All you need to know about the critical upcoming parliamentary elections in Georgia
Georgia is a parliamentary republic – whoever wins this election will rule the country for the next four years.
This JAMnews review focuses on key aspects of the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Why are these elections so important?
The October 31 elections are unique for a number of reasons – if the Georgian Dream party, which has ruled the country for the past eight years, wins convincingly on October 31, it will become the first ruling party in Georgian history to be elected for a third term.
On the other hand, there is a high probability that no political force will be able to gain enough votes to form a government on its own and, therefore, the formation of a coalition government will be on the agenda.
Never before has there been a government in Georgia composed of representatives of various parties.
This will also be the first election under the new rules:
According to the latest constitutional amendment, in the 2020 parliamentary elections, voters will elect 120 MPs proportionally, according to party lists, and 30 MPs according to the majoritarian system (in single-mandate constituencies).
(Previously, 77 out of 150 parliament members were elected by party lists, and 73 deputies – by the majoritarian system. That is, there were 73 majoritarian constituencies in Georgia. Now these constituencies have been united and there are only 30 of them left).
Another important change is that a party that does not receive at least 40 percent of the vote will no longer have the right to form a one-party government.
In addition, the electoral barrier has been lowered – earlier it was 5%, but in 2020 it has been lowered to 1% – that is, a party that receives only one percent of the votes has a chance to make it into parliament.
Changes in the electoral system have long been demanded by civic activists and the opposition, who have carried out massive street protests throughout the past year.
The opposition demanded the complete abolition of the majoritarian system and the holding of elections only according to proportional party lists, since, according to many independent observers, the majoritarian system gives a significant advantage to the ruling party.
Impact of the coronavirus pandemic
A feature of these elections is that the active phase of the election campaign coincided with a serious coronavirus epidemic in the country.
Since mid-September, infections have approach 200 infections daily, within a week Georgia moved from the safe “green zone” to the “red” list of dangerous countries.
Various restrictions were introduced – studies were postponed until October 1, entertainment and other gatherings, except for pre-election campaigns, were prohibited.
The authorities say that, despite the difficult epidemiological situation, a strict quarantine or a state of emergency is not planned, and the elections will not be postponed.
It is quite difficult to make forecasts one and a half months before the elections. Experts say a lot will depend on the virus, or rather on the government’s ability to manage the pandemic.
Ruling party rating – when a pandemic helps
In February, the Georgian Dream party met the announcement of the start of a pandemic with the lowest rating during its tenure in power – 20 percent.
In addition to economic and social problems, the reason for the drop in the rating of the authorities at the beginning of the year was the demonstrations and speeches of the opposition, which demanded a change in the electoral system.
The opposition activity, which clearly caused an inconvenience to the authorities, completely stopped in March due to the coronavirus, and for several months the opposition was practically not heard.
As a result, today, six months after the start of the pandemic, according to Edison Research, Georgian Dream enjoys the support of 38 percent of the population.
The reason for the rise in the rating of the Georgian Dream was the coronavirus – more precisely, the tough and effective measures taken by the government to stop the spread of the virus – a state of emergency, a general quarantine, closed borders.
However, all of this could change.
“The coronavirus has been an ally of the authorities until today. The government has demonstrated some skills in dealing with the pandemic, and we cannot ignore it, but [now that the number of cases is on the rise], the same coronavirus could cause very serious problems for the authorities,” says political commentator Gia Khukhashvili.
Georgian Dream has unanimously declared they expect 60% support in the elections. Therefore, in this case, they will not need to form a coalition.
The pre-election strategy of the Georgian Dream, as in the previous elections, is based on messages directed against the opposition United National Movement party and its leader, former President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of Georgian Dream, former prime minister and billionaire, is not yet actively involved in his party’s campaign.
He only attends key events such as the presentation of the top 20 of the party list.
The current Prime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Gakharia was placed at the head of the Georgian Dream party list. If the party wins the elections, he will remain prime minister.
Saakashvili as prime minister? The opposition’s approach to the election
The most popular opposition force is the former ruling United National Movement party led by former President Saakashvili.
According to a poll by Edison Research, the party has 15% support. This figure for the National Movement is stable, as are its loyal voters. The number has not changed for years, but the number of its supporters has not significantly increased either.
On September 7, the party nominated Mikhail Saakashvili as a candidate for prime minister.
Saakashvili has not been to Georgia for 7 years. Criminal cases have been opened against him, which means that he will be arrested if he enters the country.
He is currently in Ukraine, working as an adviser to President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, but is trying to actively influence Georgian politics.
Mikheil Saakashvili makes statements from time to time about a return to Georgia.
Since the third president of Georgia is a controversial figure for society, each of his statements about his imminent arrival causes great excitement in the country:
For Saakashvili’s supporters, his possible return is a consolidating and stimulating factor. However, this prospect scares the supporters of the current government, as well as many neutral voters.
“Many people ask me – when will I come to Georgia? I will come on condition that my return will does not cause conflict and unrest,” Mikheil Saakashvili said on September 7.
Georgian Dream uses the theme of Saakashvili’s return to “intimidate” vacillating voters who are unhappy with the current government, but are categorically against the return of Saakashvili to power.
And Mikhail Saakashvili’s desire to become the prime minister of Georgia contradicts the constitution and laws of Georgia – he is no longer a citizen of Georgia after he took the citizenship of Ukraine. Therefore, he cannot apply for a post in government or an elective office.
In second place in the opposition rating is European Georgia – a party consisting of former associates of Saakashvili, who separated from the National Movement.
This party is trying to enlist the support of a pro-Western, liberal electorate that does not like the harsh methods demonstrated by Saakashvili and his party while in power, and does not want Mikheil Saakashvili to return to Georgia.
More modest results of 3% have been received by the pro-Western Lelo party of the Georgian bankers Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze.
Khazaradze and Japaridze went into politics after the government created problems for their business, the country’s largest bank, TBC Bank. Also, problems were created for a strategically important project for the country – the construction of the deep-water port of Anaklia – it was built by a consortium headed by Khazaradze.
The libertarian Girchi [Geo. pinecone] party and the left-wing Labor Party also have three percent support each.
Separate parties were also created by MPs who left the Georgian Dream for various reasons. The ratings of these parties range from one to two percent.
Is the opposition united?
The question of forming an opposition coalition in the next parliament will arise if the opposition parties are able to get the majority of seats.
A minimum of 76 mandates are required to form a majority and approve a government.
The opposition parties have created the so-called “Oppositional Unity”, which includes about thirty large and small parties (UNM, European Georgia, Labor Party, “Girchi”, etc.).
The opposition reached several important agreements:
The opposition will have one common candidate in all majoritarian districts of Tbilisi.
● As for the regions – here each party has their own candidate, although the parties agreed to support each other in the second round.
● Parties signed a declaration confirming that they will protect each other’s votes in elections. They will also cooperate on logistics issues – create a common voter base, a control mechanism, and have a single electoral headquarters for coordination.
The opposition announced that it would begin reorganizing the justice system if it comes to power. It will also carry out economic reforms.
But it’s not that simple.
If the issue of forming a coalition government is on the agenda, it will not be easy for the parties to agree among themselves. The first disagreements have already arisen over the candidacy of the future prime minister.
Mikheil Saakashvili, as a candidate for the post of prime minister from his party, is unacceptable for many other opposition parties, for example, for the second largest opposition force, European Georgia, and not only for them.
Giorgi Vashadze, founder of the Agmashenebeli Strategy party, also announced his candidacy for the post of head of government, which also turned out to be unacceptable for many parties.
Most parties consider it premature to talk about candidates for prime minister before the elections.
According to a survey by Edison Research, the overwhelming majority of respondents, 25%, believe that David Bakradze, a former speaker of parliament and one of the leaders of European Georgia, should become the candidate for the post of prime minister from the opposition coalition.
19% would like to see Giorgi Vashadze in this post, 19% – the current leader of the UNM Grigol Vashadze, and only 15% – Mikhail Saakashvili.
Russian traces in the elections in Georgia
The most popular among the pro-Russian parties in Georgia is the Alliance of Patriots, headed by Irma Inashvili. The party’s rating, according to the latest polls, is three percent.
This party is not participating in the opposition coalition.
Dossier, an investigative journalism platform founded by Russian opposition leader Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has published documents claiming that the Alliance of Patriots’ campaign is funded by Russia and is being planned by people associated with the Russian authorities who are accountable to Russian officials.
According to experts, this party uses anti-Western and anti-Turkish rhetoric in its campaign to divert public attention from the Russian threat.
For example, one of the party’s election banners depicted a map of Georgia, on which the seaside region of Adjara was highlighted in the same color as the Russian-occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The arrows in the image indicated the source of the threat – Turkey, from which the poster called for the protection of the country.
After a scandal, the authorities decided to ban these banners and they were removed.
Assessing Russia’s influence on the Georgian elections, US Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan said that this is expected and should be fought against.
“If we look at other elections, including those held in the United States, it becomes clear that the country must do everything it can to protect its electoral system,” the ambassador said during a September 1 visit to the Vaziani military base.