Can voters be trusted with democracy? Not in Russia: Vladimir Putin barred plausible alternative candidates from standing and rigged votes to ensure his victory in the recent presidential election. If Mr Putin thought more highly of voters in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia, he miscalculated. In November they voted for Alla Dzhioyeva over Anatoly Bibilov, the Russia-backed candidate. But the Supreme Court in Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, annulled Ms Dzhioyeva’s victory, citing unconvincing allegations of fraud. The electorate has been given a second chance to get it right this Sunday, and the authorities have ensured Ms Dzhioyeva is no longer on the ballot. Voters in Georgia’s other breakaway region, Abkhazia, were given more leeway in last summer’s presidential vote when they chose Alexander Ankvab over Sergei Shamba, Russia’s preferred candidate. Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, even congratulated Mr Ankvab by telephone. Parliamentary elections in the region, on March 10th, were similar.
Why the difference between the regions? South Ossetia wants to accede to the Russian Federation, but many Abkhazians genuinely believe they have a future as an independent state. Russia is wise not to act in too heavy-handed a fashion there. How much do all these elections matter? The United States, the European Union and NATO all see both regions as part of Georgia, and so dismiss the elections as illegitimate. But some think this policy is counterproductive. Although refusing to recognise Abkhazia’s independence is right, says Lincoln Mitchell, a Georgia-watcher at Columbia University, isolating the Abkhazians drives them further into Russia’s hands. Abkhazia and South Ossetia rely on Russia for money, security and recognition; western policy gives them nowhere else to turn.
Georgia itself will hold parliamentary elections later this year, and presidential elections early next year. Russia has views on the correct outcome there, too. Earlier this month Mr Putin said that “much will depend” on the elections for the relationship between the two countries to improve. That is code for getting rid of Mikhail Saakashvili, the Georgian president who rode to power in the 2003 Rose revolution, and whom Mr Putin detests. But Mr Saakashvili is a shrewd operator. Calling the parliamentary elections a “decisive battle” between Russia and Georgia, he claimed on March 12th that “democracy is always won by the people”. One of his main challengers, Bidzina Ivanishvili, a billionaire-turned-politician, is a Russian stooge, he implies.
Full Article: georgiandaily.com – Elections in Georgia—Degrees of control.