07TBILISI3151, GEORGIAN ELECTIONS: COMPETITION FOR THE FIRST TIME

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07TBILISI3151 2007-12-21 12:41 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO7848
OO RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #3151/01 3551241
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 211241Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8503
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 003151 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR DAS BRYZA AND EUR/CARC 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/21/2017 
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM PHUM GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIAN ELECTIONS:  COMPETITION FOR THE FIRST TIME 
 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT.  REASONS:  1.4 (B) AND (D). 
 
1. (C)  Summary:  As the Georgian Presidential election 
campaign gears up for its final two weeks, a number of themes 
have emerged on the campaign trail.  The most glaring is the 
brutal blood sport aspect of the Georgian campaign, with each 
political party battling to the death for dominance.  The 
ruling United National Movement (UNM) and the opposition's 
United National Opposition (UNC) are both guilty of turning 
every issue into a gruesome winner-take-all contest.  As a 
result, the campaign has at times become over the fairness of 
the election itself instead of over the issue of the day, 
with every party vying for the approval of Western Embassies 
and international observers.  That said, local experts agree 
that this is the most competitive election in Georgian 
history, with the opposition mounting the most credible 
campaign ever against a strong, ruling party candidate in 
former President Saakashvili.  It is also the first election 
in almost a decade where the voters list (as a result in part 
of U.S. assistance) has not been the number one problem. 
Experts also agree that more than ever, candidates are 
traveling to the regions to actually attempt to garner votes. 
 Our message to all is to focus on the issues and to respect 
the results, provided that international observers consider 
them representative of the will of the people.  End summary. 
 
-------------------------- 
CAMPAIGNING AS BLOOD SPORT 
-------------------------- 
 
2. (C) Politics in Georgia is not for the faint of heart and 
the current campaign for the Presidential election on January 
5, 2008 shows that neither is campaigning.  The most glaring 
theme of the campaign is the brutal blood sport aspect of the 
race, with each political party battling to the death for 
dominance.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the struggle 
with oligarch Badri Patarkatsisvili who Saakashvili and his 
team believe will do anything to bring them down.  But this 
attitude seems all-pervasive.  When Republican Party leader 
Dato Usupashvili failed to receive the nomination to be the 
candidate for the United Opposition Council (UOC), many asked 
him what he was going to do now that he was "washed up" in 
politics.  He replied that he would soldier on as Chair of 
the Republican Party.  This vignette demonstrates how people 
think of politicians in Georgia - one is either dominant or 
out of the race.  There is simply no in-between.  As a 
result, when we speak to both opposition and ruling party 
officials, they play up their chances and offer wildly 
optimistic assessments of how their candidates will fare in 
the elections.  There is no polling or private assessment 
that we think is reliable.  The reality is that it is hard to 
tell how much support former President Saakashvili lost as a 
result of the November crack-down on demonstrators.  He has 
clearly lost some support in Tbilisi, but we believe that his 
support in the regions remains substantial. 
 
------------------------------------ 
LAYING THE GROUNDWORK FOR JANUARY 6? 
------------------------------------ 
 
3. (C) Perhaps acknowledging its almost certain defeat in the 
Presidential elections, the opposition's tactic has been to 
focus largely on the conduct of the campaign rather than on 
issues themselves.  As a result, most of the debate has been 
over opposition allegations that the ruling party has abused 
administrative resources, pressured individuals to vote for 
Saakashvili, and intimidated the media to report in an 
unbalanced way.  Although some of these arguments appear to 
have merit and the ruling party is using every political 
technique in the book to win over voters, the facts about 
many of these issues are not clear cut.  This has led to 
endless arguments over, for example, the definition of the 
use of administrative resources -- with both the ruling party 
and the opposition claiming to be in the right.  The presence 
of the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human 
Rights as well as of Western Embassies has helped to keep 
blatant violations of the law in check but the parties have 
been campaigning Western Embassies and institutions almost as 
much as the Georgian electorate.  At times, it has seemed 
that the opposition is preparing more for a loss and 
subsequent demonstrations on January 6, than for a win on 
January 5. 
 
--------------------------------- 
WHAT GETS LOST?  OFTEN THE ISSUES 
--------------------------------- 
 
4. (C) There are real issues of concern for the average 
Georgian, most notably the failure of the Saakashvili 
Government's reforms to have much of an impact on the 
standard of living of most Georgians.  If anything, life for 
 
TBILISI 00003151  002 OF 003 
 
 
the average Georgian has become harder under Saakashvili as a 
result of continuing Russian bans on Georgian agriculture, 
wine and water as well as other structural reforms that 
resulted in layoffs, especia
lly of government employees. 
This has put a damper on the overwhelmingly strong public 
support for Saakashvili in the heady days after the Rose 
Revolution in 2003.  Many of his detractors are among the 
Tbilisi intelligentsia, who saw their privileged positions 
and guaranteed salaries and support systems disappear as 
Georgia enacted reforms to the Georgian education, health and 
other sectors.  Interestingly, it is the areas of Tbilisi 
where these residents live - the fashionable Vake district - 
where Saakashvili's support is its lowest.  The same is true 
in Adjara.  Many of Aslan Abashidze's cronies, who once 
benefited from his corrupt rule, have lost their livelihoods. 
 The result has been a low amount of support for the UNM in 
this region.  On the other hand, in regions such as Samegrelo 
and Kakheti, support for Saakashvili remains strong, based on 
improvements in electricity supply, road infrastructure and 
the like.  Job losses have not been as marked in such 
regions, where the economy is largely agricultural.  The 
National Movement's only worry in Zugdidi, for example, where 
it has clearly out-organized and out-campaigned the 
opposition, is that Saakashvili's victory will be so crushing 
that it raises instant complaints of fraud. 
 
5. (C) The Government under Saakashvili undertook its painful 
but critical reforms without perhaps enough emphasis on the 
social impact of those reforms on the average Georgian.  This 
is what the focus of the opposition, and the election debate, 
should rightly be.  For example, it is widely believed that 
the confidence (some would say arrogance) of the young and 
talented professionals around Saakashvili contributed to a 
lack of transparency and dialogue with the public over the 
pace and content of reforms that have impacted so many.  It 
is this blind spot that contributed to the larger than 
expected crowds that turned out on the street on November 7. 
Rather than listening and altering course earlier, the 
Government was forced to concede on every demand, but too 
late to avoid the massive protest and subsequent crackdown. 
The opposition, although now at least nominally united, has 
still not found its feet in terms of articulating and 
emphasizing those issues which matter most to the public.  It 
is no secret that the UNM campaign is better financed and 
better organized than any of its competitors. 
 
----------------------------------------- 
SOME UP SIDES: MOST COMPETITIVE RACE EVER 
----------------------------------------- 
 
6. (C) Despite these down sides, experts see this election as 
the most competitive in Georgian history.  With most of the 
opposition parties united behind a single (if uninspiring) 
candidate, the ruling party - and Saakashvili - for the first 
time will get a run for their money.  Despite a lot of focus 
on the modalities of the campaign, the candidates have been 
campaigning Western-style, with rallies throughout Georgia. 
In addition, for the first time since 1999, the inaccuracy of 
the voters' list is not the number one problem going into the 
elections.  As a result of improvements made by the 
Government and funded by USAID, there is more confidence in 
the list.  Also positively, experts believe that this 
campaign more than any other looks like a real competition 
with a stress on programs rather than personalities and that 
more promises are being made, even if many of them may be 
unrealistic.  Finally, as a result of this move toward more 
populist, Western style campaigning, experts believe that 
citizens are more likely to go to the polling station and 
participate in politics, with a belief that their vote really 
does matter in today's Georgia. 
 
-------------------------------- 
ON BALANCE, ENVIRONMENT IMPROVED 
-------------------------------- 
 
7. (C) On balance, we view the election environment as 
improved as a result of Georgia's commitment to achieving 
Euro-Atlantic standards of democracy required by NATO and the 
EU, as well as our work on the diplomatic and assistance 
sides.  The days of massive ballot stuffing - which was the 
spark that lead to the Rose Revolution - appear to be behind 
Georgia.  Candidates now feel the need to travel the country 
to lay out platforms and to solicit votes.  They are making 
Western style promises (albeit sometimes exaggerated) and 
starting to focus on social programs.  There is a real, if 
unresolved, debate on what is fair in terms of using an 
incumbent's natural advantage in the electoral campaign. 
Although Georgian culture colors the campaign with emotive 
language and at times sanguine predictions, it is clear that 
the campaign is moving slowly from a Soviet style one man 
show to a more populist, issue-centered contest in which the 
 
TBILISI 00003151  003 OF 003 
 
 
voter and his or her concerns come more to the fore. 
TEFFT

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