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Final Parliamentary Election Results Fuel Confrontational Mood in Georgia

Georgia's Central Election Commission declared November 20 that the pro-presidential electoral bloc won the country's parliamentary vote. The commission's announcement injects an additional element of confusion to Georgia's ongoing political crisis, which is being driven by allegations of government vote-rigging.
Justyna Mielnikiewicz

According to the CEC results of the November 2 election, the pro-Shevardnadze bloc, For a New Georgia, was the leading vote getter, followed by the Revival Union, an Ajarian regional party that is aligned with the president. The opposition National Movement finished third, the CEC said. An independent vote tabulation initiative showed the National Movement to have received the most votes. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

National Movement leader Mikheil Saakashvili, the main organizer of opposition protests that have demanded the president's resignation, said his party did not recognize the CEC results and would try to prevent the new parliament from convening.

If the CEC results serve as the basis for apportioning the 150 parliamentary seats up for grabs under the proportional system, Shevardnadze's For a New Georgia would end up with 38 parliamentary mandates and Ajarian leader Aslan Abashidze's Revival Union would obtain 33. The other parties represented in parliament under the proportional system would be: the National Movement with 32 seats; the Labor Party with 20; Burjanadze-Democrats – 15; and New Rights – 12.

New Rights barely cleared the 7 percent election threshold need to win a share of parliament seats. Just a few days earlier, it appeared that New Rights would not manage to win seats under the proportional system. The vote of the lone New Rights representative on the CEC played a crucial role in validating the official results. The CEC's five representatives from the For a New Georgia bloc, along with three Revival Union representatives, the New Rights member, and the CEC chairwoman, all voted in favor of recognizing the results. Representatives of the New National Movement, Burjanadze-Democrats, Labor and Industrialists left the CEC session in protest over the validation of the results.

Many observers believe that Shevardnadze and his allies hope to gain a constitutional majority in the next parliament, or two-thirds of the overall 235 legislative seats. Along with 150 seats distributed under the proportional system, 75 MPs were elected under a first-past-the-post system. In addition, 10 MPs representing displaced persons from the separatist region of Abkhazia enjoy permanent seats in the legislature.

Results have been announced in 53 first-past-the-post precincts, giving 18 additional seats to For a New Georgia, six to Revival, one to the Labor, three to New Rights, four to the National Movement and two to the Burjanadze-Democrats. In addition, 19 self-declared independents won MP mandates. Many of the independents are expected to back the incumbent government.

Given the current political alignment, pro-Shevardnadze forces could control as many as 143 votes out of 157 needed to form the constitutional majority. Some observers believe that Shevardnadze could end up with the super-majority if the National Movement and Burjanadze-Democrats opt to boycott the legislature.

The key to Georgia's political immediate political future may be the Labor Party. If Labor joins with the National Movement and Burjanadze-Democrats in boycotting the legislature, parliament could end up lacking the two-thirds majority needed to convene a session. Labor Party officials have indicated they would be inclined to join the parliamentary boycott in the event the New Rights Party won seats under the proportional system.

The release of the official CEC results dealt a blow to those hoping Georgia's ongoing political crisis could be resolved through dialogue, some observers in Tbilisi said. The widespread popular perception that the CEC results are tainted could cause the number of anti-government protesters to grow, observers added.

Prior to the release of the CEC results, Shevardnadze acknowledged that political tension in Tbilisi could spark armed confrontation. "There is only one step from civil confrontation to civil war," the president was quoted as saying by the Prime News agency.

Shevardnadze castigated the opposition, saying anti-government rallies were causing severe economic damage. If calm was not quickly restored soon in the capital, "it will not be possible to pay pensions, finance state [agencies], the army and the police," Shevardnadze cautioned.

A prominent Shevardnadze opponent, Parliament Speaker Nino Burjanadze, accused the government of planning to incite violence, saying in an interview broadcast by Rustavi-2 television that recent pro-government protests in central Tbilisi were "aimed at ... provoking a clash between the portion of the population that supports the opposition and the other that supposedly supports incumbent authorities."

Meanwhile, there are signs that Georgia's political confrontation is spreading to the country's mass media outlets. The chief source of tension in media circles was Shevardnadze's criticism of state television and the subsequent resignation of Zaza Shengelia, the chairman of the TV and Radio Broadcasting Corp. of Georgia.

On November 19, Shevardnadze criticized state television for not doing more to support his administration. In resigning, Shengelia defended the need for state television to remain neutral in the ongoing political dispute. "I cannot head a television station that gives one-sided information and does not convey opposition views," Shengelia said.

The former television boss portrayed Shevardnadze as a hostage to reactionary elements within the Georgian leadership. "The president is often in a certain vacuum," he said. "People around him [Shevardnadze], many of whom are quite reactionary people, are doing everything to ensure that the president doesn't have a genuine and clear picture of what is happening in the country."

Initial indications are that Shevardnadze's high-handed approach towards state television may be eroding his support among journalists. According to one state television report, the staff of the station's leading news and information show, known in Georgian as Ra Khdeba (What is Happening), went on strike in protest over government meddling. The show's presenter, Koka Qandiashvili, complained of "unbearable" pressure coming from the president's office.

Jaba Devdariani is a board member of the United Nations Association of Georgia (www.una.ge) and analyst of Georgian politics, currently working in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Final Parliamentary Election Results Fuel Confrontational Mood in Georgia

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