|NEWS ANALYSIS: Saakashvili even stronger after Georgia vote|
|May 22, 2008|
May 22, 2008
President Mikhail Saakashvili is the decisive winner of Georgia's Wednesday parliamentary vote, and it appears his enemies can do even less about him than before the elections took place.
Saakashvili's United Nation Party (UNP) captured a whopping 63 per cent of the popular vote in polls, giving Saakashvili not only control of the national legislature, but with the assistance of an ally the ability to change the national constitution at will, as amendments require two-thirds support in the legislature.
And that's just the beginning of the new political levers and freshly-sharpened political weapons now at Saakashvili's fingertips, as he looks ahead to rule this democratic Caucausian nation of 3.5 million for the remaining three years of his presidency.
Already the US-educated lawyer's reputation, somewhat sullied after Saakashvili sent armoured riot police against anti-government crowds in November, has received a thorough buffing. International observers were practically unanimous that the mountain republic had improved substantially in conducting free and fair elections since a January vote returned Saakashvili to office.
"The parliamentary elections are well-organised and taking place in peaceful conditions," said Slawomir Mitras, a Polish MP and election observer cited by Saakashvili's press office. "No violations have been detected."
In fact, election procedural violations took place, but they were small and relatively insignificant, witnesses said. Typical of the rare incidents were paper from ballots placed in an urn, forced removal of some observers from the voting area, and fist fights between political activists near a polling site.
Opposition activists at a poorly-attended nighttime rally after the polls closed claimed it was all hogwash, that they had in fact collectively defeated the UNP, and that the margin between pre-vote polls on the UNP's popularity (54 per cent or so) and the actual number returned in the election (63 per cent according to ongoing counts) was a precise measure of the vote fraud committed by Saakashvili and his allies.
But opposition claims of Saakashvili vote-fixing appear to be gaining little traction with the Georgian public in general, in no small part because concealment of election fraud of the scale claimed by the opposition is difficult to conceive of given the hundreds of international observers on hand and the small size of the Georgian population.
Even worse for opposition hopes to lever Saakashvili into concessions with massed anti-government marches, the population of Tbilisi seems somewhere between apathetic and dead-set against the proposition of taking to the streets against the president and his new legislature.
"Those (expletive) opposition dopes, they think they represent all of Georgia and there are only a few dozen of them," growled Levan Melikishvili, a loading dock worker and lifetime Tbilisi resident, in a typical comment. "Who do they think they are, clogging up the streets with their stupid marches? The president needs to work and all that (expletive) wants to do is get in his way."
Some observers pointed to a potential calming of Georgia's traditionally hot-tempered political environment as a result of elections installing a small but nonetheless significant opposition in parliament able to challenge government policy and openly compete for public support.
"I think there are some grounds to believe that he (Saakashvili) may make some steps towards conciliation (with the opposition), that now Georgian politics can be more are gularised'," said Svatne E. Cornell, an area specialist with the Central Asia Caucasus Institute.
But the chances of Saakashvili abandoning his one-man-rule style of democratic leadership were even according to Saakashvili supporters unlikely, given his party's total control of parliament and continued ability to enact whatever law it wants, regardless of the opposition's opinion, Cornell and other observers noted.
"This of course is an area of concern," Cornell said.
Saakashvili in his victory speech said that despite his party's unassailable parliamentary position, he would "focus on consensus building" and would never consider new amendments to the constitution "without reaching out to the opposition."
"I certainly hope this will be the case," Cornell said.
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