Georgia: New Elections Coming January 5th

by Nathan Hamm on 11/8/2007 · 9 comments

Just got an email that Saakashvili has announced snap presidential elections for January 5th after recognizing that yesterday’s actions smashed his mandate. The vote, I’m told, will be paired with a referendum on new parliamentary elections.

Look for more details as the story hits the wires.

My snap take though is that this is tentatively good news for Georgia and the US. This hopefully will put Georgia back on more or less the right track. Rumors on the street were that the crackdown could only have come with US backing, and hopefully this will help repair some of the public relations damage.

Update (Josh): What is most remarkable to me about this affair is that it is not a referendum on the country’s East-West orientation. Both the opposition and Saakashvili claim to want closer ties to the West. Rather, it is about who is the better choice to lead the country toward a more Western orientation, a policy Saakashvili’s state of emergency seems to have undermined.

Rose Parade

We’ll keep updating this.

Update 2 (Josh): has posted some text of Saakashvili’s announcement:

• I propose holding presidential elections on January 5, 2008.

• I am giving the opposition the chance to become the people’s choice;

• Yesterday’s events were in response to a conspiracy against Georgian democracy;

• Yesterday we protected not the government, but rather Georgian democracy and the Georgian people;

• I want to hold a plebiscite in parallel with the presidential elections so that the people decide when to hold the parliamentary elections;

The AP has posted a brief update on the story. However, Georgia’s opposition is badly fractured; pretty much the only thing they could agree to was protesting Saakashvili’s regime. So this might, as commenters James and JB suggest, be a clever ploy to legitimately stay in power, however unpopular he may be.

Update 3 (Josh): Al-Jazeera highlights an angle I had forgotten: every time Georgia has a crisis, they play tag with Russian diplomats (i.e. they have matching expulsions). While there is usually a grain of truth in the row (Russia has aggressively pursued its interests in Abkhazia and South Ossetia), it is highly unlikely Russia was behind the previous week of protests. Saakashvili, however, has chosen to blame it all on the Russians anyway. has the text of his speech (excerpted below):

The authorities’ response to the opposition’s demand to hold parliamentary elections was a claim that they did not want the polls in Georgia to coincide with the presidential elections in Russia planned for March next year. The supposed rationale was that there was “a serious risk” that Russia could manipulate the Georgian elections, or even “stage serious provocations” in Georgia for internal Russian consumption on the eve of its presidential elections.

“These [snap] elections will, however, be held in a schedule proposed by us and not by our ill-wishers,” Saakashvili said. “So these elections will give us an advantage ahead of elections in Russia.”

He also pointed out that this was his “a compromise” in a standoff with the opposition. “I am giving the opposition the chance to really become the people’s choice if you really deserve this,” Saakashvili said.

He is also annointing himself Georgia’s sole guardian of democracy, which is a dangerous tack to take—especially given how deeply angry Tblisians are over the crackdown yesterday. The temptation to crackdown again at the slightest hint of protest is simply too much.

Don’t miss CJ Chivers’ story about what’s happening—he wrote an chronology of the crisis.

Update 4 (Josh): The Economist notes a curious synergy: “IT WAS exactly four years ago that Mikheil Saakashvili, then a youthful firebrand leader of the opposition to President Eduard Shevardnadze, brought his supporters out into the streets of Tbilisi.” Interesting.

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Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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Inkan1969 November 8, 2007 at 10:32 am

Will a Georgian president ever serve out a full term again? If only Saakashvili had responded to the initial protests with a compromise: He serves out his full term, but he calls snap parliamentary elections. Isn’t that the point of a parliament, to instantly change should the need arise? With that compromise, the opposition could’ve gained some credibility and organization skills, while Saakashvili could’ve maintained his reputation.

James November 8, 2007 at 10:41 am

It looks like Saakashvili has called the opposition’s bluff by calling a presidential election in January. The ten-party opposition coalition which formed around Patarkatsishvili’s cheque book is now going to implode under the effort of trying to find a joint candidate. The date also means that their best hope, Okruashvili, will not be eligible to stand as he will be too young – even if he was allowed back in the country.

Assuming the election is above board, I think he has a good chance of winning

jb November 8, 2007 at 10:49 am

Assuming the election is above board, I think he has a good chance of winning

That’s the snap take on the ground as well. But I’ve also heard previous supporters that I’ve talked to comparing him to Hitler today, so who knows.

Clearly, though, this is a gambit, and I don’t think it’s one that could possibly restore Saakashvili to a full mandate. His only strong point is that Badri is so incredibly reviled that he would have no hope of running himself. Otherwise, the opposition is fragmented and likely won’t be able to agree on a candidate.

James November 8, 2007 at 10:54 am

Further to the above, here is some instant reaction from Georgia’s top chat forum. This (totally unscientific) poll asks which opposition party leader people would vote for – and the vote is pretty evenly split. It at least demonstrates the difficulty they are going to have if they want a single candidate.

Meanwhile, this polls shows 40 percent to Misha and 54 per cent to an unspecified joint opposition candidate, but that vote is likely to be split

Nick November 8, 2007 at 4:01 pm

So presumably good Georgian children everywhere will awake on Orthodox Xmas morning and be disappointed that Santa didn’t bring them a new president. 😉

jb November 8, 2007 at 6:09 pm

To be honest, all I did tonight was run spreadsheets about importing mountain bikes and get lit at an expat bar. I’ll sound out the city tomorrow.

Dan November 9, 2007 at 7:15 pm

I agree that this is a smart move by Saakashvili, and he’ll probably win in January. 2 things it’s important to remember:
– the main demand was for parliamentary elections, not presidential elections
– the opposition wanted elections in April; they’re being given them in January

So he arranges for a poll that happens too soon for the opposition to prepare, and in a way that will fracture the anti-Saakashvili vote. Meanwhile the government still holds the patronage and so on. When this is all over Saakashvili will have lost a lot of popularity and international leverage, but he’ll have almost as much domestic power as before.

James November 10, 2007 at 7:44 am

I find it hard to have much sympathy for the opposition. Since the Rose Revolution they have spent most of their time on infighting rather than trying to build a solid coalition. They failed to do it for the local elections last year when they had plenty of time to prepare.

Furthermore, they never clearly explained their demands for parliamentary elections in April 08. Logically, waiting until autumn 08 would have been to their advantage – more time to form a coalition for parliament, more time to select and promote a joint presidential candidate and more time for Saakashvili to lose support. The problem is that Georgian parties are formed around egos, not policies, ideas or ideologies, so is virtually impossible for them to work together.

The formation of the coalition, the timing of the protests and their demand for April elections were simply determined by the interests of two individuals – Okruashvili and Patarkatsishvili. Now that those two are effectively out of the equation, their is little glue to hold the opposition coalition together, simply because it was founded on opportunism.

The opposition have had four years to prepare – they always know there was going to be elections some time in 2008 – but they have simply been too lazy to work for long-term dividends

James November 10, 2007 at 7:50 am

P.S. It now looks like the following will be the main candidates
– Saakashvili
– Davit Gamqrelidze (opposition New Right)
– Gia Maisashvili (opposition, popular among educated middle class but no-one else)
– As yet unspecified joint Republican-Conservative-Georgia’s Way-(Labour?) candidate
-…and Badri (who is nowhere near being the public hero he thinks he is)

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