Every Rose Revolution has its thorn
MAXIM MARMUR/AFP/Getty Images Yet another disputed election seems inevitable this weekend. Georgians are heading to the polls tomorrow for a snap presidential vote that is seen as a referendum on the presidency of Mikheil Saakashvili. Saakashvili, who came into power on a wave of reformist enthusiasm in the 2003 “Rose Revolution,” has an impressive record ...
MAXIM MARMUR/AFP/Getty Images
Yet another disputed election seems inevitable this weekend. Georgians are heading to the polls tomorrow for a snap presidential vote that is seen as a referendum on the presidency of Mikheil Saakashvili. Saakashvili, who came into power on a wave of reformist enthusiasm in the 2003 “Rose Revolution,” has an impressive record of economic reform and building political alliances in the West. But he’s lost some luster recently thanks to corruption scandals and his government’s heavy-handed crackdown on opposition protests in November. November’s turmoil forced Saakashvili to call the early election rather than serve out his term. He has resigned from the presidency in order to campaign, in accordance with Georgian law.
Opposition leaders are already predicting fraud and accusing Saakashvili of trying to rig the vote. Ads for Saakashvili have dominated the airwaves in the weeks leading up to the election and opposition TV station Imedi TV has been off the air since it was forcibly shut down by police in November. Though currently managed by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp, Imedi is seen by many as a mouthpiece for its founder Badri Patarkatsishvili, Georgia’s richest man and a presidential candidate himself. Patarkatsishvili, who has ties to exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, is a controversial figure to say the least. Tapes that recently surfaced of him trying to bribe a government official to help swing the election were a major embarrassment to the opposition.
Interestingly, Saakashvili’s former campaign manager, Levan Gachechiladze, is considered the strongest opposition figure and his entire platform consists of a plan to abolish the presidency altogether and form a parliamentary republic.
As political drama goes, it makes for good reading. But the outcome is beginning to seem all too predictable and depressing. Saakashvili seems certain to win just as the opposition seems certain to challenge the victory as illegitimate (post-election protests are already in the works), leading to further instability in an already tense region. The scenario is becoming all too familiar—it’s a sad statement on the state of democratic institutions when the most likely reaction to news of an upcoming election in a developing nation is a cringe.
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating
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