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World January 29, 2008
The Hand that Counts the Vote
By Kirill Pankratov Browse author
Page 3 of 3

Meanwhile, Saakashvili imposed martial law and shut down Imedi TV (partly owned by Ruport Murdoch), the only real opposition TV station in Georgia. Then Saakashvili made his big move. He rescheduled the presidential vote for January 5, 2008, allowing less than two months for the election campaign (in fact barely one month, considering that martial law was only lifted at the end of November).

During the campaign, Saakashvili held almost total control over Georgia's electronic media. Like in Russia, Georgia's opposition lacked a charismatic figure that who could unite all the dispate forces and wage a serious challenge to Saakashvili's grip on power. His victory was pretty much assured from the start. Yet, even considering his level of control, it was a fairly close call. Saakashvili officially received about 52% of the votes, just enough to avoid a second round, which would have been very humiliating for him.

Just like in Russia, electoral fraud was rife in Georgia's elections. In many cases it seemed that Saakashvili stole his entire plan from Putin's playbook. For example, Saakashvili gained most of his support not in the capital Tbilisi, where too many observers were, but rather in the ethnic regions near the Armenian and Azeri borders with ethnically mixed population, places where his Georgian-nationalism and anti-Russian rhetoric should logically lead to less support than in Georgia's heartland, not more.

Matyas Eorsi, the head of a monitoring group from the Council of Europe, endorsed the election despite obvious signs of massive fraud, noting: "I would like to make a plea to all political actors to respect the legitimacy of the election for the stability of Georgia." It's as if he said, "Let's please close our eyes and pretend it never happened."

Which brings up a post-Cold War corollary to Stalin's saying about elections: nowadays it doesn't matter whether elections are free and fair, it's how we declare them, for whatever expedient political need at the time of the sham elections.

Can someone remind me again what the Cold War was about, and who really won in the end?

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