More on Georgia

by Andy on 4/2/2004

Like Nathan mentioned yesterday: big important elections in Georgia. So now its all done and dusted, what really happened, and what does it mean? Mikhail Saakashvili won, of course, but how convincing was his victory really?

Despite alarmist predictions that Saakashvili’s National Movement-Democrats was going to win 100% of the seats up for grabs in the election, it turns out that, now the counting is finished, the National Movement-Democrats has 152 of the 235 total number of parliamentary seats. Not enough for the 66% supermajority needed to do exiting things like change the constitution but still, a pretty nice number to look at if your name is Saakashvili.

The March election was, of course, a re-run of the November election, which saw victorious Eduard Shervardnadze booted out in the ‘rose revolution’ after claims of massive fraud and corruption. But only 150 of the 235 seats contested were deemed so fraudulent that the actually needed to be re-run. The other 85 results stood, and not very many of those seats went to the National Movement-Democrats. The National Movement-Democrats also didn’t manage take all 150 of the re-contested seats. A second party, the Rightist Opposition coalition, made it over the 7% threshold and stole a not too shabby 15 seats from Saakashvili. The third major party, Abashidze’s own Revivial Union, missed out on the 7% target, although it has a few seats leftover from November.

Another key point worth considering is that Saakashvili’s National Movement-Democrats is not actually a party as such. It is a coalition of two parties – the National Movement and (I guess the hyphen gave this away a little), the Democrats. And each of those two ‘parties’ are actually coalitions themselves. Nobody is suggesting they are going to split right away, but long term, expect to see the balance of power in Georgia shifting considerably. And short term, this means that Saakashvili has a tricky balancing act on his hands to keep his coalition together.

What does this mean for Ajaria and the two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia? Tough to say. Probably Saakashvili will want to act tough while he has the chance – it’ll look good to his domestic coalition partners, and if the coalition loses its unity over time he isn’t likely to get another chance. Besides, bringing Ajaria back into the Georgian ‘family’ would be a pretty spectacular success, likely to strengthen his domestic position over the next couple of years.

But he needs to play his hand carefully. What Russia wants is critical here. Although American backing is nice for Saakashvili, this is Russia’s backyard, and what Russia wants it pretty much gets. And, going back to domestic politics, if he screws up, it’ll probably split the coalition apart. Nobody wants a failure as their president.

So far no major moves from Saakashvili, although the initial signs are that he is using his fresh mandate to put more pressure on the breakaway regions – yesterday he called them ‘illegal private armies’ and promised to disband them. He has also promised the army that the government will finally stop stealing money from the army, and use it to repair tanks and pay for new uniforms instead.

Watch this space…

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