Georgia - Leadership

Shevardnadze's third career change might be viewed as a resumption of his first role as leader of Georgia. Because of his past as a Communist Party leader and KGB chief in Georgia, his initial opposition to Georgian independence and his inability to stop the Tbilisi massacre of 1989, Shevardnadze was an anathema to many Georgians, especially those supporting Gamsakhurdia. The increasingly desperate situation in his country, he said, led him to accept the leadership of the State Council in March 1992 to rule until legislative elections could be held. This executive and legislative body was dissolved in October 1992 after the elections. Despite boycotts from nine electoral districts in Abkhazia, Mingrelia, and South Ossetia, and reported voter irregularities, a new unicameral legislature of 235 members was elected on 11 October 1992 in voting generally judged by international observers as "free and fair." The elections heralded the creation of a political system where the legislative chairman served as the highest official, and the presidency was abolished. The election law provided for the popular election of the chairman, who could not be a member of a political party. Shevardnadze, who ran uncontested, was elected speaker of the legislature, gaining 95% of the popular vote. After convening on 4 November, the new legislature granted Chairman Shevardnadze wide-ranging powers as head of state pending completion of a new constitution.

In November 1995, Shevardnadze was elected to the new post of president (recreated by the 1995 Constitution), winning 74.3% of the vote in a six-man race. The voting was described by international observers as generally "free and fair," though violations were reported in Ajaria. He has been threatened by coup attempts and other civil disorder, but appeared successful in consolidating his power during 1995– 96 by forcing most of his political opponents out of power.

Seven candidates were registered to run in Georgia's 9 April 2000 presidential election. The major challengers to Shevardnadze were Jumbar Patiashvili, former first secretary of the Georgian Communist Party (who ran in the 1995 presidential race), and Aslan Abashidze, Chairman of the Ajarian Supreme Council. Both challengers were leaders of the Revival Bloc that contested the 1999 legislative races. Abashidze did not actively campaign and withdrew from the race one day before the vote, alleging an unfair contest. Other speculation was that he withdrew in return for concessions from Shevardnadze on local power and finances. Voting did not take place in Abkhazia or South Ossetia. The Georgian Central Electoral Commission reported that Shevardnadze received 80% of 1.87 million votes, and Patiashvili received 17% (less than he received in 1995).

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