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The Saakashvili Era

Georgia's Government is headed by President Mikheil Saakashvili, who was elected on January 4, 2004 in an election that brought Georgia closer to meeting international standards. Parliamentary elections held on November 2, 2003 were marred by massive fraud and manipulation of results by government-controlled election commissions. Peaceful popular protests of the fraud led to the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze and the annulment of the proportional results.

Previous elections in Georgia had been marred by serious irregularities that limited citizens' right to change their government. As a result, the US human rights and democracy strategy consisted of providing assistance designed to increase participation and transparency in the election process; combating police abuses, discrimination and harassment directed against religious minorities, corruption and trafficking in persons, supporting civil society, fostering judicial reform, and promoting independent media.

Following President Shevardnadze's resignation, the United States provided assistance for the January 2004 presidential election, including additional training for new election commission members, a get-out-the-vote campaign, exit polling and voter marking. The Embassy's direct intervention helped secure the participation in the election of the Autonomous Republic of Ajara, a region of Georgia that had threatened to boycott. Following the presidential election, the United States immediately turned to preparing a diplomatic and assistance strategy for the repeat parliamentary elections scheduled for 28 March 2004.

As a result of the Rose Revolution, National Movement and the Burjanadze-Democrats emerged as the leading parties in Georgia. The two parties later united as the National Democrats. The Parliament is dominated by the National Democrats and no official minority currently exists in parliament. The New Rights party and the Industrialists have united and formed a bloc called the Rightist Opposition with Davit Gamkrelidze as the leader. Koba Davitashvili and Zviad Dzidziguri led a party named Union of National Forces - Conservatives. David Berdzenishvili led the Republicans.

International observers deemed the March 2004 parliamentary elections the most democratic since independence, with voter registration procedures further improved, including the addition of a consolidated computerized database; however, there continued to be a lack of political balance and independence in election commissions. During the election, international observers noticed a number of irregularities, including campaign material on display in several polling stations, implausible voter turnout (over 100 percent) in certain regions, and an unusually high percentage of invalid votes. Significant voting irregularities again took place in Kvemo Kartli, including ballot stuffing and proxy voting.

Ajara remained the largest problem in the parliamentary elections. Then Ajara President Abashidze initially threatened to prevent the region from participating in Georgia's national parliamentary elections, voter registration information was inaccurate, and officials refused to cooperated with officials of the CEC. NGOs reported that violence against the opposition was higher than in previous elections. Opposition gatherings were violently suppressed or attacked, opposition offices were ransacked, and no television time was given to opposition parties. On 05 March 2004, unidentified men in masks beat reporter Vakhtang Komakhidze at a border checkpoint and confiscated his tapes, camera, and notes. Komakhidze was later hospitalized for several weeks. Such abuse reportedly prompted large-scale demonstrations, which were linked to Abashidze's ouster in May 2004.

The Government's human rights record remained poor although there were some improvements in a few areas. Numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) blamed the Government for several deaths in custody due to physical abuse, torture or inhumane and life-threatening prison conditions. NGOs reported that police brutality continued.

Security forces continued to torture, beat and otherwise abuse detainees. Corruption in law enforcement agencies remained pervasive. Arbitrary arrest and detention remained problems as did lack of accountability. Reforms to create a more independent judiciary and ensure due process were undermined by failure to pay judges in a timely manner. Lengthy delays in trials and prolonged pretrial detention remained problems.

The press generally was free; however, occasionally security forces and other authorities intimidated and used violence against journalists. Security forces refrained from violently dispersing demonstrations in November 2004. Government officials infringed upon freedom of religion and continued to tolerate discrimination, harassment and violence against some religious minorities. Trafficking in persons remained a problem.

An early presidential election was scheduled after President Saakashvili resigned in November 2007, following the government’s violent dispersal of protestors in front of Parliament. Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze assumed the presidency on an interim basis until January elections. On January 5, 2008, Saakashvili was elected to a second 5-year term with 53.45% of the vote. Levan Gachechiladze, the unified candidate of nine opposition parties, earned 25.68%. Voters also overwhelmingly voted in two plebiscites in favor of NATO integration and spring parliamentary elections. In the May 21, 2008 parliamentary elections, President Saakashvili’s United National Movement won an overwhelming majority with 119 out of 150 seats. International observers agreed that the government made efforts to conduct the elections in line with international standards but that the elections were uneven and incomplete in their adherence to those standards. Half of the opposition boycotted the new Parliament, citing voter intimidation, lack of balance by most media, and a lack of fair adjudication of complaints, problems also noted by the OSCE. As a result, by-elections were held in Tbilisi and Adjara on November 3, 2008. In the fall of 2009, Parliament passed legislation allowing those individuals who had refused to take their seats following the May 2008 elections to assume office if they so chose. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2012 and a presidential election is scheduled for 2013. Under Georgia’s constitution, President Saakashvili is prevented from running for a third term in 2013.

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