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Thursday, June 30, 2005


Questions raised about Georgian democracy

From Radio Free Europe:

Two developments in recent weeks have further tarnished Georgia's claim to be the trailblazer of liberal democracy within the CIS. The first was the launch of a process to staff the Central Election Commission and its lower-level equivalents with people known to be loyal to the ruling elite. That process also effectively excluded many Armenians and Azerbaijanis from southern and eastern Georgia from serving on such commissions. The second was the national legislature's initial backing of an amendment to empower the Tbilisi municipal council to elect the city mayor.

Together, they beg questions about the dedication to democracy of the "democrats" who came to power in the 2003 Rose Revolution.

While the new Georgian leadership lost no time in dismissing and arresting -- sometimes in front of television cameras -- Shevardnadze-era officials suspected of corruption and mismanagement, skepticism swiftly surfaced over the depth of the new government's commitment to true democratization and far-reaching reform. In a lengthy and detailed analysis of the aftermath of the 2003 Rose Revolution published in December, one London-based analyst suggested that the transition from Eduard Shevardnadze to Mikheil Saakashvili (who was elected president in early January 2004 with 96 percent of the vote) was one from "democracy without democrats" to "democrats without democracy."

Pro-Saakashvili legislators and Saakashvili himself have sought to rationalize that procedure by arguing that the election of a mayor whose political affiliation differs from that of the majority of municipal council members could paralyze the city legislature. But opposition politicians protested that the legislation would pave the way for the ruling party to dominate the city council on a permanent basis. Koba Davitashvili (Conservative) termed it the first step toward abolishing all mayoral elections in all towns and predicted that it could trigger a serious civic crisis. Even before that amendment was unveiled in parliament, the opposition Conservative party raised the possibility of seeking to impeach President Saakashvili on the grounds that he has violated the constitution by failing to introduce direct elections for the post of mayor in the towns of Batumi, Poti, and Zestafoni, Caucasus Press reported on 14 April.

Another protest situation stems from a recent decree promulgated by Saakashvili that strips Georgia's universities of their autonomy and augments the power of the rector, who is appointed by the president. Faculty members at Tbilisi State University launched a protest on 27 June against the decision by acting rector Rusudan Lortkipanidze to reduce the number of faculties from 22 to six and to dismiss 800 staff. Lortkipanidze responded to that protest action by declaring that anyone who dislikes her planned reforms is free to resign.

Nor is its apparent reluctance to promote top-down democratization the only perceived failing of the new Georgian leadership. Some of its senior members have been accused of criminal activities. For example, Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili and his protege, Mikheil Kareli, governor of the Shida Kartli region that encompasses the disputed unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, are both believed to be implicated in smuggling, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting's Caucasus Reporting Service on 21 April. On 24 June, the opposition New Conservative (aka New Rightist) parliamentary faction accused Kareli of creating obstacles to private business, rustavi2.com reported. Okruashvili has further been accused of single-handedly determining how budget funds allocated for the Georgian armed forces should be spent, according to the daily "Rezonansi" on 13 May.

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