Georgian Dream vs. the United Opposition – Georgian voters talk about their choices in the elections
JAMnews talked to eight voters, four of whom voted for the ruling party, while the other four – for various opposition parties
Voters explain who they chose and why. They share their thoughts on the opposition, the Georgian Dream and Bidzina Ivanishvili
Georgia elections opinion of the population opposition Georgian Dream Ivanishvili
Parliamentary elections were held in Georgia on October 31. According to official data from the CEC, the ruling Georgian Dream party received 48 percent, and should be able to tack together enough support from other parties to just barely have a majority.
The opposition does not recognize the legitimacy of the election results and claims that the government rigged them.
Either way, the elections have clearly shown how polarized Georgian society is.
JAMnews spoke with eight voters, four of whom voted for the ruling Georgian Dream party, and four who voted for various opposition parties.
JAMnews tried to find out how voters explain their choice:
“I voted for the Georgian Dream”
Nikoloz Gabelia, 30, actor
If Bidzina Ivanishvili had not appeared in 2012, people would have supported the United National Movement [party of ex-President Saakashvili] for the third time, because without Ivanishvili, the opposition of the time was not able to come into power.
We’re facing the same situation right now. There are other parties as well, but they are weak and essentially there are only two choices: United National Movement or Georgian Dream. Of these two, I will always prefer the Georgian Dream.
My generation grew up in difficult times. What we take for granted nowadays seemed nearly impossible at that time. I have heard that it is now considered banal after eight years to talk about those nine years [rule of Saakashvili and his team, in 2003-2012]. But I will still talk about those years as long as I remember them, and I will remember them as long as I live.
I will not forget that time as long as the people responsible for those nine years are still in politics. Time cannot erase the evil and crimes they have committed. It’s impossible. It was inconceivable to go out and criticize the government during those nine years – either you wake up in the cemetery or go to jail. I experienced it the hard way, so did my friends and family.
And today we do enjoy freedom of speech. Just think how many opposition channels there are. As for Russia, I believe that we are on the right path, and this path is directed towards the West, towards Europe. Some claim the current government is pro-Russian – I say that’s a conspiracy theory.
We cannot deny what Bidzina Ivanishvili is doing for Georgia in terms of charity. He invests a lot of money in the development of the country, and this cannot be overlooked.
Of course, this government is not perfect either. Undoubtedly, they lack professional staff. I am very glad that small parties will be represented in the parliament. I like the idea of a multi-party parliament, but I myself voted for the Georgian Dream. I didn’t want even one vote against the United National Movement to be lost.
I wish that old faces would disappear from the political arena. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I hate Number 5 in particular [5 is the electoral number of the United National Movement party]. If it is joined by a fresh, sensible, intelligent generation the right values and strategy for the country’s development, I will certainly support it, but today I don’t see this. Now I see the same people again, possessed by evil, and therefore I always choose the other side to defeat this evil first.
Marika Zaridze, 50, designer
In my life, I have never gone to the polls contented and happy. Each time I vote against some party. It was the same this time. I am an implacable enemy of the bloodthirsty National Movement. Therefore, as long as the National Movement has even the slightest chance of returning to power, I will vote for the Georgian Dream.
Language, homeland, religion – for me Georgia stands on these three values. In the days of Misha [Saakashvili] and the National Movement, these three essential values were under risk. I will never forgive them for this and I will never forget it.
I also don’t like a lot about the Georgian Dream. But they do more good than bad. They have paid attention to agriculture. They take care of the cities and the country. I really like the universal healthcare system – my mom is older and we often use this insurance. They really do accomplish a lot, it’s just that they lack good PR. And I can’t say that they’ve got a pro-Russian discourse either.
But by and large I’m disappointed. I hoped that justice would be restored, the perpetrators would be punished, and, moreover, the law would be respected. Law in our country has never been above all under any government. The Georgian Dream repeated many of the mistakes of the National Movement. To date, many important cases have still not been investigated.
I really want novelty, new faces, new powers. I will gladly vote for a new, decent party. But where is it? Nowhere.
In general, the government is always corrupt. This is the case everywhere. Both in Russia and in America. Therefore, you must always be in opposition. Do not applaud, do not relax. Therefore, I also criticize the Georgian Dream, despite the fact that I vote and will vote for them as long as the National Movement exists. I am not a bidzinist [supporter of Bidzina Ivanishvili], I am an anti-Mishist [opponent of Mikheil Saakashvili].
Jaba Gersamia, 37, economist
The Georgian Dream is the first and only political force in the history of independent Georgia, during whose rule our country hasn’t been at war. This is a very important fact for me, and that’s what guided me when I voted for the Georgian Dream in this year’s elections.
I live in a small town [Zugdidi, Western Georgia], and in the old days, the inhabitants of this city knew by heart the names of the chief of police, prosecutor, etc. Now that the Georgian Dream is in power, these people are no longer important. We no longer know their names and they no longer affect our lives. They work and live and keep to themselves, as I do myself. In my opinion, this is a very significant change.
I also really like the universal healthcare program, and I voted to continue it when I marked number 41 on the ballot [election number of the Georgian Dream party]. I expect that, having received a constitutional majority for the third time, the Georgian Dream will destroy the stereotype about the destructiveness of having a constitutional majority.
However, I do know that in four years I will have different demands from the government than I do today. My requirements will grow.
I still don’t like a lot. For example, a private investor bought state land in the center of my town. For me this is absolutely unacceptable. The local or central government should never alienate state land that belongs to the residents of this town. They have no right to do so. This made me very angry.
And in general, I will be glad to see more leftist parties, which are non-existent in this country.
Marina Abuladze, 60, journalist
I believe that the opposition must also be present in parliament, but I personally voted for the Georgian Dream.
First of all, we need to understand that choice is relative. So let’s start from the very beginning.
Back in 2003, during the Rose Revolution, I supported young people, their goals and plans, but four years later I saw that my expectations were not met. House searches, arrests, torture, confiscation of property… It was a nightmare.
Personally, no one ever touched me – I still work where I used to and I still earn the same pennies. But the fact is that in 2012 the so-called Sonders left [special forces that were used to put pressure on the opposition during the rule of the National Movement] and normal people came to power.
Apart from politics, I really appreciate what Bidzina Ivanishvili does as a philanthropist. The man saved theaters and churches, appointed salaries to creative people for many years to come, opened the Kutaisi University, a dendrological park…
They say that he supports Russia. Sure, but how? How can a person support Russia when he brought all his money from Russia to Georgia?
I also like Gakharia [Prime Minister of Georgia]. I like his charisma, his manner of speaking – very convincing. Kakhi Kakhishvili [head of the Georgian government administration] is an extraordinary professional and a very modest, educated person. David Sergeenko, Sozar Subari, Gia Volski [members of the ruling Georgian Dream party]… These people won’t do anything just for the sake of money, and I respect them very much.
There’s always something bad, but I try to see the good. The Georgian Dream doesn’t sow hatred. They simply answer the questions that society poses. At the same time, they could use a bit more rigor and austerity.
What’s happening now on the streets is an insult to the Georgian statehood. The elections were held in accordance with the law, and if they don’t like something, they should protest specific ballots and, most importantly, respect the other half of the country that chose another party.
In short, the Georgian Dream are much more humane than the National Movement. This government does not hate people. It’s not dangerous to go outside these days. They’ve planted many trees. They’ve greened and landscaped the city. The air is much better. There are also bad sides, for example, poverty, but we don’t get to pay for gas and electricity for several months [the government launched a subsidy program due to the pandemic], that surely counts for something?!
“I voted for the opposition”
Irakli Areshidze, 35, bar owner
This government is pro-Russian, and this is the main reason why I dislike it. It is so pro-Russian that its style of ruling even reminds me of Russia. When Gakharia [Prime Minister of Georgia] speaks to me, it feels as though Russia is speaking. And most importantly, the country is ruled by a person who cannot be held accountable for anything. Bidzina Ivanishvili bears no responsibility that would correspond to his enormous power, and what comes of this? No matter how bad he does today, tomorrow he can start from scratch.
The government’s mocking tone is terribly annoying. I’m under the impression that they are creating a new reality of their own – one that doesn’t exist. The people did not elect this government. If we had elected them, would we find ourselves in such a crisis?
Let’s say they didn’t cheat and got 48 percent of the votes. Even in that case, the remaining 52 percent, i.e the majority, did not vote for them. And the government keeps calling everyone who voted for someone else supporters of the National Movement. This is not okay.
Their only policy is to endlessly vilify the previous government and instill in the population the fear of their return, and in the end it works. People who were very offended by the previous government dig it. Many have economic gains out of this – either they have connections with the Kartu bank [Bidzina Ivanishvili’s bank], or their grandmother received help from Ivanishvili, and so on. Otherwise, I cannot imagine how people, seeing what is happening around them today, are still embittered by the events of 10 years ago. Why aren’t they angry about today’s events?
Why are they not bitter about the completely collapsed economy, useless state institutions and other problems from the previous government that are still unresolved?
After all, in 2012 we chose the Georgian Dream because the previous rulers were criminals. During the National Movement, the economy was thriving, while human rights were under pressure. Now, neither is the economy moving forward, nor is anyone concerned about human rights.
Elections are the only outlet for people who come to vote and express what they don’t like and what’s on their minds. This is a chance to try to change something. The current government deprives us of this opportunity. They do everything in their power to make citizens lose their desire to go to the polls under the motive “nothing will change anyway”.
To turn a blind eye to such falsification is to reject democracy. How can you enter parliament knowing that the elections were rigged? On the other hand, unrest and destabilization benefit Russia, so we should try and avoid this. It seems like the best way out is to appeal to all possible instances of the court, but do we even have an independent court?
I personally don’t support any particular party, but I still choose roughly based on which of them shares my values. We must make a choice, there is no other way, and vote for small parties to end this endless war between the two forces once and for all.
What do I like about the government? Believe it or not – Chavchavadze Avenue [avenue in the center of Tbilisi, which was recently renovated to give half of the driveway to public transport].
Mariam Bedianashvili, 30, clinical oncologist
They had enough time to show what they’re capable of and implement the plans conceived in 2012.
However, none of the plans came to fruition. For example, the eradication of unemployment, the elimination of poverty, the improvement of the education and healthcare systems. I work in the healthcare system, and it’s true they passed a reform but it changed soon and the universal healthcare system is no longer available to all citizens.
We pay money to the government to take care of our health, education and employment. They don’t even listen to us, let alone do anything for us.
The first time [in 2012], people voted for a change. The second time [in 2016], it was clear what a hard life the people had when they would sell their vote for a bag of potatoes. And this time I don’t think the government was elected by the people at all. They elected themselves. They didn’t ask us anything. They were well prepared for rigging elections, which they carried out successfully.
Therefore, protest is very important today. We must show the government that we have power and we demand from them what we have the right for. However, when we demanded last year, they took our eyes out [referring to the June 20, 2019 protests and their violent crackdown].
This year, taking the pandemic into consideration, I am not in favor of massive gatherings. From what I can see, most of the protesters do follow the safety recommendations, but even if one or two people don’t keep their distance or take off the mask, we risk finding ourselves in an even worse position. On the other hand, the government is abusing the given situation.
I really appreciate female leaders from the opposition. They have clear and precise requirements. Until now, I haven’t seen women leaders in Georgian politics and now this makes me very happy.
We have to awaken the government. They must listen to us and give in. There is no other way. They need to see how angry we are and how much they’ve disappointed us.
Giorgi Kikonishvili, 32, civic activist
Politics in Georgia has faded away. It’s been replaced by corrupt opportunists who act contrary to any ethics and written or unwritten laws.
Stagnation and wrongdoing – these are the main things that the Georgian Dream government has introduced to our country for the last eight years.
I don’t remember any new initiatives, reforms, steps taken to help our country and society prosper and develop.
This group has turned into an authoritarian regime and all decisions are made by a hitherto unknown figure with, to put it mildly, a dubious past and regalia – Bidzina Ivanishvili.
All state institutions have been demolished – the judicial system, parliament, government, election commission, the institution of the president. In such times, a free, democratic and peaceful civil life is impossible.
In 2020, they took away our right to vote in a violent and barbaric way. We saw votes being gained through bribery, violence and even threats with the use of firearms. And then we all saw what happened to the final protocols of precinct commissions.
Within the given context, the opposition’s entry into parliament will forever devalue not only the elections, but also the small remaining hope for the strengthening of democratic institutions in Georgia.
So let’s leave it as it is. Don’t deceive yourself, take a look at the one-party parliament – this is the real face of this party, abandoned by all, grotesque and ridiculous. Therefore, if the authorities don’t agree to hold reelections, we must take a look at this face and make it seem as ridiculous as possible.
In the 2020 parliamentary elections, Georgian society elected a coalition government and parliament with an appropriate balance of power. We could endlessly argue about how good the entire political class in Georgia is, but, unfortunately, we can’t change the make-up of the Georgian political arena as it is.
Unfortunately, despite the seeming diversity, I believe that the political spectrum of Georgia consists of groups with almost identical social and political views.
This is the generation of the 90s with right-wing obsessions, for which social solidarity is associated with the Soviet Union and fetters, while capitalism, turned into social Darwinism, is associated with freedom.
I personally believe that all the resources for improving our political life have already been exhausted until we see young, progressive forces with science-based views, who will develop humane ways to identify problems and solve them. However, in this election, I voted for one of the opposition candidates in order to use even the smallest resources available to make a change.
Even though we still don’t know how to build a free, equal, solidary society and what a decent and effective policy should be, thanks to the Georgian Dream, we know for sure what it shouldn’t be like.
Tsitsi Tsitskhvaia, 55, artist
The state is in an absolute vacuum.
The main problem is that the country is ruled by a non-professional. When I listen to the Prime Minister, the President, the Speaker of Parliament, even I – an artist without a political education – understand that they are talking complete nonsense in the truest sense of the word.
In general, how could we allow the oligarch to rule over us? He can’t even speak, let alone think. Has he said anything clever for once?
I’m very angry. I’d rather there was a politician in power who makes mistakes and I would oppose him politically, but not a person who’s sitting on a bunch of money and arbitrarily decides who to help with it.
I don’t want to receive help from them. The country must be ruled by politicians. We, citizens, hire and pay money to a certain party to serve us. When the citizen is not a priority for the state, the country begins to disintegrate. I could not even imagine that for 30 years I would think about how to make ends meet and nothing else.
Take for instance the case of Anaklia port. What did they do instead? Increased the pension by 20 lari [about 6 dollars], and with today’s prices, this is even less than it used to be.
Or what kind of comparisons they make – “Don’t you remember what happened before [during Saakashvili’s rule]?” I do remember, so what?! Should I keep silent now?
This year, 50 ballots were lost at my polling station alone. I don’t understand why they should come to power for the third time. Are they going to stay there infinitely?
It doesn’t matter to me whether anyone joins me at the rally. Last year, on June 20, at 11:30, I stood alone in front of the parliament building. No one sent me a personal invitation, but I believe that every citizen has civil obligations.
I voted for Girchi [an opposition party]. Not because I admire them, but I just want them to be present in parliament.
Given the current situation, as a voter, I give my chosen party every right not to enter parliament. We must protest the rigged elections and, wherever we can, declare that Bidzina Ivanishvili is an oligarch appointed by Putin.