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Georgians say what they think, possibly

By Salome Modebadze
Thursday, April 1
On 31 March the International Republican Institute (IRI) presented the results of its recent national opinion poll, which was funded by the United States Agency for International Development. 800 residents of Tbilisi and 1,000 residents of the regions aged 18 and over were interviewed between March 4 and March 13 and asked to express their opinions on the most burning issues for the country.

The poll showed that following the August 2008 war Georgians are still afraid of further military intervention, especially from the Russians. 74% of poll respondents stated that the Russian aggression against Georgia is still being conducted. 78% of respondents supported dialogue with Russia but with the engagement of the Government of Georgia, while only 2% strongly opposed this. Respondents suggested that the restoration of territorial integrity should be the main priority for the Government of Georgia.

The poll identified that people trust the current Government on a variety of issues. Most respondents stated that Mikheil Saakashvili, President of Georgia was the most capable person of dealing with the internal and external problems of the country. Asked who they thought was best able to resolve the problem of unemployment, 38% of respondents said Saakashvili, Giorgi Targamadze, the leader of Christian-Democratic Movement, was named by 9%, Shalva Natelashvili, the leader of the Labour Party, by 6%, Irakli Alasania, leader of the Alliance for Georgia by 4%, Nino Burjanadze, Leader of the Democratic Movement-United Georgia and Irakli Okruashvili, leader of the Movement for United Georgia by 2%, and Zurab Noghaideli, leader of the Movement for Fair Georgia by 1%.

53% of respondents stressed they supported a particular party on the basis of who was leading it, while 19% said that the party itself is more important. Building roads was considered the greatest achievement of the present Government of Georgia while the loss of the occupied territories was considered its greatest failure. 87% considered that an opposition is important for the country. 50% said that President Saakashvili and the Government’s performance during the financial crisis was somewhat positive while 11% said it was very negative. 49% said they would definitely vote in the local elections if they were held next Sunday while only 5% said they would not. Concerning these elections, 65% of respondents said they would not be held in a fair way; 12% said they could see no candidate worthy voting for, while 4% said they were boycotting them. 37% of citizens of Tbilisi questioned said that the non-Parliamentary opposition parties should unite to elect a single candidate for Mayor.

The results of the poll have been already sent to all political parties, which have made their first comments on the issue. “There are still a lot of things to do,” said Gigi Ugulava, who was praised in the poll for rebuilding roads but criticised for failing to tackle unemployment. He said that poll do not generally reflect the situation on the ground in the capital. Ruling National Movement MP Giorgi Gabashvili said, “Our political group is oriented on eradicating problems. We are familiar with the main demands of the people. There is one thing that can surely be proven: the situation in Tbilisi has definitely improved from what it was 4 years ago. Lots of things have been done and there are still lots of things which need to be done. It’s obvious that most of our population trusts our political group. The results of the IRI poll aren’t a new thing, but this doesn’t satisfy us.”

From the opposition Irakli Alasania said that his actual rating can be measured by all those people who share their problems with him. “I’m familiar with the people’s troubles, I know what they need. I won’t name a particular figure, but my actual rating is definitely reflected by people’s attitude towards me,” he noted. Kakha Kukava, the co-leader of Conservative Party, a member of the National Council, expressed mistrust in the IRI poll. “We seem to be a politically unexciting party as we aren’t mentioned at all in the survey. But this very fact demonstrates that the Government of Georgia considers the National Council its chief rival at the elections,” Kukava added. Nestan Kirtadze, the co-leader of the Labour Party, said that her party was the most popular in the current political spectrum.

“It is important to understand the current situation in a country when giving opinions about such a document. Unfortunately there are a great number of hungry and frightened people in Georgia who treat any opinion poll as a questioning by the General Prosecutor’s Office. There are a lot of examples of people being threatened if they express their personal concerns about issues so when answering the questions of an absolutely unfamiliar person there is always a feeling of danger. It is common knowledge that the more you praise the Government, the safer you feel,” political analyst Soso Tsiskarishvili told The Messenger, adding that it would also be interesting to know in what circumstances the poll had been conducted and hear what was actually said by both pollsters and respondents.