The Georgian leadership received a boost in public support, as the President Saakashvili-led National Movement won convincing victories in all five single-mandate constituencies in the October 1 MP by-elections. But some political analysts suggest that this victory was more a result of the opposition’s weakness than of huge public confidence in the authorities.
By-elections were held in the Adjarian towns of Kobuleti, Batumi and Shuakhevi; the western Georgian town of Tkibuli and Tbilisi’s Isani district to fill five vacant seats in the Georgian Parliament. It is expected that as a result of these elections the vacant seat of the Vice-Speaker will also be filled. It is most likely that Jemal Inaishvili, who won polls in Batumi, will become deputy parliamentary chairman. According to the law one Vice-Speaker should represent Adjara’s Autonomous Republic. Jemal Inaishvili is also the President of the Georgian Chamber of Commerce.
The closest race was observed in Isani, where National Movement’s MP nomination Bidzina Bregadze won the elections by a margin of 18% over Giorgi Mosidze, who was chosen to run in the Isani constituency by four opposition parties, who banded together in opposition of the ruling party. The maximum margin was reported in Tkibuli where Pavle Kublashvili won the elections with 80% of the votes while his closest competitor, the New Rights party nominee Nino Kvariani, recieved just 16% of the total vote. The highest voter turnout was reported in Tkibuli – up to 64% and the lowest in Batumi – 25%.
“Through these elections the authorities received the endorsement of a political mandate. I mean, against the background of recently increased criticism, now the government has the opportunity to announced that it still has the confidence of the voters,” Gia Nodia of the think-tank Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD) told Civil Georgia.
But non-partisan parliamentarian Davit Zurabishvili, who quit the ruling party in September after a journalist detention scandal, says that victory by the candidates nominated by the pro-governmental party in the single-mandate constituencies is always natural and these by-elections can not serve as “an excellent indicator of public opinion.”
“Of course these elections have revealed certain trends in public opinion, but we know that the pro-governmental candidates always have more chances to win MP elections in the single-mandate constituencies. Voters understand that the pro-governmental candidates will have more necessary resources to settle their local, communal problems than opposition candidates,” MP Zurabishvili told Civil Georgia.
He also said that the National Movement party spared no effort to boost its candidates and the ruling party had “to use huge resources” to earn a victory, which, as Zurabishvili believes, proves that the pro-governmental party is not as popular as it was a year ago, during the parliamentary elections in March, 2004.
“Saakashvili himself had to actively participate in the pre-election campaign to endorse his party’s nomination,” MP Zourabishvili said.
Gia Nodia also thinks that the elections also revealed problems which the opposition currently faces.
“The victory in these elections does not mean that the society is delighted with the authorities; simply, the elections confirmed once again that the voters see no other alternative to the current government,” he said.
President Saakashvili described the October 1 by-elections as a huge success for the authorities and said that the opposition parties suffered “catastrophic results.”
“[The opposition] has been defeated in all five constituencies… This means that the weakness of the opposition is a fact. This is not good. Every government, even the most successful one, needs a strong, constructive and responsible opposition,” Saakashvili said on October 2.
But analysts say that these elections were marked by the positive development of cooperation among four opposition parties – New Rights, Conservatives, Freedom and Labor Party - which chose single candidates for each of the constituencies through the primary elections.
“If the opposition manages to consolidate by next year, it will have an opportunity to achieve serious results in the local elections,” MP Davit Zurabishvili said.
But Gia Nodia says that close cooperation alone will not be enough for a victory. “The opposition should give voters more credible messages if it wants to have a chance in the local elections,” he added.