Saakashvili Wins!

by Joshua Foust on 1/6/2008 · 3 comments

The soon-to-be-Kazakh-led OSCE issued a strange report on the election in Georgia:

[The elections in Georgia] were in essence consistent with most OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards for democratic elections, significant challenges were revealed which need to be addressed urgently.

TOL Georgia posts a list of said irregularities, which mostly consist of widespread and pernicious press bias. The OSCE is right, however, that such irregularities do not guarantee a bad election. What TOL Georgia posts are several actual issues that could be evidence of more serious problems, from possibly fudged voter lists to a rather personal account of coercion. This leads them to conclude the election was a fraud.

Steve LeVine, however, declares victory for what he calls Saakashvili’s “big gamble.” In a nutshell:

Saakashvili stepped down as president when opposition protesters poured into the streets, demanding his resignation. He had been roundly criticized by the West for sending forces into the street to thump heads.

But if the results are confirmed in the actual count, it will validate a strategy that we’ve seen in no other country in the twelve members of the Commonwealth of Independent States save Ukraine.

That is — a president who has stepped down and put himself to the voters in a more or less contested election.

He’s right that it is a big precedent, even if it is unlikely to be repeated anywhere else. But if TOL is reporting things accurately, it was not as contested as it perhaps should have been… and even then, people were not given an appropriate choice.

Still, by post-Soviet standards it appears to have been a successful exercise in democracy, even if the incumbent won. As in: incumbency is not automatically evidence of non-democracy.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Inkan1969 January 7, 2008 at 11:25 am

Do you think TOL’s claim of fraud is correct?

Joshua Foust January 7, 2008 at 11:28 am

I honestly don’t know. It is a personal account, and TOL is clearly coming from a decidedly un-neutral position on the election. They might be correct, but until it is anything more than anecdotal I’m not going to treat it as gospel truth.

jibs January 11, 2008 at 9:29 am

Just a clarification: TOL does not claim the elections were fraud, but shows some of the reasons why one might think so, usually with arguments based on public information.

What is at hand is a 2.8% margin by which Saakashvili is winning the elections. Take a look at the OSCE report, and if it appears those violations were not serious enough to effect that result, then I will agree with you.

True, Saakashvili scored twice more than the runner up Gachechiladze. But, it is precisely these 2.8% of votes that is at stake here. Those who voted against Saakashvili, are very likely to vote similarly, if the second round is appointed (bleak prospect at the moment).

Here is what one observer, Estonian Parliamentarian, says on her blog:

About the gamble: I am still grasping to understand what it was all about. There were anti-government demonstrations with a major demand to hold the parliamentarian elections in spring and not in fall — how Saakashvili’s ruling party had decided a year earlier by prolonging the parliament’s mandate by 6 months citing the elections in Russia would somehow have a negative effect on Georgia during that period.

Then, the demonstrators were brutaly dispersed (see human rights reports) and the opposition leaning nationwide Imedi TV stormed. Only after that, Saakashvili called to have snap presidential elections.

Now, what is the reasoning to beat up the demonstrators and then compromise? Besides, the demand was to hold the parliamentarian elections and not presidential. He could have said, fine, let’s have those parliamentarian elections in Spring and the demonstrations would stop.

I know it is unprecedent on the former Soviet space to cut presidential term by one year, but to be fair, no one asked for that. Yes, there were appeals for him to resign, but they came later, when the oppositions’ demands were ignored.

Here is the OSCE report:

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