30 October 2020

Friday, 20:58



Will Mikhail Saakashvili return to power in Georgia?



Georgia is getting ready for parliamentary elections scheduled for October 31. Since the main power holder in the country is the prime minister, not the president, political parties consider the upcoming vote crucial for their future. When Grigol Vashadze, the leader of the United National Movement (UNM) party, which is part of the opposition union Strength in Unity, named the former president of Georgia – in fact, a foreign citizen Mikhail Saakashvili as a nominee for premiership, it was a real surprise. Saakashvili himself welcomed the decision and isaid that he was ready to take the post. He believes in the victory of his supporters. But what are his real chances for revenge?


Revolution or "good food in prison"?

The first reaction of Georgian authorities, for whom Saakashvili is a dangerous political rival, to the decision of United National Movement party to nominate Saakashvili as prime minister came from Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, who promised to detain Saakashvili upon his arrival to Georgia: “Today Georgian prisons comply with the highest international standards. He will have the best food there. Since the use of frozen meat was banned in November, we feed the inmates with fresh meat and seasonal fruits. Prisons also serve several types of menus.” Then she expressed confidence that Saakashvili - whether he is free or in prison - will not be able to cause unrest in Georgia, as the current political power in the state is strong enough. Georgianauthorities accuse Saakashvili of abuse of power in two criminal cases, and he is under arrest in absentia. The ex-president does not have Georgian citizenship either after he became a national of Ukraine in 2015. That’s why Saakashviliis deprived of his Georgian citizenship.

But what's behind the scenes? Does the ruling Georgian Dream party really have grounds for the confidence that Tea Tsulukiani expresses today? Or will Saakashvili's revenge be the main sensation of the upcoming elections?


In search of a third force

Georgian Dream is supported by 33% of respondents, while the share of UNM reaches 16% only. Saakashvili actually has twice as few supporters as the "dreamers".

But 33% are not yet an absolute majority, and the election campaign is just beginning. Of course, Saakashvili's chances to enter Georgia before victory are rather problematic, but no one prevents him from recording video messages, distributing online interviews, holding press conferences in the same format, and from claiming the unofficial status of the "single leader of the opposition."

However, not everyone is ready to live “under Saakashvili” even in the camp of opponents of the Georgian Dream. There are plenty of oppositionists who want to become a third force, arguing that it is time for Georgia to move away from the eternal confrontation between Saakashvili and Ivanishvili. They believe it is time to take a step forward and look for new leaders. But the problem is the opposition does not have bright and charismatic leaders anyway. As a result, Thomas de Waal, a renowned expert on the South Caucasus and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment, said: “I am afraid everyone, including myself, who hoped that the 2020 elections in Georgia would not be a repeat of personal clash between Misha and Bidzina in 2012 and 2016 will be disappointed."


"Great reformer" against...

In modern world, especially in politics, it is difficult to ask the question Who is Mr. Saakashvili? He is a bright and well-known figure, the leader and winner of the Rose Revolution, the pro-Western author of Georgian reforms. Today, for many outside Georgia, he remains a kind of "political icon", a brilliant reformer, and an exemplary democrat. Most importantly, he is considered a phenomenally successful fighter against corruption, thanks to which Georgia has become very close to be a truly ‘European state’. Behind him is a winning image and serious external authority. In Azerbaijan and in the Azerbaijani-populated regions of Georgia, the population remembers how successful the relations between the two nations advanced during his rule. It was under the Saakashvili government that the Novruz holiday began to be celebrated at state level.

Baku does not interfere in internal affairs of other countries and does not seek ‘favorites for itself in Georgia prudently refraining from turning interstate relations into a hostage of internal political processes.

Back in 2013, Mikhail Saakashvili after two terms as president of Georgia could not be elected for the third time under the constitution. But he decided to extend his tenure in power. Therefore, he tried to turn Georgia into a parliamentary republic, transferring basic powers to the prime minister, and then moving from presidency to the post of the speaker of the parliament. Constitutional reform was successful but Saakashvili lost the crucial parliamentary elections to the Georgian Dream bloc headed by the Russian oligarch of Georgian origin Bidzina Ivanishvili. In 2016, Saakashvili tried to take revenge but failed.

Experts think it is difficult to foresee the future events in the country. On the one hand, the success of Saakashvili's reforms is obvious. But although they promoted democracy and suppressed corruption, they could not increase the material well-being of Georgian citizens significantly. This is also the reality of Georgian reforms. Plus Saakashvili’s fight against corruption added to the number of his enemies. Finally, the "Russian factor" has played and will continue to play an important role in the Georgian elections.


"Dreams" and reality

Currently, there are no diplomatic relations between Moscow and Tbilisi. Georgia accuses Russia of aggression in August 2008 and occupation of 20% of Georgian territory. Moreover, this war took place during the reign of Mikhail Saakashvili.

Therefore, a convincing victory of pro-Russian forces in Georgia is hardly possible even theoretically. Yet there is the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, who protest Georgia’s intention to join NATO and regularly arrange anti-Azerbaijani and anti-Turkish provocations.

Meanwhile, in 2012, Georgian Dream won elections largely thanks to promises to normalize relations with Russia and maintain a pro-Western and pro-European course in politics. Moreover, the party managed to resume tourism and even air traffic with the Russian Federation, thereby creating a solid economic support for itself. Today in Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Poti, Zugdidi, there are many who seriously fear a new exacerbation of the situation with Russia if Saakashvili comes to power. Moreover, after the 2008 war, the West may be reluctant to defend Georgia in the event of a hot scenario. Mikhail Saakashvili declared that his "mission is not confrontation with Russia but the appropriate solution of internal problems.” He promises to solve them in the long term, including the problem associated with occupied Georgian territories. “Misha is no longer the one he was," Saakashvili said. Apparently, such a ‘reboot’ is hardly accidental.

However, the reboot is also what the “dreamers” think is necessary. Despite loud promises, they failed to restorethe territorial integrity of Georgia. As if it was not enough,the recent incident when the Russian MP Gavrilov took the seat of the speaker of the Georgian parliament during the meeting of the Orthodox Inter-parliamentary Assembly held in Tbilisi hardly adds to the rating of the Georgian Dream.

In addition, Georgian Dream also rapidly fails in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Tbilisirecently announced the upcoming second wave of the pandemic. All these facts make the electoral situation even more unpredictable.