GEORGIA AFTER THE LOCAL ELECTIONS OF 2 JUNE 2002
Levan Berdzenishvili, General Director, National Library of Georgia (Tbilisi, Georgia)
Nearly 11 years have passed since the day our centuries-old country recovered its independence. During those years Georgia has already lived through parliamentary elections (in 1992, 1995, and 1999) and presidential elections (in 1995 and 2000) as well as elections to the local self-administration bodies (in 1998 and 2002). The last local elections were scheduled to the fall of 2001 however the authorities exploited all procrastination methods to postpone the date several times. Finally, elections did take place on 2 June, 2002 (in Rustavi, Zugdidi and Kharagauli voting took place later because of violations). Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two unrecognized republics, to which Georgian legislation does not extend, ignored the date. The autonomous republic of Adzharia voted on 16 June: its president Aslan Abashidze wanted to emphasize its devotion to the republic’s constitution. Those who saw it (nobody in Tbilisi has even seen it) say that under the constitution Adzharia reserved the right to fix the date of local elections. (It is known that the final document contradicts, in some points, the Constitution of Georgia.)
The post-2 June, 2002 political situation can be described as a fundamentally new one and differing from the balance of forces in the parliament. Formally, the New Right won the elections across the country (544 seats, or 11.40 percent of votes), the Industry Will Save Georgia bloc (479 seats, or 10.03 percent) comes next. The election bloc of Aslan Abashidze Vozrozhdenie (Resurrection)–XXI vek (21st Century) (196 seats, or 4.11 percent) was the third followed by the Socialist Party (187 seats, or 3.92 percent), while the Labor Party took the fifth place with 148 seats (3.10 percent). Candidates nominated by initiative groups rather than parties won the absolute majority of seats—2,747 (57.54 percent).
All political parties concentrated their election efforts in Tbilisi that prompted a conclusion that the local elections in the capital were the last test before the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2003. Elections in Tbilisi were based on the party lists—the system that is applied to the entire country during parliamentary elections. (Under the 1995 Constitution 150 deputies are elected by party lists and 85, according to the majority system.)
It should be said that the National Movement–Democratic Front and the Zhvania Team, two winners, only recently formed into independent political forces and ran for local self-administration in Tbilisi and some other large Georgian cities. In some of them (Rustavi and Chiatura) the National Movement–Democratic Front won an impressive victory.
A crushing defeat of the Union of Citizens, the presidential party of power that had won the last parliamentary elections was the first significant result (the party gathered 1.45 percent of the votes across the country and 2.52 percent in the capital). The Vozrozhdenie bloc that had come second (after the Union of Citizens) at the parliamentary elections was defeated (4.11 percent across the country and 6.34 percent in Tbilisi). This says that the parliament no longer reflects the real range of political preferences.
There was another thought-provoking result of the elections of 2 June that the republic’s present political rulers found it hard to accept. Here I mean a convincing victory in Tbilisi of the Labor Party and the National Movement–Democratic Front bloc. They gathered 25.5 and 23.75 percent of votes, respectively. According to preliminary information, these figures may even increase when the votes are recounted: the Central Election Commission (CEC) has to recount the votes.
The third result: The Christian Conservative Party–the Zhvania Team election bloc managed to get seats in the Sakrebulo (the municipal council) of Tbilisi despite the authorities’ frantic pressure. As the election day was drawing closer all judicial instances, up to the Supreme Court, passed illogical and obviously discriminatory decisions against a group of politicians headed by the former speaker. It was thanks to benevolence of Shota Malashkhia, head of the Christian-Conservative Party, that Zurab Zhvania could compile the election list of his group and run for the municipal council. Under a court decision the leadership in the Union of Citizens (contrary to what its congress had decided) was transferred to dummies representing the interests of the governor of Kvemo Kartli Levan Mamaladze, himself a figurehead of the country’s president Shevardnadze. A tale-telling example of how the principles of democracy and the division of powers were interpreted in favor of the politically and morally bankrupt head of the state.
The fourth result: a gap between the results across the country and in its capital. For example, the Industry Will Save Georgia bloc and the New Right got 10.03 and 11.40 percent, respectively, outside Tbilisi that was a fairly good result. Their figures for the capital were 7.13 and 11.36 percent. One should also bear in mind that the newly formed political forces concentrated their election efforts in the capital. It should be said that in the regions many of the candidates were merely put on the party lists while in fact they were not activists of the corresponding parties.
The fifth result: a very bad performance of the traditional political structures such as the National-Democratic Party, the People’s Party–the Union of Traditionalists bloc, the Socialist Party, the Green Party, communists of all hues, etc.
The sixth result: lack of coordination among the parties of the so-called Batumi bloc. Only two of its members (Vozrozhdenie and the XXI vek) pooled their forces. Others (the Socialist Party, Ertoba (Unity) and the Party of Traditionalists) ran separately.
The seventh result: a well thought-out, noisy and well-oriented campaign of the National Movement–Democratic Front against the background of a subdued election campaign of Zhvania, the Labor Party and Vozrozhdenie, an unexpectedly moderate campaign of the very rich New Right and a nearly total abandonment of political promotion by the industrialists. The Vozrozhdenie and the XXI vek that pooled their forces did not completely tap the Abashidze factor. Later this caused squabbles among the young representatives of the Adzharian leader.
The results of the voting in Tbilisi proved to be the main surprise. Even the experienced Georgian authorities were amazed with unprecedented activity of the people. In a rainy weather, despite numerous gaps in the list of voters, numerous and impudent violations of the law the people demonstrated that they had developed into a mature society aware of its political and civil rights and capable of defending them.
All observers agreed that from the point of view of justice, observation of the laws and the rights of voters, straightforwardness and the degree of discipline in the election commissions at all levels these elections were far from being the worst in Georgia in the years of independence. I should like to add here that according to a CEC decision the local and regional election commissions were mainly staffed with representatives of the New Right, the Socialists, and the Vozrozhdenie.
The following parties and blocs overcame the 4 percent barrier and demonstrated more or less good results (the figures can change considerably when the Central Election Commission finally recounts the votes according to the Supreme Court’s decision): the Labor Party (71,145 votes, or 25.50 percent); the National Movement–Democratic Front bloc (66,256 votes, or 23.75 percent); the New Right (31,695 votes, or 11.36 percent), the Industry Will Save Georgia bloc (19,898, or 7.13 percent); the Christian-Democratic Party–the Zhvania Team (20,284 votes, or 7.27 percent), the Vozrozhdenie–XXI vek election bloc (17,682 votes, or 6.34 percent); the Ertoba bloc (11,516 votes, or 4.13 percent). Together they won 50 seats in the capital’s representative body.
All observers and political analysts pointed out that the 2002 elections drew protesting votes. It was the Labor Party and the National Movement that attracted them. The Labor leader Shalva Natelashvili had created a new image of his party. He entered common people (engineers, mechanics, teachers, economists, commodity experts) in the party lists and thus detached many votes from communists of all sorts. The principle of “rewarding the victims” also played its role: in 1999 there had been no doubts that the party overcame the 7 percent barrier yet it was deliberately kept outside the parliament. The party had also managed to preserve an image of an organization that was keeping away from the dirty parliamentary and political tricks.
Mikhail Saakashvili, the leader of the National Movement, another organization that attracted protest votes, is regarded as a lucky and bold young politician: he was a successful minister of justice and a successful leader of the largest parliamentary faction. The National Movement–Democratic Front bloc improved its rating when it attracted to its ranks the Republican Party known as a party of intellectual leaders, the National Force that unites the so-called moderate Zviadists (supporters of the first president of Georgia) who served terms in prison for their political ideas, the Liberal-Economic Party that unites prominent industrialists, etc. During the 2002 elections the bloc proved its viability and by its example stirred up other forces of political opposition. Immediately after the elections there was much talk about pooling the efforts of the New Democrats (the Zhvania Team), the National-Democratic Party (Irina Sarishvili), the Traditionalists (Akaki Asatiani) and possibly of other political organizations of the non-Shevardnadze political specter.
Nearly half of the voters in the capital positively responded to the Labor slogan “Let’s Deprive Plunderers of Power” and the slogan of the National Movement–Democratic Front “Tbilisi Without Shevardnadze.” Together with the votes cast for the Christian-Conservative Party and the team of the former speaker of the parliament Zurab Zhvania that ran for the local council under the slogan “Demonstrate the Authorities Your Strength” the results of Tbilisi elections showed that the absolute majority prefer to live in the post-Shevardnadze era. These people will try to move the desired time close at the nearest elections to the parliament in 2003.
After the elections the winners started political consultations about the candidate to the post of the Sakrebulo chairman. Levan Gachechiladze who headed the New Right made a desperate attempt to get the key post: he had abandoned his parliamentary seat and entered into negotiations with other political forces represented in the municipal council. He called on all other leaders, Mikhail Saakashvili in the first place, to follow his example and to surrender their parliamentary seats even before the name of the Sakrebulo chairman became known. This was rejected. Meanwhile the Labor nominated Saakashvili. After a short discussion in the National Movement–Democratic Front he accepted this unexpected offer.
At the moment when the “Tbilisi Without Shevardnadze” slogan nearly became a reality the authorities saved the day by openly manipulating the judicial branch of power. After a series of political scandals in the Central Election Commission and protracted discussion in courts of all instances the Supreme Court annulled the election results supplied by the CEC and obliged it to recount the votes in Tbilisi before announcing new figures. The capital was left without its representative structures for at least 12 months: 5 or 6 of them will be filled with all sorts of procrastination tricks and more maneuvers of the country and city leaders. The new results will inevitably produce new court cases. The authorities can easily annul the election results in the capital and fix a date for another round of elections. This was not done because, as a rule, in such cases the same parties and slogans win. It was deemed wiser to extend the election process, paralyze the local authorities in Tbilisi and wait till the ruling party recovers from the shock.
The results of the election campaign and the defeat of the ruling party stimulated political developments inside it: in the first place, Governor of Kvemo Kartli Levan Mamaladze nearly lost his post of the party’s leader. On 2 June, unknown people attacked the car in which the CEC was delivering ballot papers to Rustavi, the capital of Kvemo Kartli, Mamaladze’s “kingdom.” Elections took place in Rustavi two weeks later and produced the same victors as in the capital. A certain Tinikashvili who headed Mamaladze’s security was arrested, he confessed and showed the places where he had first hid the documents and then destroyed them. The court sentenced him to three months in prison. He was let free on an insistence of Mamaladze.
People had no doubt as to who had sabotaged the elections in Rustavi. The National Movement–Democratic Front bloc demanded of the country’s president to remove the Kvemo Kartli governor. Shevardnadze ignored the demand. As soon as it became clear that Mamaladze would stay the parliament turned its attention to the institute of governorship (officially the governors are president’s plenipotentiaries) not mentioned in the 1995 Constitution. It will be discussed at the next session. The local elections triggered a wave of “restructuring” in the Georgian legislature.
After the parliamentary elections of 1999 there were three factions in the parliament though all experts agreed that sooner or later it would split into smaller factions. Today there are 15 factions in the parliament. Nine of them (the Democrats—20 deputies, the New Right—17, Industrialists—14, Traditionalists—13, Vozrozhdenie —12, United Georgia—12, Movement for the Democratic Reforms—10, Socialists—10, the XXI vek—10; 118 deputies in all) are against the institute of governorship. Three factions support Shevardnadze (the Tanadgoma (Support) faction—18 members, the Alliance for New Georgia—18, the Union of Citizens—14; 51 deputies in all). Three other factions (New Abkhazia and the Christian-Democrats with 15 members, the Regions of Georgia—majority—15, Abkhazia—12 (42 candidates in all) and 25 independent deputies are still undecided.
The last congress of the Union of Citizens elected Avtandil Dzhobenadze, formerly a state minister, its new chairman. President Shevardnadze remained party member. The new leader plunged into frenzied activities that ended in another political anecdote. He restored the former “ruling status” of his party (that got 1.45 percent of the votes at the 2002 elections) by the shortest route: all ministers that so far remained outside the Union of Citizens joined it. The party opened grass-route cells in the hot spots (the Pankisi and Kodori gorges) and in the Georgian villages beyond Tskhinvali. It also closed down its local organization in Adzharia.
In fact, over 70 percent of the voters cast their votes against the present authorities in general and against President Shevardnadze, in particular; these were the main results of the local elections that took place on 2 June.