TBILISI (Combined Sources)–Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili claimed a victory in Saturday’s presidential election and said he’ll use a second term to improve his country’s business climate and repair relations with Russia.
He won just over half the votes on Saturday, down from 90 percent in a 2004 election that rewarded the staunch U.S. ally for leading the “Rose Revolution” to challenge a flawed poll the year before.
The OSCE Sunday called the vote “consistent with most international standards for democratic elections,” while the opposition said it was rigged. Western monitors scrutinized the vote and though they said there had been numerous violations, these were not serious enough to influence the election, dubbed Georgia’s first competitive vote since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.
The campaign was overshadowed by widespread allegations of intimidation and pressure, a number of which were substantiated. In some precincts the voting process was chaotic and marred by procedural problems, in particular relating to inking, a safeguard measure against multiple voting. Observers evaluated the counting less positively, noting a slow process and procedural shortcomings
Saakashvili’s opponents, who criticize him for corruption, economic mismanagement and autocracy, called Saturday’s vote a fraud.
The opposition has pledged daily protests and the first demonstration on Sunday attracted up to 7,000 people. This compares to the 100,000 people who demonstrated against the government in November–the peak of the five day protest which triggered the police crackdown. It is unclear if the opposition can maintain the pressure but the possibility of violence and mass protests hovers.
Georgians vote again in either March or April in a parliamentary election which analysts say is unpredictable. Opposition parties might well win most seats. This would set parliament against Saakashvili and might paralyze politics, said analyst Cornell, possibly slowing his drive to join NATO and turning off foreign investors.
In 2004 Saakashvili promised to drag Georgia out of what he called the corruption of its Soviet past and firmly into the Western camp, seeking membership in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Saakashvili drew international criticism in November when he declared a state of emergency after police violently broke up demonstrations protesting low living standards and his government. He called the snap election, under Western pressure, after imposing the state of emergency.