There has been a ruffle in the Georgian TVs lately, whether the revolution, coup d’état, destabilization, provocation or at least – some clash will take place in Georgia.
This question popped up on September 26th, when the United National Movement-affiliated group “Free Zone” was left by some activists, among them – 117th MP candidate of the UNM electoral list. The former “Free Zone” activists declared the UNM leaders, among them Mikheil Saakashvili, were demanding they stirred and participated in modelled provocations and civic disturbances on Election Day. They noted leaving the group was a sign of protest and added UNM had created a new organization– “In the name of loyalty to Georgia” – for meeting the above-mentioned purposes.
Next day (27.09) an audio file was uploaded on YouTube. The file reveals, most likely, Mikheil Saakashvili and four United National Movement elite leaders of the UNM’s electoral list, agree their party will lose the elections. However, as it is unacceptable for them to represent a second party or join some coalitions (unlike Giga Bokeria’s vision), speakers are discussing coup d’état scenario and are going through various components of civic disturbances, such as – the tent protests, hiring demonstrators, intruding buildings, sexual abuse and other details. One of the speakers proudly announces about his experience in participating and carrying out a military coup (presumably – in 1991).
Soon afterwards (28.09) and day after the Aghmashenebeli Avenue was festively opened, a march of Georgian Nationalists – embellished with fascist symbols and storming the Avenue, trying to raid Turkish shops and restaurants – took place. Police managed to neutralize their attempts and arrested 10 participants.
Finally, on September 29th the Ministry of Internal Affairs rather suddenly announced the discovery of a large arms stock. MIA declared, the arms stock (hidden on different territories of Norio, Gori, Saguramo and on two other places in Tbilisi) was hidden within 2009-2011 years. The fact is impressive but also interesting, why this announcement coincided with the events described above. It is obvious the MIA had been discovering the arms stocks at different times.
Above these, we hear statements of Mikheil Saakashvili and the director of Rustavi2 TV that for them the principal source of legitimacy of the election outcome will be exit poll results of the GFK (German polling organization hired by Rustavi2).
Now, let’s try to analyze the situation in the country and try to answer the questions posed above – if anyone is trying to stage some coup d’état or whether they can manage to do so.
- Revolution or Ruffle?
There are different possibilities for a noisy and violent development of conditions, or – different phases. It can be a ruffle or confrontation among various party/candidate supporters, which usually characterizes the electoral campaign. Such cases have never been a surprise for independent Georgia but it is a little unexpected we witnessed similar developments in the US at the electoral meetings of Donald Trump.
Regarding the possibility of a coup d’état or a revolution:
For a coup, Mikheil Saakashvili needs some devoted (ready to fight) personnel at the law enforcement agencies (medium or high level) and guerrilla forces, quite a heavy armament, supportive TV/media and a distinct political support of a foreign power – the USA, Europe, Russia or Turkey. Except the strong media resource (Rustavi2), Saakashvili doesn’t possess any other listed requirements.
If Mikheil Saakashvili is left only with the experience of Kako Bobokhidze (apparently the UNM MP, proudly reminding his military coup experience), he really must not have anything else to rely on… The statement of the US ambassador to Georgia – noting the electoral environment in the country is so good that he wishes it was currently similar in the USA, was unexpected cold shower for the United National Movement; as the MP members of it – Giorgi Kandelaki and Tinatin Bokuchava, also – former Ambaasador in US Temur Iakobashvili try their best in the USA and Europe to paint a bad picture of electoral campaign in Georgia as if there is a terrible terror raged against the opposition party.
Revolution needs even more factors – people’s attitudes, high level of dissatisfaction, readiness for confrontation or coming out in the streets, total ignorance of people’s needs by the government, etc. The truth is, there is no such thing right now, and let us not forget that:
- Georgia and Georgian society vividly remember how coups and revolutions have “benefited” us! I think, Georgian society is sufficiently mature, thus far from supporting an aggressive development of scenarios as they will not trade a barely-achieved stable life over a coup. Even though stable life may really not be enough and, quite possibly, many citizens are not satisfied, it doesn’t reach the levels they rose up to overthrow the government.
- Return of Mikheil Saakashvili and his destructive, inhuman team/methods, will be perceived by many as a return of a regime thirsty for revenge. I do not know, if Sandra Roelofs really saw a beam of repentance in the eyes of his spouse, but we remember rather well Saakashvili’s sarcastic giggle in conversation with other female, saying: “I swear, blood is going to spill over there”. And no one shall forget that there is a perception in the society that the current Government has been too loyal to the members of this regime. Thus, revoking such scenario could put the masterminds – legally as well as practically – in a grave position!
Therefore, to my mind, the most realistic, that the UNM and its de-facto leader can make – is a destabilization. Destabilization by stirring provocations, which we are probably going to see in the following days.
- Destabilization Effort and Two Versions of it –
2.1. Creating a ruffle
It is possible that besides the actually planned provocations, the UNM tactics will include rigging elections (falsifications) for creating a ballyhoo about expected revolutionary disasters! Do not forget, that weakness of power obliges them to strengthen the power of their noise, and this is the area where they still maintain the most robust resource they possess – Goebbels-like skills of demagogue + Rustavi2 TV.
We have already seen many examples of such modelling/simulations:
2.1.1 – Mikheil Saakashvili “preaching” from a pulpit of a church in New York (message – Georgian church and Georgian believers, at least abroad – support Mikheil Saakashvili!). Later, it was figured out that the speech was made at the Ukrainian Catholic Church – rented by Saakashvili’s electorate for the scheduled meeting and no one else was allowed in there!
2.1.2. – Mikheil Saakashvili’s video with the Washington Monument in the background! Message – the US, its (deceased, alive or future) leaders and its democratic symbols support “the beacon of democracy”! – The truth of the matter is, any dictator, if she/he is granted the visa, will manage to record a video with the Washington Monument in the background. It is also said Mikheil Saakashvili attended some kind of conference in DC and delivered a speech but what he talked about or what responses he received, is unknown. Rustavi2 showed the footage of Saakashvili’s meeting with John McCain without any comments or statements, which makes me thinking Misha did not receive a desired welcome from the US political elite.
2.1.3 –Giga Bokeria and Nick Melia recently “informed” society that Bidzina Ivanishvili is planning to leave the country after losing the elections! And they begged him not to do so – advising him to simply move to the opposition, and promise not to persecute or imprison him. The same was affirmed by their leader from Washington. In short, it was a pretty disturbing, surrealistic episode – Salvador Dali would be jealous!
2.1.4 – And finally, I’m not sure if anyone was surprised after hearing that GFK, a polling company hired by Rustavi 2 revealed in its latest parliamentary election polls that the UNM is already ahead of the Georgian Dream in their survey results. It’s true that the advantage is only minimal and equals to 0.6% (26% vs. 25.4%), but rest assured that in the remaining few days, it will grow quasi-geometrically and by the election day it might even be 51% vs 22%. Who’s going to discourage them from announcing such a result? By the way, the field work of GFK is done by a company called BCG, the founder of which is Levan Tarkhnishvili, the MP from UNM and the former head of the Central Election Commission in 2008, the master of multiple mishandling during two elections that year. The current director of BCG is his wife, – Mrs Ani Tarkhnishvili. How convenient? Coud you imagine, what kind of “fieldwork” they provide for statstical analysis to GFK?
2.1.5 – The most interesting detail in all this was the fact that Rustavi2 and UNM propagandists came up with a blatant lie that 30% of Georgia’s population supported the UNM. And they supposedly based this number on Ivanishvili’s comment. In reality, what Ivanishvili actually said was that 30% of the population was still undecided and that some 150,000-200,000 people were loyal to UNM. If we convert these numbers into percentage points, it’s around 10-12% of the expected electorate out of 1.5-1.7 million people.
This fact-less propaganda serves one purpose: to cheer up UNM’s loyal base, which seems to be slowly imploding and unraveling itself. The party leaders are trying their best to assure their supporters that all is well and the UNM is surely winning the elections. As Saakashvili proclaimed recently from a pulpit of a New York church, if government loses one region, they will lose it all. (Quite honestly, I do not know in which election code he read this absurdity or based on what logic he arrived at that conclusion, very interesting indeed!)
2.2 Real attempt
Saakashvili will have a go, and he already did.
2.2.1 – We ought to recall his leaked telephone conversations a year ago with Rustavi2 Director Nika Gvaramia and one of UNM leader – Giga Bokeria. That phone talk was not disavowed by these individuals. In the leaked audio files, Saakashvili demands that Gvaramia filled Rustavi 2 premises with “combatants” and emphasizes the benefit of a mother or a child getting hurt in the clashes when police storms the TV. After these dialogues surfaced, law enforcement agencies launched an investigation into an attempted coup.
2.2.2 – In recent leaks, which include conversations probably initiated by Saakashvili (participants of the dialogues do not doubt the authenticity of their voices, they simply state that the audio files are edited and reflect different periods and conversations), the participants are pretty assured that they will lose the elections (they all agree on that) and therefore, it is indispensable to have a revolutionary scenario. Saakashvili says that Bokeria is contemplating a possible coalition after the defeat in elections and he underscores how unacceptable that path is. He says he is hopeful of Kako (a party member), who in turn proudly declares that he has experience in organizing and carrying out a coup.
2.2.3 – It is noteworthy that both Saakashvili and the director of Rustavi 2 Nika Gvaramia believe that the revolution can be prompted if the election results after the elections do not match the exit-poll presented by GFK (a polling company hired by Rustavi 2) on election day evening. There was a time when the success of the elections for Saakashvili was simply confirmed by the full loyalty of the head of Central Election Commission, or a congratulatory call from George W. Bush in the late afternoon of yet election day, or a preliminary report of the OSCE-ODIHR, or a statement by the US Ambassador in Georgia… However, the bar of legitimacy for him is very low at this point and the exit polls carried out by a polling company, hired by his loyal TV company is his only “trump card”! We are talking about the same polling company that in 2012 was hired by the government-controlled Georgian Public Broadcaster and which gave the Georgian Dream 33% in its polls, a number which missed the final result not by acceptable error (3%), but by 22% (GD received 55%)! Today, the GFK polls show that the UNM is “winning” and quite possibly this advantage will increase progressively or geometrically in subsequent days. Sergi Kapanadze and other de-jure leaders of UNM maintain that they trust the results of the Central Election Commission, but these are statements that can be swiftly neglected when UNM’s top 10 proportional list candidates get the appropriate orders from Saakashvili.
2.2.4 – Few days ago, in the village Didinedzi of Zugdidi municipality, the UNM activists, including the former governor of the village, severely beat up the representatives of Georgian Dreams youth organization. They injured a girl (Lika Demetradze) by hitting a stone at her head and 3 other members of the Georgian Dream have been transferred to the hospital (she still remains at the hospital). This incident shows preparedness for a bloody confrontation and sets an example for future illicit activity.
2.2.5 – The leaders of the UNM probably believe that getting into the parliament and having 4 more years of political activism would be a satisfactory result for them, but Mikheil Saakashvili believes otherwise! He absolutely refuses to accept that outcome. Even seeing his wife as an MP is not sufficiently pleasing to him, because the parliamentary immunity cannot shield the MP’s spouse. Therefore, as is typical of a feverish brain of an adventurer, the mind of the Odessa governor is processing several different provocation variations, which will enable him to return to Georgia, triumphantly mounted on a white horse. His provocative nature has no bounds; he is capable and ready to endanger not only his countrymen, but his own party members and a close circle of supporters, friends and relatives, just to procure even minimal, illusory chances. On the other hand, it is interesting to see if his inner-circle decides to follow him into the political grave and whether citizens do decide to get trapped by his deliberate provocations.
- Pre-election environment – a positive reality
3.1 – I have already written about the utterly positive statement made by the US Ambassador to Georgia.
3.2. – The preliminary report of the OSCE observers mission was also quite positive, although it was clearly stated that animosity and mutual antipathy is prevalent between the two parties.
3.3. – Fortunately, Georgia is not anymore a country, where the fate of the elections is decided by secret fax reports received on a fax machine, hidden in the safe in the office of the chairperson of the Central Election Commission, loyal to the United National Movement. That was the past – case of 2008 elections. The false IDs were used extensively during that period; the government arranged the so-called “carousel voting”; police was illegally and indiscriminately seizing the ballot boxes, and the ballots in massive numbers were dumped into trash containers. There was intense pressure on voters, as well as on the opposition members of the Commission; even in 2012 we witnessed incidents where masked gunmen would remove the ballot boxes from the districts by force. Furthermore, in 2008, the head of the EU mission to Georgia, Mr. Peter Semneby was literally kidnapped by the UNM gangs from the polling station and was locked away in a barn at an undisclosed location. It’s striking that Peter Semneby, who early on realized with whom he was dealing, preferred not to say anything about the incident, which by itself is a shameful act and further underscored the ugliness of the violent regime of Saakashvili. In 2008 presidential elections, Saakashvili won only by 3.7% in the first round. Only after several months did OSCE-ODIHR final report announced that the vote counting was flawed, – either “bad” or “very bad” – in 19% of all polling stations. I think it is obvious who was a benefactor in those 19%, and who has suffered, and so if not this rigged election, Saakashvili would not have won by 3.7%. Therefore, second round would have been inevitable.
3.4. – This was all in the past. Now instead of 30% majoritarian barrier (decreased by UNM previously) it has been raised back to 50% based on the Venice Commission recommendations. And, similarly, based on the Venice Commission recommendations the majoritarian districts have been equalized, now having more or less equal number of voters. Electronic ID cards reduced the chance of forgery to the minimal level. The voter lists are dramatically more accurate at the polling stations and now contain photos of voters, which again, reduces the chances of rigging to their minimum. And finally, the vote counting will be transmitted live by streaming on the internet, so anyone can watch the process from their computers. All of these measures predispose transparent elections. Nowhere in the world do exit polls serve as the basis of the elections. On the contrary, the closeness of exit poll data to the election results, reflects the accuracy of those exit polls and not vice versa, as Mikheil Saakashvili and Nika Gvaramia would like it to be!
- Questions to the government:
4.1. Are there any updates on the investigation initiated last year in connection with the Coup d’état? Who has been interrogated so far and what results have been achieved? Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to conduct legal phone call interceptions of Mikheil Saakashvili and his party activists, who constantly fly to Odessa where they get new directives, and label these interceptions as official sources instead of using other, unknown informers?
4.2. Why exactly now has the information on illegal arms stock been made public? If such an amount of illegal arms was discovered – has anyone been questioned yet? What information do we have so far and who organized these secret hiding places?
4.3. Who was the mastermind behind the protest demonstration of the Nationalist Group that marched on Agmashenebeli Avenue? Who drives the ideological and financial mechanisms of this group? Does anyone think that this is the time when Mr. Saakashvili would want to prove to Mr. Erdogan that after he left the country, Turkish nationals and businessmen are being targeted?
4.4. If the UNM leaders refuse to show up now at the State Security Service for an interrogation when are they going to be interrogated, then?
4.5. How long before the interception recordings are declared authentic? If they are proved to be genuine and if we still have ongoing elections what procedures are there to make sure that no one can escape from justice?
4.6. During the last week until the elections, besides the rise of UNM activity society could have questions about parallel, sudden discoveries of secret phone recordings, of illegal arms hides or something else as well in future: how can one dismiss a logical doubt that these discoveries were pre-saved to be revealed at the last minute? And when we see the obvious manipulations of voters opinion from UNM side, how “justified” it would be to have counter-manipulations from the government or law enforcement officials?
- Possible demonstrations of the other parties
The UNM is not the only party possibly willing to put questions about the results of the elections: Both pro-Russian parties’ leaders – Nino Burjanadze and also Shalva Natelashvili (Labor Party) stated that the rating of their parties may be… even 80%! The Patriotic Alliance of Georgia (another party leaning to Russia) has also declared that they are winning the elections (claiming minimum of 30% of the votes). Paata Burchuladze’s party, despite the disorganized processes inside his party, often reminds us that it is the only opposition party oriented on people and having real chance to come to power (despite of polls giving them something 3-10%). Free Democrats and Republicans also do not hide their ambitions. If all of these parties get the minimum number of votes necessary to overcome the electoral threshold, this should already amount to more than 30% of all votes ad minimum. And if we envisage the ambitions of the leaders of these parties, it is not inconceivable that even if entering the parliament, some of them express protest and join the doubts articulated by the UNM. It is possible that many of them conduct their own exit polls and announce that they trust these “accurate exit polls” and not the ones of the Central Election Commission.
Thus, it is very important that no doubts prompted by the announcement of the election results. The Central Election Commission and the authorities must conduct an active, open and transparent communication with the population. Law-enforcement agencies should be mobilized, but very cautious not to help raise doubts on the fairness of the electoral process by offering undue intervention and pressure.
In my opinion, in spite of the possible, diverse range of provocations, October 8 will be a peaceful process, because the majority of Georgian population has gotten some harsh lessons in the past 25 years. Georgian people do not see any real benefit from revolutionary processes and exalted adventurers. In other words, attempts at destabilization will not find a fertile ground.
At the same time, we should not forget that if on October 8 we have destabilization in parts of the country (mainly in Samegrelo or Adjara), this might be used well by Russia, which currently does not have much time for Georgia, but will not refuse to use the chance, if such chance is served to it by Georgian political parties’ ruthlessness towards one another or modelled provocations aiming at creating a pseudo-revolutionary environment.
Mikheil Saakashvili will not heed these warnings, just like he did not take into consideration the warnings given to him from domestic and foreign players in 2008. Everyone must remember (his supporters, as well as government and other actors) that when the organizer of destabilization is in trouble, he will find a way to escape; however, we might have to pay a considerable price for such an adventure– just like the populations of Kodori, Akhalgori and Tamarasheni did in 2008…