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A Georgia without poverty, perhaps, but also plans without details

By M. Alkhazashvili
(Translated by Diana Dundua)
Tuesday, December 18

Georgia is just years away from being as wealthy as Mexico, promises Saakashvili—if he’s reelected.

With the consensus that the anti-government protestors on November 7 were largely motivated by widespread poverty, not support for opposition politicians, the ruling party is campaigning on the promise of a prosperous Georgia to come.

Nor is prosperity for only the few satisfactory in this electoral vision: Saakashvili is promising scads of social programs designed to address what voters see as income inequality which grows along with the economy.

Economic growth, broadly speaking, is an arena this government can take pride in. GDP growth has hovered in the high single-digits or low double-digits since Saakashvili came to power in 2003. (The country underwent similarly robust growth in the mid-90s, and again after construction on the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline began under former president Eduard Shevardnadze, but that fact will probably not see much light this campaign.)

The economic growth Saakashvili promises, however, is even more ambitious: a three-fold increase in five years. That would put Georgia, as measured by PPP-adjusted per capita GDP, roughly on par with Mexico. Just how that would be accomplished is, not surprisingly, an unanswered question. Like the rest of the campaign pledges being made this month, both by Saakashvili and his opponents, details are scanty.

The incumbent is not alone in talking big about spending big. Badri Patarkatsishvili reportedly is ready to cut a personal check of USD 1 billion to the Georgian people if elected, and Labor leader Shalva Natelashvili is guaranteeing big salary hikes and free gas, water, healthcare, education and more. (Natelashvili says this will all be paid for with the generous cooperation of the country’s businessmen—perhaps he and Patarkatsishvili should meet).

The next government will need to either renege on a few promises (not inconceivable), or drastically realign its spending priorities. The second option could be a good, and long overdue, change. But what would spending on social programs amount to? How to avoid inflationary pressures? A 2008 state budget is awaited, which may offer some answers.

In the meantime, campaigns are doing little to flesh out the inconvenient mathematical details of their proposals. There are plenty of other reasons for voters fret this election; a little clarity here could go a long way in alleviating much worry.