|Georgian Daily News for January 3, 2008|
|April 05, 2008|
Headlines from Television News:
The Georgian president called the election in November as a compromise move after he shocked Western allies by sending in police with tear gas and rubber bullets to force opposition protesters off the streets. Saakashvili's opponents back his pro-Western policies but accuse him of crushing democracy and plotting against his opponents -- all charges he denies. Promising social improvements and reducing or scrapping utility costs in a country where the average wage hovers around $150 a month has emerged as a key election battle ground. The Labour party, whose candidate Shalva Natelashvili is likely to be one of Saakashvili's strongest challengers on Jan. 5, has pledged free gas, electricity and water. Other opposition candidates have made similar promises. For his part, Saakashvili has staged television chats with teachers and other state employed workers, listening intently, and promised to increase state pensions to $50 a month, up from the current $34 and ahead of the $24 it was before November. He is asking Georgians to show patience. The European-style economy he is promising to build will, he says, take a few more years to become a reality. "When I'm asked 'What did you do in the last four years of your presidency?' my answer is: 'I built roads, a new army. We improved the energy supply'," Saakashvili said on the campaign trail. "Without any of these we can't create new jobs and raise salaries."
FACTBOX: Georgia's booming foreign investment
Ex-Soviet Georgia, which votes in a presidential election on January 5, has seen a sharp rise in foreign investment under President Mikhail Saakashvili as his government pushed through economic reform and sold state assets. In 2007, according to the government's estimates, Georgia will receive $1.5 billion in foreign direct investments compared with $1.0 billion in 2006. Below are few facts about biggest purchases of Georgian state firms by foreign companies in the past few years:
New state budget emphasizes social spending
Parliament passed a state budget for 2008 on December 28, putting into ink many of the promises made by Mikheil Saakashvili, the incumbent presidential candidate, to alleviate poverty and joblessness in Georgia. Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze told journalists after the parliament session that next year’s budget will be more socially-oriented; the finance minister added that social spending would account for GEL 1 billion of the 2008 budget, a GEL 400 million increase from 2007. The budget predicts state revenue of GEL 5.1 billion. By the government’s numbers, expenditures will total GEL 4.6 billion. The finance minister informed MPs that money for social spending would be taken out of the defense budget to the tune of GEL 400 million, bringing down the Defense Ministry’s budget to GEL 1.1 billion. The Energy Ministry will also see its funds cut, from GEL 226 million to GEL 61 million. The Healthcare Ministry will get GEL 270 million next year, and the Education Ministry GEL 458 million. “For the first time in Georgia’s history,” Gurgenidze triumphantly added, the government will be expecting a small budget surplus. Annual inflation, the prime minister predicted, should not exceed eight percent next year. “The national bank has implemented successful monetary policies, and as a result annual inflation has decreased from 11.5 percent to 11 percent in December,” Gurgenidze said. The only MP who voted against the 2008 budget was Lado Papava. A former economy minister who recently left the majority faction in parliament, Papava warned that the jump in social spending could push inflation levels dangerously high. “All the social programs put in place from the end of 2007 will aggravate inflation processes,” he told journalists after casting his vote against the budget. Papava also questioned the government’s methodology in planning and presenting the budget, suggesting that expenditures in 2008 will be considerably higher than the government admits. The government submitted a first draft of the 2008 budget to parliament in October, but withdrew it after then-president Mikheil Saakashvili appointed Gurgenidze to the prime minister’s post in November and promised to refocus state spending on social programs.
Portraits of five opposition candidates in Georgia presidential poll
Five opposition candidates are running Saturday against incumbent Mikheil Saakashvili in a snap presidential poll called after violent unrest in the capital of ex-Soviet Georgia:
Gachechiladze, 43, is a prominent businessman and member of parliament, a former close ally of Saakashvili who turned against the president. Nine of the 10 opposition parties that organised anti-government protests in November chose Gachechiladze as their joint candidate. He claims to have no political ambitions and has vowed to abolish the presidency if elected, handing executive power to parliament. The founder of one of Georgia's largest wine companies, Gachechiladze is estimated to be worth 10 million dollars (6.8 million euros). He has promised to boost economic growth by supporting small- and medium-sized businesses. Gachechiladze is married and the father of three children.
Gamkrelidze, 43, is a member of parliament and the leader of the conservative New Rights party. Though pro-Western and pro-business, Gamkrelidze has never been an ally of Saakashvili and his party did not take part in the peaceful Rose Revolution that toppled former president Eduard Shevardnadze. It supported some of the demands made by opposition parties in November's protests, but did not participate. Saying that "all of Georgia's presidents have shown tendencies toward authoritarianism," Gamkrelidze has called for the abolition of the presidency and the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. His party is seen as closely linked with the Georgian Orthodox Church. A doctor by training, Gamkrelidze is married and the father of two children.
Natelashvili, 49, is the founder and driving force behind Georgia's populist Labour Party. A lawyer from 1992 to 1999, Natelashvili was among the authors of Georgia's post-Soviet constitution. He formed the opposition Labour Party in 1995, but supported Shevardnadze during the Rose Revolution. His left-wing party has called for greater neutrality in foreign policy and criticised Saakashvili for antagonising Moscow. The Labour Party was among the opposition groups organising November's anti-government protests and on November 8 Natelashvili was accused of working with Moscow to foment unrest. Three days later the charges were dropped and the Labour Party split with other opposition groups to nominate Natelashvili as its presidential candidate. Natelashvili is married and has two children.
Maisashvili, 45, is an economist and former ally of Saakashvili who has little political profile. A graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, he worked from 1997 to 2001 at US energy giant Enron, leaving the company shortly before its scandal-ridden bankruptcy. He returned to Georgia for the Rose Revolution and became a senior economic advisor to Saakashvili. He later split with Saakashvili and in July formed the opposition Party of the Future. He has focused on economic issues in his campaign and has also promised to seek better ties with Moscow. He is married to an American lawyer, Robin Lightner Maisashvili, and the father of three children.
Sarishvili-Chanturia, 44, was a Soviet era-dissident and deputy prime minister under Shevardnadze in the early 1990s. She met and married Georgian political activist Giorgi Chanturia, who was assassinated in 1995, in a Soviet prison. A long-time opponent of Saakashvili, she called for tough action against anti-government protesters during the Rose Revolution. She is widely seen as pro-Russian and anti-NATO and has close links with Igor Giorgadze, a former state security minister in exile in Russia. She is married and has three children.
‘Do not Trust Exit Polls’ - Nine-Party Opposition Coalition
The nine-party opposition coalition, backing Levan Gachechiladze’s presidential bid, called on voters not to trust exit polls planned for the January 5 early presidential elections. Four television stations – the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB), Rustavi 2 TV, Mze TV and Adjara TV - have jointly commissioned exit polls for the January 5 presidential election and plebiscites. The Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA), Ilia Chavchavadze State University and two think-tanks - the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD) and the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS) have been charged with managing the exit polls. Tina Khidasheli of the Republican Party, part of the nine-party opposition coalition, said at a press conference on January 3, that there were two reasons why the coalition did not trust these planned exit polls. The first reason, she said, was that not a single international organization participated in the process and the second reason cite by Khidasheli was that impartiality of those four organizations, managing exist polls, “is questionable.” “We call on the entire Georgian society not to believe results of these exit polls, which will be announced by the state-controlled televisions,” Khidasheli said referring to those four television stations, which have commissioned exit polls. “And we also call on the authorities not to turn these exit polls into yet another source of tensions.” Separate exit polls are also planned by Common European Cause. The only information available about this group is that it is apparently a Ukraine-based organization. Representatives of the organization are even refusing to name their local partners, or those who have commissioned them. Tina Khidasheli said that she had no information about this group, so had no reason to trust their exit polls as well. “We announce that we are against publishing the results of exit polls in Georgian media sources on January 5. No matter who will conduct them,” she added. In an attempt to allay fears over possible manipulation of exit poll results, representatives of four organizations, managing TV stations-commissioned exist polls, have invited all election stakeholders to monitor the exit poll entire process, including data processing. More on the exit polls at:
Opposition Plans Rally on January 6
A politician from the nine-party opposition coalition said they would hold a rally on January 6 to announce the results of their parallel vote tabulation (PVT). “At the rally we will let supporters know about the results of our parallel vote tabulation,” MP Kakha Kukava, the leader of the Conservative Party, told Civil.Ge on January 2. “The results of parallel vote tabulation will be based on data provided by the opposition coalition’s representatives at the precinct commissions.” Two election watchdog groups - International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) and New Generation-New Initiative (nGnI) - are also planning to conduct separate PVT, which entails counting votes simultaneously with officials from precinct election commissions. In addition to PVT, exit polls are also planned by four television stations – the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB), Rustavi 2 TV, Mze TV and Adjara TV. They are to be managed by the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA), Ilia Chavchavadze State University and two think-tanks - the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD) and the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS). The opposition, however, has already snubbed the planned exit polls, claiming the organizations behind it have close links to the authorities. Separate exit polls are also planned by Common European Cause. The only information available about this group is that it is apparently a Ukraine-based organization. Representatives of the organization are even refusing to name their local partners, or those who have commissioned them. Kukava told Civil.Ge that he had no information about this organization, but added that he and some of his colleagues from the nine-party opposition coalition planned to meet representatives of the group on January 3. “Today we met a group of Ukrainian journalist who arrived in Georgia with this group [Common European Cause], and tomorrow we will meet with representatives of this group,” Kukava said.
‘Destabilization Attempts’ Expected – Burjanadze
Patarkatsishvili Remains in Presidential Race
Foreign Diplomats Call for Free Elections
The Ambassadorial Working Group on the 2008 presidential election in Georgia has called on all sides “to ensure the conduct of free and fair elections as well as an environment free of intimidation, where Georgian citizens can fully exercise their constitutional right to vote.” The Tbilisi-based Ambassadorial Working Group is co-chaired by the OSCE Mission to Georgia and the United Nations; and comprises representatives of the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the European Union and OSCE Participating States accredited in Georgia. “Reaffirming support for the work of international election observation missions, they also stressed the importance for all political actors to demonstrate full commitment to international electoral standards by duly taking into account the findings and recommendations of those missions,” the group said in a statement released on December 31. The OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission said in its second interim report that the presidential election campaign environment “has been soured” by allegations of the misuse of administrative resources by incumbent candidate Mikheil Saakashvili, unequal campaign conditions, intimidation and vote buying, “The OSCE/ODIHR EOM has received information and first-hand accounts, which indicate that some of these claims are credible,” it said in the report covering the period between December 14 and December 24. Please visit the following link to view the Second Interim Report by OSCE
GYLA States that Saakashvili Has Made Many Law-Breakings in His Pre-Election Campaign
The Association of Young Lawyers of Georgia non-governmental organization has registered a lot of law-breakings made by presidential candidate Mikheil Saakashvili. On January 3 at a press conference the GYLA Head Giorgi Chkheidze summarized the results of the monitoring of the pre-election situation in the state. “The Pre-election campaign of Saakashvili really started on November 8 after the announcement of the date for holding the prescheduled elections. And official pre-election campaign started on November 25 after the appointment of the election date”, he noted. “During his pre-election campaign Mikheil Saakashvili has applied the administrative resources, he has handed over material values to electors and given promises and public officials have agitated in his support. He has also met with electors in administrative buildings”, Giorgi Chkheidze noted. Chkheidze focused on the fact that the NGO had requested from the court to abolish the registration of presidential candidate Mikheil Saakashvili for bribery, but the action hadn’t been satisfied. As to the application of the administrative resources during his pre-election campaign, the GYLA stressed that on December 3 a Russian citizenship of Moldavian origin received Georgian citizenship on the instruction of Mikheil Saakashvili. At the moment the NGO is exploring the data of the funds of the presidential candidates for their pre-election campaigns. Namely, the NGO has applied to the Central Election Commission of Georgia to publish the data of the funds before January 5, but the CEC has refused the mentioned proposal. Chkheidze declared that the three parties having put forward their presidential candidates had made their reaction to the mentioned proposal and they had presented preliminary data on their funds. Namely, the data were presented by the United National Movement, the Labor Party of Georgia and the New Rights.
Georgian Youth Activists Take Back Seat for 2008 Presidential Vote
In 2003, the Georgian youth movement Kmara (Enough) emerged as one of the headline-grabbers of the Rose Revolution. More than four years later, the buzz surrounding Georgian youth activists appears to have faded. Although young activists for both former President Mikheil Saakashvili and the opposition have worked for weeks on the campaign trail, political scientists believe that their impact on Georgia’s January 5 vote will be minimal. As Saakashvili and opposition frontrunner candidate Levan Gachechiladze hit the campaign trail over Georgia’s December 31-January 2 New Year holiday, youth activists sympathetic to their cause followed closely behind. Their aim was clear: to scoop up the undecided voters who, according to some polls, account for nearly a quarter of the potential electorate. The numbers could prove critical. A presidential candidate must win more than 50 percent of the overall vote to be declared the winner in the first round; if not, a second round of voting follows within two weeks of the initial election. For pro-Saakashvili youth activists, meet-and-greets are their specialty. The Youth Office of Saakashvili Supporters claims to have 3,000 registered volunteers in Tbilisi, with offices also in the regional centers of Kutaisi, Georgia’s second largest city, and Telavi, center of the Kakheti wine region. On the opposition side, a slightly stronger attempt has been made at grabbing public attention with protests or other public displays. On December 20, youth activists connected with the pro-Gachechiladze Equality Institute briefly snarled traffic in downtown Tbilisi with a march from Tbilisi State University to parliament, where they hung anti-Saakashvili posters and white neck scarves, a symbol of the Gachechiladze campaign. Twelve activists were arrested on December 30 for spraying graffiti. Seven were released from custody and five were fined 400 lari (about $252) each for the damage, local media reported. Davit Dalakishvili, an organizer in this youth movement, describes his group as a melting pot of anti-Saakashvili sentiment, rather than as an organized structure tied to a single candidate. He puts the movement’s number at “at least 200,” though says that there is no organized effort to count the number of activists. As with Saakashvili, supporters are urban-based; apart from Tbilisi, they are primarily located in Kutaisi and the western Georgian city of Zugdidi. “We united youth who did not want to join any party,” Dalakishvili said, noting that the movement started before the “November events” – a reference to the November 7 crackdown on anti-government protests and demonstrations that preceded Saakashvili’s call for an early presidential election
‘Freedom in Georgia Takes a Step Backward’ – Freedom House
Tbilisi Calls on International Organizations to React to Terror in Tskhinvali Region
Breakaway territories watch and wait
Russian warnings that a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo could set a precedent for other breakaway territories provokes jitters among US and European Union officials. But in the separatist territory of Abkhazia on the Black Sea, Moscow's words are as welcome as winter sunshine. "We see Kosovo exactly as a precedent, not only for Abkhazia but for many other unrecognised countries," says Maxim Gunjia, the deputy foreign minister, in a telephone interview in Sukhumi, the Abkhazian capital. "We want to achieve international recognition for our independence." Abkhazia, which is legally a province of Georgia - where voters go to the polls on Saturday in snap presidential elections aimed at defusing a growing political crisis - tops the list of disputed territories where the Kremlin could be in a position to use the Kosovo precedent. South Ossetia, a much smaller breakaway territory in Georgia, is another prime candidate. So is the unrecognised republic of Transdniestra, a separatist region in Moldova. A resurgent Russia sees the disputes over all three territories as potential opportunities to reassert influence in the former Soviet Union and to irritate the west, which would hate to see former Soviet republics pulled back into Moscow's orbit. The US and the EU have interests in all three regions: they back Georgia's efforts to re-establish its authority over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and to seek Nato membership, while in Moldova, they are keen for the country to reunite and increase co-operation with the west. After years in limbo, the Kosovo question has climbed the diplomatic agenda amid efforts to find a settlement for the Balkan territory, which has been run by the United Nations since Serbian forces were expelled by Nato troops in 1999. The west broadly backs the majority ethnic Albanian population's independence demands but Russia supports Serbia's insistence that Kosovo remains Serbian territory. The failure last month of last-ditch United Nations-sponsored talks has prompted the US and EU to prepare to impose a settlement outside the UN framework under which western governments would this year recognise a unilateral independence declaration. In supporting Belgrade, Moscow is standing by a traditional ally and defending its own interests. As Oksana Antonenko, a senior fellow at the UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, argues Russians saw Nato's 1999 deployment in Kosovo as a threat to Russia. She writes in a recent paper that many Russians see the proposed Kosovo settlement as a western attempt to prove the 1999 campaign was legitimate. "Since Russia opposed the campaign . . . it has no interest in legitimising it now, when relations are tense over missile defence in Europe, Nato enlargement and the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty [a cold war security pact that Moscow suspended this month]." Russia is also concerned about setting a dangerous precedent. As Sergei Lavrov, foreign minister, said this month: "It will create a chain reaction throughout the Balkans and other areas of the world." The region that particularly worries Moscow is the Caucasus, where minority populations inside and outside Russia have sought independence. Moscow is less worried than it was about its own territorial integrity after bloodily reimposing control on Chechnya. But Vladimir Putin, the president, remains concerned. He said this summer: "It is very difficult to explain to the small peoples of the north Caucasus why, in one part of Europe, some people are given this right [to be independent] while here in the Caucasus they have no such right." But this approach has not stopped Moscow from supporting Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia with money, military and security experts and the issue of Russian passports. Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia's pro-west president, is convinced that Russia is using the separatist conflicts to undermine him. He has made the fate of Abkhazia and South Ossetia a central feature of his election campaign, travelling to the regions in a bid to win over the votes of the more than 200,000 ethnic Georgian refugees from those areas. So far Mr Putin has not suggested recognising Abkhazia or South Ossetia, almost certainly out of concern on the possible impact on Russia's Caucasian minorities. But Russian nationalists are loudly expressing support. Boris Gryzlov, the Duma speaker, has proposed debating parliamentary motions recognising Abkhazia and South Ossetia next month.
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