Saturday, January 19, 2008

Opposition moderates its stance, and Bryza warns Saakashvili administration

A bit of the weekend's news:

The opposition stance is shifting, with coalition leaders’ latest remarks referring to the parliamentary elections as the “second round” they had demanded after the January 5 presidential election.

It’s unclear whether everyone in the bloc is ready to move into a parliamentary election campaign; we may see the coalition breaking up in the next few weeks as each party sets its own course for the spring elections. But before that, they will try to secure more government concessions, most crucially on the Central Election Commission, to assure themselves—and their supporters—that the parliamentary elections will be fair.

The latest OSCE/ODIHR preliminary report is heavily critical of post-election voting, counting and arbitration. The opposition’s complaints are vindicated in no small measure by the report, which was pushed out earlier than initially expected probably with a mind to the parliamentary elections.

And at a press conference today, the US State Department’s top envoy in the region, Matthew Bryza, emphasized that the next elections must improve on the conduct of the January 5 election.

Bryza, as he is compelled to do every time he comes to Georgia, set the record straight on remarks he made the day after the election. His words are often grossly distorted by the Georgian news media, and on January 6 he was widely quoted (in translation) as saying the election had been “fair” and Saakashvili’s victory “convincing.”

He insisted that Washington did not judge the election fair at that time; instead, on January 6 he had spoken of Georgians’ duty to recognize the results of the election if they are deemed free and fair.

Since then, Bryza said, US teams have concluded “there was not large-scale fraud that altered the outcome of the election.” But observers found “irregularities,” he said, urging all sides to focus on making the upcoming parliamentary elections free and fair.

He also had a very strong message for the Saakashvili administration. Today, Bryza twice stated that in his January 6 comments, he had not only spoken of the duty to recognize fair elections, but had added that “if the results [of the election] were not free and fair, then Georgia would find itself in a situation that was similar to November 2003.”

A forceful way to publicly make the point that the government must fully commit, in a way many would agree it did not in January, to free and fair elections—or face blowback.


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