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Election results are no surprise, but reveal challenges for the government

By M. Alkhazashvili
Tuesday, January 8
International observers have given the government the approval they needed, mentioning only minor violations in an otherwise free and fair election.

Monitoring reports also praised the election for representing the first truly competitive presidential race in Georgia’s modern history.

This signals a broad change in Georgia’s political makeup: no longer should the ruling National Movement dismiss the opposition as weak and ineffectual, and therefore unfit for sharing the responsibilities of governing.

Opposition coalition candidate Levan Gachechiladze looks set to take a quarter of the vote, with another 20 percent divided between other opposition candidates. Many of those ballots were cast in protest to Saakashvili policies and behavior, but the point has been made that the National Movement cannot assume it represents a strong majority in the country. A compromise with opposition forces is needed.

However, the opposition does not look willing to compromise. Their allegations of a rigged election are getting no outside backing, and nothing will persuade them that this election was truly free and fair.

What could persuade them to step back from street protests is political calculation—if the charismatic Saakashvili could barely eek out his 50 percent victory, odds are the widely-loathed ruling party is going to take a beating in the next parliamentary election.

His party’s success, or lack thereof, in parliamentary elections will depend in large part on whether Saakashvili is seen as fulfilling his campaign pledges of more social spending and a reshuffled inside team.

And the success of the parliamentary elections themselves will also be in question; the multitude of irregularities in the presidential election, international observers warned, should not be repeated.