Politics / Issue May 22, 2008 ¹36
15 Relationship With Power To End In The Street
Elections to the Georgian parliament were featured with flow of information about attempts of falsification. Just before the eyes of a Novaya Gazeta correspondent the oppositional activists caught a man with a forged ID, in one of the central district of Tbilisi.
Things are even worse in the regions. By midday there had been about 40 scuffles reported to happen at the polling stations. Gerontiy Kazia, the active member and propagandist for the United Opposition, was shot on his way to the polling station in Zalendjikhsky district in the western Georgia.
The opposition members announced a boycott to the official exit poll and asked that the voters not answer its questions.
A day before the elections an acquaintance of mine, Valery by name, who is a political technologist, told me the last polls data for Tbilisi.
“The party in power titled “National Movement” is leading with 28.5%. The United Opposition has 15.2%. The other parties have 5% and less each” then Valery pauses for a moment and asks me: “And have I told you the main figure? There are a lot of those who conceals who they are going to vote for. That’s about 40% of the interrogated. Most likely these are votes for the opposition. So you shouldn’t believe any official polls”.
The situation was similar at the presidential election in January. Saakashvili was in the lead officially while Levan Gachechiladze, the oppositional candidate, was at the second place. However, the number of those concealing their political preferences was less, something like 25%. People just refused to answer the questions by the interviewers carrying out the exit polls. And the tame political technologists interpreted that silence to the advantage of Saakashvili announcing him to be the winner one hour after the election was over. Next day the foreign observers supported the technologists without waiting till the official results were published by the Central Elective Commission. They said those elections “was a great advance to democracy by Georgia”. Saakashvili began to get congratulations from the heads of states. The opposition got mad. It adduced the evidence of mass falsification and it attacked the Central Elective Commission office. The opposition was tried to calm down like a capricious infant. It was promised that the violations would be eliminated at the parliamentarian elections.
A delegation of OSCE observers arrived in Tbilisi, headed by Matthias Yorsch, who is disliked greatly in the country. But he is a great friend of Saakashvili’s. And Dietrich Boden, the only OSCE observer to have stated about falsification of the January election, did not come to Tbilisi. No one has been able to explain the reason for absence of the most honest OSCE observer. Other observers (and Matthias Yorsch personally) are accused openly by the opposition of taking money from Saakashvili and turning a blind eye to all the falsifications. Mathias Yorsch responded that “If someone do not believe OSCE observers, that’s their problem. Generally, distrustfulness is the major problem of the Georgian opposition”.
Mr. Yorsch did not answer my question. I wanted to know his opinion about the final report by OSCE on the Georgian election outcomes. The report was published two months ago. The main conclusion was that 33% of the votes were miscalculated as a result of full or partial falsifications made at the major part of the poll stations.
Rezo Shavishvili, the candidate from the united opposition, runs as single-seat candidate in one of the major Tbilisi districts, Saburtalo. His opponent is the former vice-mayor of Tbilisi Georgy Meladze, the candidate from party in power.
“I start this election with the figure of minus 15 thousand votes! Do you understand me?”
I do understand, as one of those 15,000 is sitting next to me. His name is Ghivi and he is an employee at a private security agency. He was given a forged ID with registration pointed in Saburtalo. And in reality he lives in another district. Ghivi and about 300 guards like him were given false documents and obliged to vote for Georgy Meladze. Otherwise, they would lose their jobs.
Ghivi did not want to vote as he was told to and decided to tell the truth. He knows badly the Saburtalo district and so he had difficulties finding the campaigning staff of Rezo Shashishvili.
“You wouldn’t be able even to come to the polling stations. You would just get lost” laughs Rezo.
“It is most likely that we get a lift in minibuses” answers Ghivi. “So what should I do?”
The question is difficult. Rezo suggests that Ghivi make a statement at an exposing press conference. He promises protection to Ghivi, up to taking him abroad. Alas! Ghivi believing Rezo absolutely (Rezo Shashishvili has impeccable political reputation), he has no wish to flee to abroad.
…Finally it was decided to catch the falsifiers in the act with the cameras of mobile phones.
Very expensive PR experts - Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research – have developed the campaign for the party in power, “National Movement”. This firm, and Stephen Grinberg in person, used to consult Baraka, Mandela, Blair. They worked in Venezuela against Chavez. They also worked in Ukraine, but not for long. They say Yushchenko could not afford the services by the firm for longer period. Rumors place insistently Stephen Grinberg in Pentagon and CIA. He consulted Saakashvili at the presidential elections. It was him to create the most successful slogan of Saakashvili’s presidential campaign – “Georgia without poverty”. However, it did not help Misha much and it was necessary to reinforce the slogans with usual falsification.
This time the message box for Georgian people, created by Mr. Grinberg and his PR experts, was “Less words, more deeds”. The top ten of the party in power was formed with minor officials and big businessmen.
For example, in the majoritarian district of Samgori the oppositionist Levan Gachechiladze had an opponent, the business lady Rusudan Kervalishvili, the head of a large building company “Center Point Group”, who is a member of the party in power. Samgori consists of slums inhabited by really poor people. Oddly, this is about the only district in Tbilisi where Saakshvili’s party won honestly. Gachechiladze ran exactly there to get an exampling victory. And he had miscalculated.
And Rusudan Kervalishvili only had promised to the poor to demolish their bad houses, and to provide them with new housing just for free. This is how Gachechiladze lost in Samgori.
One may wonder why the successful business went for politics spending its own money. In search for preferences? Well, probably business in Georgia is as dependent as in Russia. But it does not seem to be rich enough to fork out money on different political campaigns.
The businessmen themselves say they are twisted arms and this is why they have to go for politics.
The second half of the ticket of party in power is composed of communal and housing service workers. These are minor officials who never ask sharp political questions and do not participate in political debates. They just learnt by heart the created by Grinberg slogan and they mumble “we have no time for talks as we have a lot to do”.
Koba Subeliani is the most striking example of a politician of this kind in the National Movement. The deputy mayor of Tbilisi responsible for housing and communal services, he is within five top Georgian politicians of today. His rating is even higher than that by Saakashvili. He looks like a walking theory of small useful deeds. Installing and dismantlement the New Year Tree in Tbilisi, gifting a bear cub to the local Zoo, and other useful deeds shown on the air, plus the folk humor and natural charisma of a svan peasant inherent to him has made him a genius pupil of Mr. Grinberg, though both of them do not even know that.
The oppositional political elite treat such characters with contempt.
Distant mode (thoughts, occasions, inside)
It’s not only the West but also Russia – that missed the snap presidential elections – that takes part in the battle for Georgian political future. Unfortunately, the methods by the West (diplomacy and technologies) are more effective than ours (tanks, conscripts and artillery).
With our demonstrative support of Abkhazians we met a demonstrative American response. Matthew Braiza, a high ranking diplomat, the curator by State Department for Caucasus, has made a series of tough anti-Russian statements after his first visit (which does not seem to be a failure) to Sukhumi. Our media did not even mention it despite the fact the matter is about our own national security. In various briefings Matthew Braiza called Russia to give up belligerent rhetoric and respond to the peaceful initiatives by Saakashvili, and withdraw the troops from Abkhazia.
And Saakashvili has used our own tanks perfectly. He stated that Russia wishing to restore the Soviet Union poses the biggest threat for the budding Georgian democracy. That’s not true, of course, as we failed to do it even with Byelorussia. But Saakashvili is raising tensions with the purpose of getting support from Europe and America to save the democracy in the form that he sees it must be in Georgia.
The cynics from well educated elite in Tbilisi say that Washington calculates the outcomes of possible local conflict. The war would ruin Georgia, get the whole Caucasus involved and make Russia weakened. And anyway Washington will get its own way soon or late. At the end of the day, it’s Washington that appoints and dismisses Georgian presidents. Don’t the pro-Kremlin experts say like that? It’s difficult to quarrel with this statement! It is known that Washington has been looking for replacement of Mikhail Saakashvili after 7 November. The rumors say the substitute has been found. Different people from different circles say it is Irakly Alasania, the Georgian representative in the UN. He is a polarity to Saakashvili, i.e. he is a diplomat and a democrat.
And do we calculate the consequences of the local conflict in Abkhazia? Even Saakashvili went for arithmetic and said to his people “We must save our resources, as one day of war would cost us $40 millions”.
Yesterday too early and today too late?
The rating by the party in power “National Movement” has gone up while that of the Georgian opposition has gone down, since January to May. That’s true. Foreign experts and journalists explain this trend with the lack of campaigning platform, i.e. promises made. Actually, the opposition gives promises too. They promise, for example, nationalization and reprivatization. And Saakashvili promises to give jobs to the entire population within 50 months. People like both kinds of promises. And some people gave up “the forest sold to Chinese, the port sold to Arabs, the land sold to Russians”. They just want to have a job and a salary.
At the meeting in support of the united opposition (with over 70,000 Tbilisi dwellers to come) a young woman with a face of a tired Italian and with three small daughters said angrily “the opposition turned out to be cowardly”.
In reality, the rating by opposition went down on the inauguration day. That day Gachechiladze gathered a 300,000- people crowd at the hippodrome and stated he would not lead people to the parliament building, as there had been agreement with Mikhail Saakashvili of not making up the mess.
Actually, that was rather wise and not cowardly political decision. The problem is that the Georgian electors do not think so.
The opposition is sure that tolerance by Saakashivili is forced towards the mass meetings and all those endless Marches of the Discordant. The mask of civility will be taken off right after the parliament elections. Rubber bullets, gas and water cannons will not be used only in case the opposition does not make an attack on the parliament. But no one doubts that if the party in power gains a victory in this election, the arrests will be as mass as the protest actions before the elections. The punitive machine has been intimidating people effectively so far. Last week it was recognized delicately even by OSCE.
One of prominent oppositionists told me “If the January 2008 repeats again, we shall not hold people back any more”. And I am nearly sure they would LEAD those people. Till Wednesday the parliamentary elections were their guarantee of safety. And yesterday it’s the crowd that became such a guarantee.
The court considers the appeal in the case of Navalny brothers. Alexey supports brother Oleg, who is sitting in prison441