Why Georgia's Election Matters
February 6, 2008
Since Georgia's 2003 'Rose Revolution', in which Mikhail Saakashvili, the country's young pro-Western president took power from the Soviet Union's former foreign minister, Tbilisi has been playing catch-up with its Eastern European counterparts. But, according to many observers, Georgia's lofty dreams of NATO and European Union membership came crashing down in early November, when Tbilisi witnessed a disproportionate crackdown on anti-government protesters. The disconcerting sight of tear gas and truncheons in the region's 'beacon of democracy' caused Georgia's Western cheerleaders to think twice before offering the country a NATO Membership Action Plan at the alliance's upcoming April summit in Bucharest.
The protests included those left behind by rapid and sweeping reforms aimed at Euroatlantic transformation. For example, Saakashvili sacked Georgia's notorious bribe-seeking road police almost over night, replacing them with a Western-standard force noted to be more professional than that of many new EU member states. Unsurprisingly, a number of former policemen were in the crowds that shouted for early elections and Saakashvili's resignation in front of the parliament building. But, many beneficiaries of reform simply fed up with the administration's absolutist policies participated as well. A self-absorbed administration, too wrapped up in its quest to impress the West reacted clumsily and arrogantly, but Saakashvili acquiesced to one of the protestors' demands, moving up presidential elections from next autumn to 5 January.