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MOSCOW, July 3 (Itar-Tass) - Georgia’s forthcoming presidential election will put an end to the era of pro-western politician Mikhail Saakashvili, but certainly not to Georgia’s relations with NATO. As far as the outgoing president is concerned, his political opponents may treat him the way Saakashvili himself preferred to handle his own critics. Possibly, they decide to send him to jail. In the meantime, the United States hopes the forthcoming election will be free and fair.
Georgia’s voters will go to the polling stations to elect a new president on October 31 - the last day of the “election month,” established under the Constitution for any voting. Many in Tbilisi suspect that Saakashvili is so keen to postpone the last day of his presidency because he wishes to participate in the Vilnius summit of the EU, where Georgia hopes to sign an association agreement with the European Union.
“Saakashvili is in the gravest psychological condition. He is trying to delay the terrible moment as long as possible,” says one of the presidential candidates, former parliamentary speaker Nino Burdzhanadze.
Saakashvili will be unable to participate in the election himself, because in 2008 he was elected for a second term. A candidate for the presidency from the former ruling party United National Movement will be declared after primaries before the end of July.
Experts believe that Mikhail Saakashvili may have another reason for scheduling the election for the last day of October. “At the end of November Vilnius will host the EU summit that will be very important to Georgia. A decision will be made whether to sign an association agreement with Tbilisi,” an expert of the agency GHN, Nika Imanishvili, has told the daily Kommersant. “If there is another round, the elections and the inauguration of the president-elect will be delayed till the first days of November, so Saakashvili will have a chance to attend the Vilnius summit.”
At this point the public knows the names of three presidential candidates - the current education and science minster, Georgy Margvelashvili, from the coalition under Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili Georgian Dream, Shalva Natelashvili, of the Labor Party, and Nino Burdzhanadze, from the party Democratic Movement - United Georgia.
What makes the current presidential election so special is it does not matter for the first time ever who will emerge the winner. Under the Constitution after the elections the center of decision-making will drift towards the prime minister. The president will retain mostly protocol functions and the country will embark on the path leading to a parliamentary form of government. It is nakedly clear that the candidate who is closer to Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili has the greatest chances of emerging the winner. It is likewise clear that a yet-to-be named candidate from United National Movement has no such chances at all.
The presidential election is important not only in view of Mikhail Saakashvili’s withdrawal from the political scene and the end of his party’s rule. The daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta believes that the condition of the Georgian economy is one of the most crucial issues of all - will it be able to breathe a sigh of relief after the dismantling of the UNM-dominated system of administration, or will stagnation go on?
After the victory of Georgian Dream in the parliamentary elections last autumn the influx of investments shrank considerably. Businesses are usually very cautious about any sharp political turns. Besides, the loser party - the UNM - did its utmost to present Georgian Dream as a pro-Russian force. In the meantime, Bidzina Ivanishvili managed to improve the new authorities’ vision in the eyes of the West, but the economy has stalled without foreign investments, and this situation is bound to last at least till the presidential election, when investors will have at least some idea of where Georgia is moving without such a pro-western figure as Saakashvili.
Another major question the daily asks is where Saakashvili will go after losing power. His main opponent has described one possible option. In an interview to Israel’s magazine Sof Shavua Ivanishvili said that personally he had no wish to see Saakashvili under arrest, but also there was the law and the prosecutor. “In reality he did not respect the laws of Georgia. He is talented. He has deceived the whole world. He positioned himself as a democrat. He was supported by all, but pretty soon there developed the awareness he was building an authoritarian regime… When we rose to power, we discovered that all businesses were subordinate to the government, that there were no free businesses. The chief prosecutor laid hands on the treasury. They started to count money that had been collected from individuals and from businessmen. He controlled the media, and only a tiny share of them was really free. It was that tiny share that he showed to the West.”
After the election and inauguration of a new president Saakashvili will lose his immunity and the law enforcement will have no obstructions to summoning him for questioning.
In the meantime, the United States has voiced the hope the presidential election in Georgia will be free and fair.
"We are following this case, just like other cases. We are interested in the country's respect for the rule of law," says US ambassador Richard Norland.
The Ambassador also expressed his confidence the presidential elections in Georgia would be successful.
"I think that the U.S., Europe and other countries, as well as the international community will monitor these elections with special attention, just like during the previous election. This will mark the second step of Georgia towards democracy, and I am confident that these elections will be successful," Norland said several days ago.
In the meantime the NATO-Georgia summit in Tbilisi on June 26-27 brought about no breakthroughs. What NATO’s Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a joint news conference with Bidzina Ivanishvili merely emphasized once again the limits of speeding up the process of Georgia’s North Atlantic integration.
NATO’s stance regarding the chances of Georgia’s admission remain unchanged: the country is getting closer to the alliance, but there is still much work ahead on the road towards full integration.
The benchmarks NATO has set to Georgia are the same. Last year Tbilisi was expected to make progress in the parliamentary elections. Now the fairness and openness of the presidential election due in October is pointed to as one of the standards of Georgia’s readiness to join NATO.