Vienna, December 31 – In a move that reflects both their increasing despair and their growing willingness to cooperate, 21 opposition parties in Georgia there are calling on the UN to supervise local elections there because there is the risk of “destabilization” if Mikheil Saakashvili’s “one-man rule” prevents a free and fair expression of the will of the people.
On the one hand, this appeal reflects the latest move in the conflict between Saakashvili and the Georgian opposition over how local elections are to be conducted, all the more so since some of the signatories, Civil Georgia reports, “acknowledge that there is little chance of holding elections under the UN aegis” (www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=21850).
But on the other, this call is important not only because of the situation in Georgia but also because it highlights a fundamental shortcoming in the way the international community in general monitors elections and thus underscores the need for an entirely new and more intrusive approach in order for democracy to flourish.
The opposition appeal, which was issued yesterday, will likely be dismissed as a publicity stunt by supporters of President Saakashvili and ignored by the international community because of the complexities of the long-running debate in Tbilisi over what are local elections. But such a dismissive attitude would be a mistake.
The battle over local election rules has been going on for some months with no clear resolution in sight. In November, the government and the various opposition parties failed to agree on whether there should be a 30 percent threshold for victory or a 50 percent one, with runoffs required if no candidate received more than half of the total vote.
Other issues dividing the government and the opposition and the opposition itself include the size of the local councils, the way in which the head of the Central Electoral Commission will be chosen, and whether all these issues can only be resolved by a single omnibus law or partially in separate pieces of legislation.
Because all these actions involve local rather than national elections, because many of the issues appear technical, and because both the government and various parts of the opposition have taken positions that appear to reflect political calculations rather than principle, most of this debate has passed under the radar screen of the international community.
While some international democracy-promotion groups have remained involved, most have avoided doing so, even though some of the latter almost certainly would participate in monitoring the voting itself, even if the decisions taken now mean, as the signers of the appeal to the United Nations argue, undermine any possibility of a legitimate vote.
The reluctance of international community to get involved in such issues is understandable all the more so because governments, which form the core of that community, will always be opposed, but the failure of outside groups to do so in a timely fashion destroys the very possibility of democratic development, however “technically correct” any poll is.
Consequently, while the Georgian opposition is likely correct that the UN will not respond positively, the authors of this appeal have made an important contribution to the discussion about Georgia’s future and about democracy more generally by highlighting the need for early outside intervention in the electoral process there and elsewhere.