Tuesday, November 18, 2003

1001 Tbilisi Nights

The post-election Georgian chaos seems to be hitting the news outlets in the states. Since I've been following this because people pay me to, I'll throw in my overly detailed summary.

This was a parliamentary, not a presidential election. While President Shevardnadze is still revered in the West for being a reform-minded fellow when he was Gorbachev's foreign minister, is he fairly well hated at home and has become entrenched with some corrupt cronies. He has been in office since Georgia's independence.

All international and domestic observers reported widespread ballot fraud in the 2 Nov elections: ballot stuffing, stolen ballot boxes, intimidation by local officials, and so on. (See my post here on the spree of pre-election assassination attempts, too) A parallel vote tabulation and an exit poll conducted by respected NGOs put the opposition bloc "National Movement" squarely in the lead. This would give them control of parliament, and generally reflect the sentiments of Georgians as expressed in opinion polling.

The official results, however, put the pro-government party in the lead, with the separatist party that Shevardnadze supposedly cut a deal with in second place. (long story) The purported winners are in third, unable to do anything much in parliament. Protesting this turn of events, up to 35,000 Georgian citizens have taken to the streets through freezing rain, day and night. (They dispersed for a break, but will return when the final results have been announced. International organizations are appalled that the final results are "still being tabulated" nearly 2 weeks later.)

Short answer?
All signs point to a fraudulent election, and I'm encouraged that the citizenry isn't falling into the mindset of other post-Soviet states: shrugging and saying "So what? Our leaders are corrupt and democracy is a farce." The Georgians actually bought into the idea that they should have some modicum of political efficacy, and they're on the streets defending that. The calls for Shevardnadze's resignation were instigated by the leader of the opposition group which is claiming victory (by virtue of the exit polls/parallel vote tab), but have been taken up by the people at large.

Unclear what will happen, as Shevardnadze has said he will refuse to share the fate of such ousted leaders as Ceaucescu and Milosevic. (Ousted is rather a soft word for Ceacescu's execution, wouldn't you say?) Hopefully this will not cast a pall over elections in general in this key country. I'm crossing my fingers for some sort of concession, such as anulling election results in the regions that registered the highest instances of ballot fraud. We'll see.


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