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Poll results will not change West's message of fair elections

By Messenger Staff
Monday, January 30
On the eve of the much-anticipated Obama-Saakashvili meeting, the results of a poll conducted in Georgia reveal a favourable situation for the President's United National Movement (UNM) party. We believe that Saakashvili will use these results to his advantage, showing President Obama that he remains popular in his home country, and that any victory for his administration will be a legitimate one. However, polls released just one month ago tell a very different story. Provided the methodology is not suspect, these results show that the electoral bent of the respondents (and the Georgian people) is far from certain.

Saakashvili's reception in the Oval Office is monumental, not merely because of his controversial image in Washington after the 2008 war with Russia. With forthcoming parliamentary elections later this year, and a presidential election in 2013, now is a delicate time for Georgian politics. Regardless of UNM's showing in the 2012 election, come 2013 the country will have a new president. While it appears that Saakashvili intends to remain in power, either as Prime Minister or Chair of Parliament, he and his party are doing so under the watchful eye of the American government as this meeting with Obama will make clear. Though UNM aims to hold on to its parliamentary majority, it must do so within a democratic electoral system Georgia's Western allies demand it. If Georgia is serious about its ambitions to join NATO, the EU, and other liberal democratic institutions, it must demonstrate that it is capable of meeting their standards for open and fair elections, and an easy transfer of power.

The response of the Georgian public to this political atmosphere is therefore fascinating we wonder how Western pressure affects not only the elected, but the electorate. The current administration generally outsources its polling to foreign companies; recently, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, an American firm that has worked with Saakashvili's government since 2008. Perhaps it should not be surprising that the results of their research favour their employer, especially since growing opposition support vigorously challenges the idea that UNM is guaranteed another majority. Either way, it is doubtful that the results of a poll will change President Obama's message to Georgia.