While the four opposition parties prepare for primaries to choose a single candidate to run in the October 1 parliamentary by-elections, President Mikheil Saakashvili is campaigning in support of the ruling Nation Movement Party’s candidates, describing the upcoming elections as "a test" for the government’s policies.
MP by-elections will be held to fill the five vacant majoritarian (single-mandate) seats in the Parliament. These five seats cannot change the balance of power in the legislative body, which is dominated by the National Movement, but the upcoming elections are regarded as a key indicator of current public opinion.
“These elections will demonstrate whether the population supports the policies we have chosen… These are very important elections,” President Saakashvili said on August 17.
He made this statement while speaking with the local population of the Kobuleti district in the Adjara Autonomous Republic. His recent visit to Adjara was part of the pre-election campaign to support the ruling National Movement's nominations in three of Adjara’s majoritarian (single-mandate) constituencies – Batumi, Kobuleti and Shuakhevi.
Winning the elections in Adjara’s three constituencies is of special importance for the authorities, as these polls will be held 17 months after the peaceful revolution in the autonomy which ousted Adjara’s former autocratic leader Aslan Abashidze.
President Saakashvili already made a similar statement on August 11, while meeting with the local population in the Isani district in the capital Tbilisi to support the National Movement’s nomination in this district Bidzina Bregadze, the ex-deputy interior minister.
“We consider the October 1 by-elections to be a very important test in the eyes of the world that will demonstrate whether or not President Saakashvili's course has the support of the population,” Saakashvili said on August 11.
The National Movement nominated its candidates on August 10. Jemal Inaishvili, president of the Georgian Chamber of Commerce is running in the Batumi constituency and Koba Khabazi, the head of the Local Government and Regional Policy Coordination Office at the President’s Administration - in the Kobuleti district; Elguja Makaridze, a member of the President’s Council of Advisers – in the Shuakhevi constituency; Pavle Kublashvili, the President’s Parliamentary Secretary - in the Tkibuli constituency in western Georgia. Bidzina Bregadze, who until recently served as deputy interior minister, will run to represent Tbilisi’s Isani district.
Meanwhile the four opposition parties - the New Rights, the Conservatives, the Laborists and the Freedom Party – will hold joint primary elections on September 17 in all five constituencies in an attempt to choose a single candidate in each district. These parties have already set up election commission to administer the primaries.
Some observers say that victory in even one race should be regarded as a success for the opposition parties. According to the most recent available GORBI public opinion survey published in March, these four opposition parties all together had the support of less than 15% of the population, against of the National Movement’s 34.7%. But this poll said that 47.9% declined to indicate their favorite political party.
The National Movement is as of yet the only political party to have launched its election campaign. Observers say that campaigning is moderate so far and that no major violations have been observed yet.
“Officially the election campaign has already started, but it is not active yet. We expect that violations, mainly related to the use of administrative resources [from the officials and representatives of the ruling party] will become the major form of violations as the elections approach,” said Tamar Zhvania of the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), an NGO which monitors elections, to Civil Georgia.