Author: Natig NAZIMOGHLU
The Georgian Dream party won the parliamentary elections in Georgia for the third time in a row. This means Tbilisi is going to continue its internal and foreign policies unless serious perturbations transcribe in the country as a result of confrontation between the political parties after the elections. After all, the opposition protests the results of the vote and accuses the authorities of falsifying the elections. It also threatens the authorities with taking the people to the streets.
Ivanishvili vs Saakashvili... again
Parliamentary elections in Georgia took place in accordance with the new legislation, which allowed the voters to elect 120 members of the parliament by party lists and 30 – via the majority system (150 deputies in total). The threshold was lowered to 1% in order to provide a better chance of success for small parties and increase competition between different political forces.
48 parties and two political blocs took part in the elections, which is re-elected every four years. But the main competition was between the ruling party Georgian Dream led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, and the Power in Unity bloc led by its de facto leader, former President of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili living in Ukraine.
According to the Central Election Commission, the Dreamers won the lection with 48.15% of the votes. Power in Unity, including five parties: United National Movement, State for the People, Progress and Freedom, Republican Party and European Democrats, won 27.14% of the votes. In addition, seven more political parties crossed the 1% barrier, while none of them reached 4%.
So, Georgian Dream received a sufficient number of parliamentary seats to maintain a single majority in the highest legislative body and to form a government. At the same time, the decline in the rating of the Dreamers, who have been in power for eight years, is also obvious. Local experts explain their success not due to the popular support of their policies, but by the refusal of a certain part of society to bring Saakashvili's team back to power. The latter aspect, however, does not affect the active performance of ex-president's supporters, who accuse the authorities of falsifying the results of the vote and demand re-elections.
Immediately after the publication of the official preliminary election results, the leading opposition force organized protests with tens of thousands of people. It is likely that the protest movement will gain pace in Georgia and threaten the full-fledged activity of the new parliament due to the boycott by opposition.
Protests gaining pace?
In fact, all eight opposition parties that made it to the parliament refused their mandates in protest. In other words, there is a risk of boycotting the parliament. It will depend on the effectiveness of mass protests organized by the opposition.
The opposition demands not only repeated elections, but also the establishment of a government of national unity with the participation of various political forces. At the same time, the personality of Saakashvili himself, the de facto leader of the United National Movement (UNM), which is the backbone of the protest movement, remains a potential irritant within the opposition. Some of the opposition parties do not want him to return to big Georgian politics. That’s why the ex-president refused to nominate himself for the post of prime minister initiated by his supporters should the opposition won the election. Yet Saakashvili actively encourages his supporters to participate in actions, despite the spread of the coronavirus. By the way, warnings from the Ministry of Health that mass actions may further complicate the difficult epidemiological situation in the country have almost no effect on the scale of protests.
Large opposition rallies took place in Tbilisi and Batumi. In Tbilisi, police dispersed a protest action near the parliament and Central Election Commission with the help of water cannons and tear gas. Thus, November 2020 will go in history as a landmark month for Georgian politics.
In November 2003, Mikhail Saakashvili came to power as a result of the Rose Revolution. Four years later, in November 2007, he had to confront the first powerful actions of his opponents. In fact, the events of 2007 marked the beginning of the end of the reign of the National Movement. What will be the outcome of this November: the return of Saakashvili to power or, on the contrary, the strengthening of the Georgian Dream, which demonstrates the determination to defend its rule?
The answer to this question depends not only on the strength of the authorities and the protest potential of the opposition. Much will be determined by the position of interested external forces, primarily the West, and its assessment of the results of the Georgian elections.
Democratic, but not perfect
As always, the leading Western institutions, including the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE and PACE, observe the electoral process in Georgia. This time their presence was limited due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, it did not prevent them from declaring the outcome of elections free, legal and democratic, but not perfect. Remarkably, the joint statement of the US Embassy and the EU delegation in Georgia took into account the opposition's denial of the official election results and “offered assistance in recognizing the legitimacy of the parliamentary elections in Georgia”, since they believe that “a credible and inclusive legal process is needed to correct legitimate electoral violations so that the public can recognize the election results legitimate”. It is expected that the opposition-minded citizens of Georgia hold peaceful protests, while the authorities "help create such an environment."
It is obvious that the West is trying to defend the foundations of political stability in Georgia, which otherwise can cause serious problems for the country in the future. That’s how they see the meaning of their mediation efforts between the Georgian authorities and the opposition, especially since the West sees the future of Georgia exclusively in line with Tbilisi's strategy.
Indeed, almost all political forces in Georgia see no alternative to the course of Georgia's entry into NATO and the European Union. Of all the political parties and blocs that have made their way to the new parliament, only the Alliance of Patriots (3.14%) is in favor of rapprochement with Russia. By the way, although the Alliance of Patriots refused, along with other opposition parties, their mandates, it still does not take part in joint protest actions. Another pro-Russian political force - the Democratic Movement - United Georgia – led by the former speaker of the parliament Nino Burjanadze generally remained outside the legislative body. Therefore, both the US and the EU support the settlement of the internal political tension in Georgia not by supporting certain pro-Western force but through ensuring a political process that is painless for Tbilisi's Euro-Atlantic strategy, by preventing a head-on collision between ‘like-minded’ forces, whose ideas about the future of Georgia do not have fundamental difference. In other words, for the US and the EU, the choice between Saakashvili, as a resolute supporter of the anti-Russian trend, and Ivanishvili, who prefers milder forms of confrontation with Moscow, is not of a fundamental nature. Hence we can see the rather compromise assessments of the Georgian elections by Euro-Atlantic centers.
Nothing but partnership
Azerbaijan closely observed the pace of elections in Georgia. The course of political events and debates in Georgia reveals both the importance of Azerbaijan in the context of the vital interests of this country, as well as endless manipulations aiming at damaging the strategic partnership between Baku and Tbilisi.
Thus, certain forces in Georgia during the pre-election campaign began to exaggerate the topic of the historical, political and legal affiliation of the Keshikchidag (David Gareji) monastery complex. Remarkably, the verbal conflict involves both the authorities and a number of opposition forces of Georgia, in particular the Labor Party led by the notorious populist Shalva Natelashvili. His party could not enter the parliament due to receiving only 1% of the votes. Recently, Georgian authorities began a series of cartographic investigations due to the alleged involvement of a group of persons in "violating the territorial inviolability of Georgia" during the delimitation of the Georgian-Azerbaijani border.
However, it is obvious that all these conversations are more of an internal political nature, although they reveal the attitude of a part of Georgian society to the problem. A protest action organized by the ultra-nationalist organization Georgian March near the monastery also shows that David Gareji has become a subject of internal insinuations during the pre-election campaign. The participants of protests made not only territorial claims against Azerbaijan, but also demanded that Saakashvili's party be removed from the upcoming elections accusing the ex-president of selling David Gareji to Baku.
Meanwhile, Baku gave a number of signals confirming its attitude towards Tbilisi as a reliable strategic partner. In a number of interviews with foreign media outlets and TV channels, President Ilham Aliyev revealed Baku's position on the Karabakh problem and Azerbaijan’s relations with other states, praised the mutual support between our country and Georgia. Pointing to the close cooperation between Azerbaijan and Georgia in the economic, transport and communication spheres, he noted the enduring importance of bilateral friendship. “It does not matter that Georgia is a Christian country and Azerbaijan is a Muslim one,” said President Aliyev.
Remarkably, after the elections, Ilham Aliyev made a telephone call to the Prime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Gakharia to congratulate him of the victory of the ruling Georgian Dream party. At the same time, the parties noted the friendly and strategic nature of relations between Azerbaijan and Georgia.
So, the dialogue between Baku and Tbilisi as close strategic partners will continue to develop in a positive way, despite the artificial and seemingly controversial issues that periodically arise under the Georgian Dream government.