The Magazine

The Bloom Is Off the Rose Revolution

Georgia's Saakashvili cracks down.

Nov 26, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 11 • By IRAKLY GEORGE ARESHIDZE
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But it has much to gain by using its influence in Georgia to preserve the country's democratic opening. Early presidential elections and the lifting of the state of emergency on November 16 are not enough. Likewise, while a serious election-monitoring effort including foreign observers, exit polls, and Parallel Voter Tabulations is all important and the United States should help bring it about, it is insufficient. Even a perfect balloting process will be meaningless if the opposition is prevented from mounting a serious campaign.

The United States can push the Georgian government to deal fairly with those accused of seeking the overthrow of the government with Russian help--either put them on trial or dismiss the charges--and to punish those in the government who used unjust force against the demonstrators.

Washington can also promote a level playing field in both the presidential and later the parliamentary elections. The Georgian government's proposals for democratizing the membership of electoral commissions and the allocation of parliamentary seats are good first steps. But Saakashvili could still use state resources to advance his candidacy--dispensing welfare benefits to buy votes, for example--and intimidate the opposition. Mounting a credible campaign is impossible without money. Many leading businessmen support the opposition, but they fear--with good reason--that the state will go after their businesses if they act on their beliefs.

Most important, Imedi must be allowed back on the air. Surveys say that the station is the primary source of news for more than half the public. Because it is administered and part-owned by a U.S. conglomerate, it is the least partisan channel in Georgia, and people trust it.

Until these conditions are met, steady pressure from the Bush administration--a clear and consistent message from all U.S. officials, including threats to suspend Millennium Challenge Account aid--is the best hope for a return to the democratic path.

One of the Bush administration's flaws is that its democratic rhetoric is seldom followed by the specific and continuous actions necessary to promote U.S. interests over the long term. The collapse of Georgia's democratic transition is but one example of this lack of follow-through. During his last 14 months in office, President Bush, by his actions toward Georgia, could still show the world that his commitment to democracy abroad is more than just talk.

Irakly George Areshidze is the author of Democracy and Autocracy in Eurasia: Georgia in Transition (Michigan State University Press, 2007). He was a political strategist for a Georgian opposition party in 2003 and 2004.