Friday, November 9, 2007

Media blackout, early elections

Continuation of previous post...

One noticeable difference in life in Georgia now is the lack of media. On the evening of November 7, the day of the violent crackdown, riot police entered the building of Imedi TV (one of the main TV stations) and pulled the plug. The same thing happened to the smaller Kavkasia TV. As it happens to turn out, both Imedi and Kavkasia sympathized with the opposition; meanwhile, pro-Government Rustavi and Mze and Government-owned Georgia Public Broadcasting continued to broadcast. Later that evening, Saakashvili placed Georgia under a State of Emergency, declaring that the only GPB would be allowed to broadcast news during the maximum 15-day State of Emergency.

And true to his word, the next day (yesterday) there was no news to be found except on GPB. In my apartment, we have cable which includes CNN and BBC, but even these two channels were removed and replaced instead with an Italian channel and Eurosport respectively. Strangely, neither Imedi nor Kavkasia have returned to the air yet; Rustavi and Mze have remained operational, but they are only broadcasting South American soap operas and reruns of Friends. To add to the information black hole, I was without internet for all of yesterday (just an isolated incident as I found out).

Last night, tensions eased when the President '"yielded"' to the oppositions demands for an early Presidential election. There has been talk that the State of Emergency might be lifted before the end of the maximum 15 days; already, CNN and BBC have returned to cable. I say "yielded" because it's easy to see that Saakashvili is using the early elections to his advantage. First of all, the elections are to be held on January 5th, a date earlier than even the opposition was hoping for, which is less than 2 months away. It's hard to imagine that the currently fragmented opposition can come together and unanimously support one opposition presidential candidate in such a short amount of time. The campaign time is even shorter once you take into account that effectively no campaigning is allowed during the State of Emergency. One can't help but feel that the January 5th election is a strategic move, especially when you realize that Georgia's constitution requires the President to resign 45 days before the election day--which just so happens to be November 22nd, the last day of the 15 day State of Emergency.

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