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Finally, an election campaign

Tuesday, February 26
The opposition called off its ‘nation-wide hunger strike’ last week, marking the end of street protests and the start of a parliamentary election campaign.

Georgia will be the better for it. This last, underwhelming attempt at a hardline demonstration was a disaster wanting to happen—the opposition’s permit to rally was set to expire in days, but organizers were vowing to camp out indefinitely on the steps of parliament.

Combined with staggeringly poor decision-making by the authorities, these were the circumstances which precipitated November 7.

But far from the tens of thousands who rallied throughout the fall and winter, opposition diehards numbered in the hundreds at last week’s abortive protest. Facing dwindling public support for rallies and financial resources stretched thin, coalition representative Levan Gachechiladze claimed he won guaranteed concessions from Nino Burjanadze and told everyone to go home.

Unfortunately for him, he overplayed his hand by naming deadlines—supposedly agreed to by Burjanadze—for the resignation of two public officials the opposition want gone. Burjanadze was forced to publicly contradict Gachechiladze, who will have his credibility doubly undermined if one of the officials does not resign today, as he promised supporters.

Yet that potential misstep is just a drop in the bucket compared to the support lost since the January 5 presidential election. Coalition leaders had to walk an uneasy line between voters and who think the opposition are being unreasonable and, thankfully to a lesser degree, voters who think they’re not being radical enough. They were not particularly successful.

The opposition have been frustrated by a lack of real post-election compromise from the government. Most important to opposition leaders and their backers are guarantees of fair parliamentary elections, but this boxes everyone in. Convinced that the presidential election was rigged, the opposition will not accept more of the same in electoral administration, however gilded with government promises of sincere efforts at reform. And the government, which naturally maintains—as do most international observers—that the election was essentially fair, cannot institute sweeping change without giving an implicit admission of guilt.

Both sides suffer from a combined unwillingness and inability to compromise, but the consequential lack of results damages the opposition, who look feeble, more than the government, which looks strong.

And so the opposition parties enter this parliamentary election campaign weakened—but made formidable by the sheer unpopularity of the ruling party. Mikheil Saakashvili officially took 53 percent of the vote amidst weak turnout, and of ruling party figures only Nino Burjanadze maintains broad popularity. If the opposition can hit on a message which will bring weary voters to the polls in May, they still stand a strong chance of diluting, or erasing, the authorities’ grip on today’s rubber stamp parliament.