where he addressed the Council of Europe on January 24. "The door will be open for them in the future, too, including after the parliamentary election." 

While Saakashvili stressed diversity, some political analysts in Tbilisi emphasized that the core group of Saakashvili supporters within the cabinet was largely untouched by the reshuffle. Giorgi Khutsishvili, a political scientist and the founder of Tbilisi’s International Center on Conflict and Negotiation, noted that neither of the so-called power ministries -- the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Internal Affairs -- underwent a change in leadership. 

In addition, longtime Saakashvili allies -- Finance Minister Nika Gelauri and Agriculture Minister Petre Tsiskarishvili -- kept their posts, as did Aleksander Khetaguri, the energy minister. Other members of Saakashvili’s inner circle were slated for a promotion. For example, Eka Sharashidze, the head of the presidential administration, was nominated to lead the Ministry of Economic Development, while Deputy Prosecutor General Nika Gvaramia was nominated to become the Minister of Justice. State Minister for Conflict Resolution Davit Bakradze, Saakashvili’s presidential campaign spokesperson, will head up the foreign ministry, in which he worked for several years prior to Saakashvili’s 2004 election. 

"I think that this [the announcement of a new cabinet] is done to demonstrate that now lessons have been learned and now there will be a different style of government," Khutsishvili said. "[However, changes] should be not only cosmetic; there should be a profound process to convince everyone that … these people seriously intend to make reforms in the government." 

Independent political scientist Khatuna Lagazidze downplayed the notion that the new cabinet was more pluralistic in its political outlook. She noted that just five out of 15 cabinet positions were given to political newcomers, and, of those, two -- political analysts Ghia Nodia and Temur Iakobashvili (slated to take over the Education Ministry and the newly renamed State Ministry for Integration, respectively) -- are old associates of Saakashvili. 

Nodia is the founder of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development, a well-respected non-governmental organization for civil society development, and Iakobashvili is the executive vice president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, an influential think tank. 

Other newcomer nominees include Zaza Gamtsemlidze, director of the Institute of Botany, as Minister of Environment and Natural Resources; Sandro Kvitashvili, a healthcare industry specialist from the US-based East-West Institute, as Minister of Healthcare and Social Issues; and Iulon Gagoshidze, an archaeologist and a senior researcher at the Georgian State Museum, as the head of the newly formed State Ministry of Diaspora Issues. 

"I believe this is just a façade," Lagazidze commented, citing the lack of opposition appointees for "any serious positions like the Interior Ministry." 

Saakashvili, however, has underlined a change at one key power center -- the Office of the General Prosecutor. 

The decision to replace General Prosecutor Zurab Adeishvili with outgoing Justice Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili is an attempt to "humanize" the prosecutor’s office, he told reporters. The office has been a frequent target of criticism related to its handling of espionage allegations against opposition members and its investigation of former presidential candidate Badri Patarkatsishvili.

"This [replacement of the chief prosecutor] is not simply a staff reshuffle. …We need to preserve good tendencies, but, on the other hand, we need to humanize this field," Saakashvili told Georgian television reporters. "We need more relations with society." 

Adeishvili, however, has not been removed from the government; according to January 24 media reports, he will head the presidential administration. 

Analyst Khutsishvili focused on another change potentially tied to popular criticism -- former State Minister for Coordination of Reforms Kakha Bendukidze’s reassignment as head of the state chancellery. "This was a response to the unpopularity of this minister," he commented. "He [Bendukidze] irritated people" in connection with Saakashvili’s various economic reforms, he added. 

Bendukidze’s press secretary, Eka Gabadadze, told EurasiaNet that the state minister found out about the decision to eliminate his ministry "a week ago" and took the president’s offer of a reassignment "normally."

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