- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 January 9 , 2004 

New Leadership to the North: Armenians react to Georgia's change of power

The leader of the Rose Revolution is now leader of Georgia.

The November velvet revolution in Georgia was crowned January 4, when Mikhail Sahakashvili gained a landslide victory, collecting 96 percent of votes to become president of Armenia's neighbor to the north.

In his first televised interview, the 36 year old Sahakashvili promised development and prosperity for the republic and to recover the country's loses suffered at the hands of former president Edward Shevardnadze and his family.

Armenia welcomed the elections in Georgia with a congratulation message from President Robert Kocharyan.

"I am confident that the traditional friendly relations between our people and our countries will continue to strengthen and develop in the spirit of mutual confidence and cooperation."

While Sahakashvili takes an oath and receives congratulations messages, Armenian and international analysts give their comments to the elections in Georgia and evaluate Sahakashvili as a political figure.

The leader of Armenia's National Security party Garnik Isagulyan describes Sahakashvili as a "quite emotional and radical politician."

"It is early now to give any concrete reference," Isagulyan says. "Sahakashvili inherited a country with a poor economy and complicated foreign and internal policy, including ethnic problems of national minorities within the countries."

Sahakashvili studied in Ukraine, France and in the United States, at Columbia University law school, and was later hired by a law firm in New York.

In 2000 Sahakashvili was appointed Minister of Justice of Georgia and resigned the post in a year. He left the pro-presidential party Citizens' Union of Georgia and formed United National Movement which won in November's parliamentary elections.

Sahakashvili led the so-called "Rose Revolution" that toppled Shevardnadze, when Sahakashvili and his followers burst into Georgian Parliament during a speech by Shevardnadze.

Stepan Safaryan, analyst at the Armenian Center for National and International Studies, believes that by this event Georgia caused a breakdown in the whole Caucasus region by demonstrating the victory of democracy through dethronement.

"The pre election situation in all three countries (including Armenia an Azerbaijan) was similar; there was a pro-governmental candidate and strong opposition. However only Georgia succeeded to win over the authoritarian regime," Safaryan says.

"There are several factors why it happened in Georgia. The opposition there was not better disciplined than in Armenia but the fact that Sahakashvili's candidature was strongly supported by the West is very important."

Alexander Iskandaryan, head of the research unit of the Caucasus Media Institute said that the victory of Sahakashvili was much conditioned by the euphoria of Georgians who voted not for Sahakashvili but rather against the former regime.

"In Armenia it was a similar situation when Armenians voted for Levon Ter-Petrosyan in 1991, thus demonstrating their readiness to get rid of the former regime. And Sahakashvili made his pre-election platform on anti-Shevardnadze rhetoric. I think that 96 percent of votes that Sahakashvili won is not an indication of democratic elections. In fact people just had no alternative. I believe in no one developed country 96 percent of voters vote for a candidate whom they do not know well".

In Iskandaryan's opinion the 96 percent which made Sahakashvili president was also due to Georgia's Electoral Code which was elaborated by the US for Secretary of State James Baker.

According to the Electoral Code the members of the Election Committee are formed by the president and opposition and in Georgia's elections that was the same power.

Meanwhile, as he mentioned Sahakashvili's lack of experience, ex-president Shevardnadze says he is ready to assist Georgia's new president with profitable advice. He said he voted for Sahakashvili, whom he evaluated as skillful and with initiative.


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Amber Square?

All dressed up for the holidays, Republic Square has never looked so rosey (well not since it was "Lenin Square" anyway). In addition to its giant holiday tree, this year all government buildings were lit, casting a soft glow in the moist Yerevan nights.





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