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Georgians Disillusioned with Rose Revolution


Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has been in office for almost four years following the heady days of the Rose Revolution. But it appears Georgians are disillusioned with his tenure. In this background report from Washington, VOA Senior Correspondent André de Nesnera looks at the state of Georgian politics.

Mikhail Saakashvili was elected president of Georgia by an overwhelming margin in January 2004 following a popular movement known as the Rose Revolution that forced the resignation of the incumbent, Eduard Shevardnadze.

Regional political expert Robert Legvold, from Columbia University, says since coming to power Mr. Saakashvili has been following a two-track domestic policy.

"One is an effort to clean up the mess that existed with the five, six-year deterioration under Shevardnadze, which meant beginning to attack corruption at the administrative and bureaucratic level, beginning with the street police - but then extending into the state bureaucracies and creating a much, not merely cleaner, but more effective government in order to staunch the economic decline during that period of time," Legvold said. "And he has made considerable progress on this score, in part because of the enthusiasm for the West and therefore the economic support he has got there."

Legvold says Mr. Saakashvili's second domestic goal is the restoration of Georgia's territorial integrity, bringing the separatist and autonomous regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia under Tbilisi's full control. Legvold says very little progress has been made in that area and he sees it as a long-term proposition.

On the foreign policy side, Legvold says the Georgian president has followed a very pro-Western tilt, including potential membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO.

"Saakashvili has come in with the reputation and indeed the affected posture of an absolute Westernizer, with no particular interest in retaining close ties with any of the rump portions of the former Soviet Union or with Russia."And instead has made a wholesale commitment to movement toward NATO membership and eventually into the European Union," he said.

Experts say when Mr. Saakashvili came to power in 2004, there was a lot of enthusiasm and hope that things would get better in Georgia.

But Olga Oliker, with the Rand Corporation, says that has changed.

"There is a lot of concern in Georgia that the promise that they felt they had from Saakashvili when he came to power, which was of freedom and democracy and free press, is not what they are actually seeing, that they are seeing a pro-Western foreign policy, but they are seeing domestic policies that seem to constrain freedoms rather than entrench them," Oliker said.

Experts say this dissatisfaction became apparent last month following the arrest of former defense minister Irakly Okruashvili, after he accused Mr. Saakashvili of plotting the murder of a prominent businessman. The Georgian president denied those accusations and Okruashvili subsequently withdrew the charges. He was released after posting a $6 million bail and said he was withdrawing from politics.

Analyst Cory Welt, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says the key fact is that between 10,000 and 15,000 people demonstrated last month in front of Georgia's parliament during the political altercation between the Georgian president and his former defense minister and ally.

"The most important thing that has come out of it, so far, is that the opposition did demonstrate that it was able to bring a substantial number of people to the streets, making it clear that there is a lot more dissatisfaction with the ruling party than they might like to admit," Welt said.

Experts say it will be interesting to see whether the opposition gains momentum during the run-up to Georgia's presidential election, scheduled to take place late next year.