The political surveys conducted in Georgia by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) seems to be areas where the government never loses. Within the segment of the population that is critical to the Saakashvili regime, this has raised several questions and concerns.
On March 27, NDI issued a survey that revealed the ratings of Georgia’s political parties. According to the survey, The National Movement with 47% is the leader in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Approximately a month later, IRI released its latest survey. The survey again emphasized the leadership of the ruling party (45%) and its leader Mikhail Saakashvili (77%).
While the government commended the professionalism of the NDI and IRI surveys, the opposition parties (excluding the Christian-Democratic Movement), refused to recognize the survey results. Their basis for not trusting these two American organizations is based on the fact that since Mikhail Saakashvili and The National Movement came to power in 2004, the ruling party has been the number one political force in Georgia, despite the frequent occurrence of human rights violations that include cases of torture in detention facilities, and the forceful dispersal of various opposition demonstrations.
Critics argue that no matter how strong the criticism was among the public to the government’s handling of challengeable situations, the authorities were unchallengeable in the surveys. This, they say, makes the NDI and IRI surveys predictable and disappointing.
On March 21, in his private TV show entitled Without Accreditation, the show’s host, journalist Shalva Ramishvili, openly slammed NDI’s survey results on Maestro TV.
A few days later, Georgia’s main oppositional union the Georgian Dream, published a statement emphasizing that: “It is becoming more and more apparent that one of the projects that the organization has been carrying out for years- in particular the sociological study on political parties- is not only unable to serve its goal, but has become counterproductive in establishing a competitive political environment that enables citizens to make informed political choices.”
“On the one hand,” the statement continues, “the methodology and the format of holding and issuing the polls and, on the other hand, manipulation of the results by the nation-wide TV stations have led to the loss of trust towards the organization within a significant segment of [Georgian civil] society. NDI’s latest studies have made these problems even more vivid and commenting on them or analyzing them has no sense”.
A week later, the Georgian Dream sent an open letter to the US Ambassador to Georgia John Bass, noting that conducting surveys according to the current methods “will not facilitate the formation of the free will of the citizens and open the way for well-informed choice… it will [however] reinforce the government`s propagandist machine and provide them a chance to use the aforementioned brands for various manipulation.”
For this purpose, the Georgian Dream called on the embassy to suspend the surveys by NDI and IRI prior to the parliamentary elections.
Spokesperson of the Georgian Dream, Maia Panjikidze, explained their position by pointing out that, while NDI and IRI are very important and authoritative organizations, they still hire Georgian companies for conducting the surveys.
“This is why we do not trust the surveys,” she said. “It is unbelievable that people support the government and are happy in a country where two million people are engaged or want to be engaged in the poverty program” (receive a monthly allowance from the state budget).
Independent political analyst SosoTsiskarishvili evaluated the IRI survey by saying that it is an expression of the “American idea, financed by Swedish money and implemented in the Caucasian-Georgian manner.”
The criticism unleashed by the Georgian Dream and some other commentators is a brave political step considering the crucial role of the US in assisting Georgia domestically and internationally.