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Votes, Not Seats, to Measure Success in Local Elections
/ 12 Sep.'06 / 17:05
Nino Khutsidze, Giorgi Sepashvili, Civil Georgia

Winning a majority of the seats in the local councils will not be enough; analysts say President Saakashvili’s National Movement party will only be happy with an overwhelming victory in the October 5 local municipal elections.
 
With the four major opposition political groups competing separately in the local elections, the ruling National Movement party is likely to gain most of the seats in Sakrebulos throughout Georgia. However, the success will be overshadowed if the aggregate ballots cast for the four opposition parties at least equal to those cast for the National Movement.
 
“It will be a really unpleasant surprise for the authorities if opposition parties manage to garner more aggregate votes than the ruling party,” Ghia Nodia, from the think-tank Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD), told Civil Georgia.
 
While officially announcing the launch of his party’s pre-election campaign on September 11 (informally, the National Movement and its nominee for Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava began campaigning long before this official announcement) President Saakashvili said that voters’ activeness will be crucial.
 
“Do not stay at home on October 5,” he told voters.
 
Ghia Nodia says that low voter turnout might be “a major challenge” for the authorities.
 
“This will be a major problem for them. Because these polls are expected to define the level of their popularity, if there is a low voter turnout the results might be unpleasant for them,” he added.
 
He guesses that the ruling party will be able to garner at least 30-35% of votes, which will be enough to occupy most of the seats in the Sakrebulos throughout Georgia and appoint its nominees for the Mayoral positions in Tbilisi, Batumi, Poti, Kutaisi and Rustavi. “But,” Nodia adds, “this is not enough for the authorities.”
 
“If the authorities fail to score an overwhelming victory, it will be a success of the opposition parties, because they will say that they are able to garner more aggregate votes even in the case of a very unfavorable election system,” Nodia said.
 
In Tbilisi, an electoral system combining first-past-the-post, “winner takes all” majoritarian, and party-list is in force. Opponents say that the system is only favorable for the ruling party.
 
“The distribution of seats in the Sakrebulo will not properly reflect mood of voters, according to this system,” Vakhtang Khmaladze, a former parliamentarian and elections expert, told Civil Georgia.
 
Meanwhile, caught off guard by a tight elections timeframe, opposition parties are only now gearing up for their election campaigns, which seem to be very modest.
 
The Labor Party, Georgia’s Way, Industry Will Save Georgia (Industrialists) and a collation of Republicans and Conservatives are among the most influential opposition parties running in the polls. The fifth group, the Party of National Ideology, is a small party that can hardly have any ambition of gaining seats in the Sakrebulo.
 
“The leading opposition parties will see that they have made two major mistakes: the failure to unite in an election collation and a failure to carry out a proper election campaigning,” political analysts Ia Antadze of the RFE/RL Georgian Service told Civil Georgia.

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