Georgia set to replace president peacefully

Ex-Soviet state gears up for its first "boring" vote, but some analysts are concerned about pressure from the PM.

    Mikheil Saakashvili is leaving the presidential office after exhausting his two terms [AP]
    Mikheil Saakashvili is leaving the presidential office after exhausting his two terms [AP]

    For post-Soviet Georgia this is the first experience of its kind - there are presidential elections just a few days away, but there are no angry crowds marching for democracy and no president seeking to cling to power.
    After exhausting his two terms in office since sweeping to power by unseating his former "political father" Eduard Shevardnadze in 2003, once-powerful President Mikheil Saakashvili will give up his post peacefully to one of the 23 registered presidential hopefuls on October 27.
    An Election Observation Mission from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) described the pre-election environment as "calm" and "transparent".
    But the word mostly used by ordinary Georgians, who ousted two presidents by violent revolutions, is "boring".
    "Peaceful elections are boring, that’s a fact, sorry," wrote Shota Kinchagashvili, a Georgian blogger, on his twitter account.  

    More than 100 former officials are charged, while over 10,000 UNM activists have been questioned.

    Davit Bakradze, presidential candidate

    Political analyst Davit Phurtskhvanidze told Al Jazeera that he senses public nihilism towards voting for a new president who will lose most of his executive powers as soon as he is sworn in due to constitutional amendments passed in 2010 and 2013.
    Presidential powers will shift to the prime minister and the parliament, turning the country into a parliamentary republic 22 years after gaining its independence from the Soviet Union.
    The candidate of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition, Giorgi Margvelashvili, is expected to become the fourth president of the country.
    Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who brought Margvelashvili into politics less than a year ago as a minister of education, expects his protege to win at least 60 percent of the popular vote. 
    Ivanishvili told reporters on October 17 that if Margvelashvili gets anything less, he should bow out of the second round, prompting critics to accuse him of pressuring the electorate.
    Under Georgia's election law, a runoff is necessary only if none of the candidates secure more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round. 

    However, if his candidate doesn’t get at least 60 percent, Ivanishvili said he would see that his "tireless work" was unappreciated and he would "pack up and leave".

    Opposition candidates
    The main opposition candidates, Davit Bakradze and Nino Burjanadze would welcome such a development, as they battle for the second spot, that will guarantee a political niche for their parties in the parliamentary elections in three years time.
    Phurtskhvanidze told Al Jazeera "if Bakradze [candidate of Saakashvili’s United National Movement] comes second, let alone wins the election, it will cause a massive unrest and people will attack the new government of the Georgian Dream coalition [for letting the former government maintain power]."
    Meanwhile, Bakradze, whose main promise is to continue Euro-Atlantic integration, has accused the ruling party of pressure during the pre-election campaign.
    "More than 100 former officials are charged, while over 10,000 UNM activists have been questioned (some more than 20 or even 30 times)," he told"Many campaign events are disrupted by either Georgian Dream activists, who appear there holding party symbols and try to intervene, or violent attacks of the government's satellite groups. The fact that violent offenders in all cases got away with merely symbolic fines is a serious problem."  

    I will finish this ugly cohabitation as soon as I become the president, and I will finish the festivities of the United National Movement in Georgia.

    - Nino Burjanadze, presidential candidate

    The third main presidential hopeful, Nino Burjanadze, has been campaigning for attracting the anti-UNM audience who rebel against Georgian Dream’s "soft touch".

    "I will finish this ugly cohabitation as soon as I become the president, and I will finish the festivities of the United National Movement in Georgia," Burjanadze told Reuters news agency, referring to the uneasy relationship between outgoing President Saakashvili and PM Ivanishvili who led the campaign last year that crushed UNM's dominance in parliament.

    Leader of the Democratic Movement-United Georgia was once Saakashvili’s ally, co-fighter of the 2003 Rose Revolution that brought Saakashvili to power, but Burjanadze was sidelined several years later, prompting her to go into opposition.

    "I'm sure that all activity of Mr Saakashvili should be investigated, including August 2008 [war], tortures in the jails, pressure and intimidation concerning political opponents,"  she said referring to pre-election allegations last year of prison torture.
    Russian connection
    A veteran politician, Burjanadze attempted to come back to power several times with violent protests, but the public didn’t seem to support her due to her open pro-Russian position that is also expected to diminish her chances of winning Sunday's election. 

    Burjanadze, who met with Russian President Vladimir Putin  in 2010, said "I don't care who will call me pro-Russian. My main goal is to fulfil the interests of my country."
    The topic of Georgian-Russian relationship has been used by each of the presidential candidates during their campaigns, as it is a major challenge facing Saakashvili's successor.

    Continuing to improve ties with Russia, severed by war between the countries in 2008, is a policy introduced by Ivanishvili first after his party came to power in 2012.
    About 3.5 million eligible voters will decide in a few days who they will trust with the future of Georgia and its position in the region.
    Critics of the voting process worry that regardless of who wins the election, the country will be run by figures acting from behind the scenes.
    There are concerns that Ivanishvili, who has promised to resign after the inauguration of his candidate, will pull the strings of Margvelashvili if he enters the presidential office.

    The main opposition candidates, Bakradze and Burjanadze, are expected to be influenced by Saakashvili and Russia's president Vladimir Putin respectively.

    Follow Tamila Varshalomidze on Twitter:   @tamila87v

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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