TBILISI, DFWatch – Georgians are discussing how to read the first polls done after a popular businessman decided to join politics. The polls differ drastically, which has lead many to distrust the results.

According to one of them, 26.1% of the Georgian population want the newcomer Bidzina Ivanishvili as Prime Minister from 2013. 24.2% of the population would like the current president, Mikheil Saakashvili, to take the post.

Following constitutional amendments implemented last year, the power of the Prime Minister in Georgia is increased, while presidential powers have been reduced. Since the Georgian Constitution sets a two term limit for a president to serve, there is an expectation that Saakashvili may want to remain as a Prime Minister when his second term expires in early 2013.

But according to the survey conducted by Institute of Social Studies and Analysis (ISSA), more people would prefer if someone else became Prime Minister.

ISSA, which is a quite authoritative organization in Georgia, conducted the survey for Georgian Development Research Institute. This organization was set up with the help of a donation from Bidzina Ivansihvili in early November. But representatives of the organization claim that Ivanishvili didn’t finance the survey.

According to ISSA chairman Iago Kachkachishvili, who is a sociology professor at the State University in Tbilisi, the survey was conducted between November 11 and 22 throughout Georgia by face to face interviews, and included special measures to protect respondents’ privacy.

3 000 randomly selected respondents who were old enough to vote were interviewed. Kachkachishvili says the margin of error for the country as a whole is 1.8%, and in regional data the margin is 6-7%.

ISSA Thursday gathered opposition parties, international organizations, foreign diplomats, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and media to present their findings.

„Two political centers are formed in Georgia – the National Movement and the political newcomer, philanthropist Bidzina Ivanishvili’s political force,“ the survey says.

ISSA’s survey came right after the results of another poll were spread, conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI). The results of IRR’s poll were not officially released, but selected parts of it were made available to the media.

The IRI’s Tbilisi office says the survey was conducted by IPM and GALLUP from October 27 to November 11, and four thousands respondents over 18 were questioned.

“We ordered the survey. It was carried out by IPM and GALLUP. The survey includes several topics; including politics, economy, NATO, EU. We will present the survey only to the parties, and it will be published for the media in about two weeks by the head office in Washington” the IRI announced.

However, the IRI’s Tbilisi spokesperson is firm in saying that none of the information has been spread by them and refuses to make any other comments.

The IRI’s survey has been met with significant distrust, as their reported results differ noticeably from what ISSA found. According to media reports about the IRI data, to the question ‘If there would have been parliamentary elections, which party would you vote for?’, results were distributed this way: National Movement – 42%, Bidzina Ivanishvili’s party – 18%, Christian Democrats movement – 8%.

To the same question in the ISSA survey– 36% of respondents answered National Movement, 32% – Bidzina Ivanishvili’s political force, 4.3% – Christian Democrats, 1.6% – Labor Party, 1.5% – The Free Democrats; while the rest of the parties have less than 1%.

Iago Kachkachishvili interprets Ivanishvili’s 32% rating as being due to several factors: a political shift due to dissapointment among voters, the Ivanishvili factor, but also that he has won over supporters both from other opposition parties and shows the first signs of attracting the ruling party’s base.

“Ivanishvili has transferred nearly 3% of the National Movement into his field,” he said, but added that this is obviously enough to be called a trend.

In the regions of Georgia, the results were distributed this way: Bidzina Ivanishvili has a significant lead in the Imereti region, Tbilisi and Mtskheta-Mtianeti, while the National Movement maintains its position in Samtskhe-Javakheti, Samegrelo Zemo Svaneti and Kvemo Kartli. In the rest of the country, the data indicate equal chances for both.

Considering the 6-7% margin of error in the regions, the Christian Democrats are first among the rest of the political parties, which have the very low rating, but it’s significantly lower than the leading positions.

To the question ‘Which party will be able to overcome the 5% margin for the next parliament elections?’ 26% of respondents answered the National Movement, 21.4% – Bidzina Ivanishvili’s party; 14.7% – Christian Democrats; 7.9% – Irakli Alasania’s Free Democrats; 4.4% – the Labor Party. The other parties are below 4%.

About how they feel about Mikheil Saakashvili holding on to power by becoming prime minister when he leaves office in 2013, most respondents — 39% — answered that they are positive to this; 25.8% consider it negative, while nearly 18% have a neutral position about this issue.

But when given alternatives, most chose the main challenger to Saakashvili. To the question ‘Who would you like to be Prime Minister after 2013, while the current president’s second term is coming to an end?’, 26.1% of the respondents answered Bidzina Ivanishvili, 24.2% – Mikheil Saakashvili; 7.8% Irakli Alasania, 6.8% Giorgi Targamadze and 6.4% Gigi Ugulava.

Kachkachishvili points out that the percentage that supports Saakashvili becoming Prime Minister (24.2%) is lower than the support for the Ruling Party as a whole (36%).

When it comes to who should become president, this is where the two polls differ drastically. In ISSA’s poll, 31.8% of respondents want Bidzina Ivanishvili as their next president, while only 12.7% would vote for Gigi Ugulava, the current Mayor of Tbilisi and likely National Movement candidate; 9.3% want Irakli Alasania, 7.1% Giorgi Targamadze, and 2.3% the current parliament speaker Davit Bakradze.

Kachkachishvili draws attention to the fact that 77.7% of those questioned claim that they are certain they will participate in the parliamentary elections scheduled for October 2012, only 6.7% are skeptical towards voting. For 75.7% of the questioned, the only acceptable way of changing government is through elections. Only 6.8% would support a revolution, even in case the government falsifies the election. It’s unacceptable to change the current government for 12.2%.

59.1% of respondents think that the elections planned for 2012 will be conducted fairly; 15.4% are expecting election fraud.

According to the survey, 56.3% of the respondents greet Ivanishvili’s entry into politics. 46.2% think his first political steps have been positive, while 18.5% answer negative and 21.4% are neutral to his performance so far.

39.5% think Ivanishvili was correct in picking the Free Democrats and the Republicans as partners; 30% consider it negative, while for 30% it’s hard to answer this question.

45% of the respondents think that the current government would be able to solve the unsolved problems, while the 45% think otherwise. 57% has the same kind of expectation towards Ivanishvili in terms of solving problems.

The majority of those questioned consider unemployment to be the main problem, followed by ‘the lost territories’, poverty, high prices and the lack of access to health care.

The survey showed that 53% of those questioned do not support increasing the number of members of parliament from 150 to 190; only 13% supports this initiative.

The significant gap in poll results between ISSA and IRI has fed a vivid debate in Tbilisi the last few days. ISSA has asked the IRI to explain their survey, but the IRI has yet to comment.