Books on Georgia
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
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
"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
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
"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