The date of this year’s presidential election in Georgia is set for October 27, as President Mikheil Saakashvili finally confirmed. The voting day will most probably mark a sad end to the nine-year rule of Saakashvili, with no more cheering crowds and kisses from old ladies for Misha.
27TH or 31ST of October?
According to the Georgian constitution, the presidential election is to be held this October, though it was up to Mikheil Saakashvili to set the exact date.
On July 1, president set the date for October 27, last Sunday of the month. Only few hours passed after his announcement when the head of his administration Andro Barnovi said it was a “technical mistake” and elections will be held on October 31, Thursday.
Local NGOs called on the president not to hold elections on a working day, as Georgian emigrants would not be able to vote. After consultations with the civil society representatives, the President, making the whole process a joke, agreed to change the date back to October 27. Andro Barnovi said it did not make any particular difference for the president and the NGOs were able to provide solid argumentation.
In October 2012 Parliamentary elections were held on Monday and the NGOs expressed the same concern, though last year president was less receptive to the advice from the civil society organizations and left the date unchanged.
Last year President appointed elections as early as allowed by the Georgian constitution, possibly to leave as little time as possible for the main opponent Georgian Dream to gain public support. This time, Saakashvili seems to be trying to stretch his time in the office.
How important are these elections?
Presidency is the only institution still controlled by United National Movement, whose 65 members in 150-seat Parliament are unable to affect near-constitutional majority of Georgian Dream. Considering that some key UNM figures are facing charges and people say Saakashvili might even find himself behind the bars some day, losing power is not what the president would desire. But the true power was already lost last year. Saakashvili’s passionate eloquence, his extravagantly colored shirts and somewhat embarrassing manners are becoming a history. Abusive police and marionette judiciary system tolerated under his rule left many angry and vengeful at once nearly-idolized president and his party.
It would be extremely difficult to win the elections for the UNM, though Georgian Dream’s Giorgi Margvelashvili, current Minister of Education with little history in politics, is not a popular figure. UNM is holding primaries to choose its candidate, with Davit Bakradze, former Chairman of the Parliament leading so far. Bakradze is one of the few UNM people with relatively clean reputation, though with no strong popular support.
New constitution will come into force after the October significantly weakening the president. With Bakradze and Margvelashvili possibly being two main candidates, it seems that first time in the history of Georgia – after Gamsakhurdia, Shevardnadze and Saakashvili – the president will not be a bright personality, a cornerstone of the political life in Georgia.
Anyhow, this is probably not what the Georgian Dream is thinking about right now. These are the first major elections held by this government and as their international reputation leaves room for improvement, they’d better make this election flawless…