WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili declared a state of emergency in his country's capital Wednesday after anti-government demonstrators clashed with riot police in Tbilisi on the sixth day of protests calling for his resignation. Upon coming to power shortly after the "Rose Revolution" of 2003, Saakashvili earned praise from the West for his efforts to unite the country, reform the economy, and combat corruption. More recently, however, doubts have surfaced about Saakashvili's commitment to government accountability and transparency.
This week's demonstrations and the government's response have raised the question of political repression in the current system, which has been dominated by Saakashvili's party since the 2003 revolution. A Gallup Poll conducted in April and May of this year found that the vast majority of Georgians, 85%, think having active political opposition is "very important" (54%) or "important" (31%) to the country. There are significant differences by education level, with the more educated more likely to say active opposition is very important.
Among that majority is Gia Maisashvili, an economist and former Saakashvili ally who declared earlier this year that he would run in Georgia's 2008 presidential election. "There is no healthy political process in Georgia," Maisashvili says. "We need to have loyal opposition that is not looking to take the government down through various tricks, but which has ideas for future development of the country and is willing to help the government. I blame Saakashvili's government for not creating space for a loyal opposition."
Views of Democracy
According to the Gallup Poll, more than three in four Georgians -- 78% -- think democracy is important for the development of the country, while just 9% disagree. Those with higher levels of education are particularly likely to feel democracy is important.
However, few Georgians -- just 14% -- who think democracy is important also say they are satisfied with the way democracy works in the country, versus 37% who say they are very or somewhat dissatisfied. Almost half (47%) respond indifferently to the question, possibly reflecting a lack of experience with democratic processes.
Maisashvili notes that Georgia's political system must be made more accountable before democracy can truly take root. "Democracy is a natural byproduct of an established (and just) rule of law and good governance," he says. "The problem is that when these two factors are lacking or corrupt, the byproduct leaves much to be desired. If you want to promote democracy, you need to promote the processes that are its foundation."
Results are based on face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of 1,000 Georgians, aged 15 and older, conducted April-May, 2007. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of error attributable to sampling, weighting, and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.