Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Caucasus Report

Georgia Braces Itself For The Post-Saakashvili Era

A woman casts her ballot in the capital, Tbilisi, during parliament elections in Georgia in 2012.
A woman casts her ballot in the capital, Tbilisi, during parliament elections in Georgia in 2012.
In three months' time, on October 31, Georgians will go to the polls to elect a successor to current President Mikheil Saakashvili, who has dominated national politics for the past decade. Saakashvili is barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term, but in a recent talk-show interview he did not exclude his continued engagement in politics.

The presidential election will be a watershed in Georgian politics, insofar as it will usher in profound constitutional changes adopted in October 2010 that enhance the powers of the prime minister while reducing those of the head of state. It will also serve as a public vote of confidence in the government of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose Georgian Dream coalition defeated Saakashvili's United National Movement (ENM) in the October 2012 parliamentary elections. Georgian Dream currently has 86 seats in the 150-seat parliament, and the ENM 52. Thirteen deputies elected from the ENM have since quit that faction, and the election outcome will be crucial in determining whether or not the party survives as an influential political force.

The tensions between the present and former regimes resurfaced on July 20, when members of the ENM convening for a party conference were pelted with stones and bottles in the western town of Zugdidi by protesters whom the ENM claims were mobilized by Georgian Dream. Twelve protesters were arrested and fined 100 laris [about $60]. Georgian Dream has issued a formal statement denying any responsibility for the incident.

Opinion polls commissioned in March and in June 2013 by the National Democratic Institute show a decline in the popularity of both Ivanishvili and Georgian Dream that some observers attribute to their failure to meet voters' sometimes unrealistic expectations and aspirations for change. The percentage of respondents who said they would vote for Georgian Dream if local elections were held tomorrow fell from 62 percent in March to 54 percent in June. ENM parliamentarian Davit Darchiashvili construed the violence in Zugdidi as an attempt by Georgian Dream to deflect attention from that decline in support, and from disappointing economic statistics.

By contrast, the ENM's rating remained unchanged at 10 percent, compared with the 40.34 percent of the vote it garnered in October.

It is unclear to what extent that fall in the ENM's popularity is the direct consequence of a wave of arrests of former top government officials. Bacho Akhalaya, who served first as defense minister and then briefly last summer as interior minister, was arrested in November and is currently on trial on charges of torture and abuse of his official position. Former Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili, whom Saakashvili named in December to head the ENM, was taken into custody in May and has been charged with abuse and perverting the course of justice during the investigation into the murder in January 2006 by Interior Ministry personnel of banker Sandro Girgvliani.

It was widely assumed that Merabishvili, as ENM general secretary, would be nominated as that party's presidential candidate during a public rally in Tbilisi in April. Just days before that rally, however, Saakashvili announced that the ENM's presidential candidate would be selected in U.S.-style primaries in May. In early June, ENM parliamentarian Giorgi Vashadze said the party had decided against primaries; but that decision was reversed two weeks later.

In a further demonstration of inconsistency, the ENM announced on June 28 a boycott of parliamentary proceedings to protest the detention on suspicion of financial irregularities of four of its members on the Tbilisi municipal council. The party ended that boycott 10 days later.

Also on June 28, the ENM launched a series of six party conferences to assess the merits of four potential presidential candidates. They are former parliamentary speaker Davit Bakradze; former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for European Integration Giorgi Baramidze; former parliamentary Provisional Commission for Restoring Territorial Integrity Chairman Shota Malashkhia; and parliamentary deputy Zurab Djaparidze.

Bakradze is widely viewed as the most likely choice, and with four "primaries" down and two to go, he is ahead. He has been publicly endorsed by Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, who prior to ENM's election defeat in October was himself regarded as a possible potential candidate. Bakradze has explained his rationale for seeking the presidency in terms of a moral obligation to make good for the injustices perpetrated by the ENM in the past, and not to turn his back on rank-and-file ENM members plunged into "a state of trauma, pain, and shock" by the "torrent" of accusations of misconduct leveled against the party.

Bakradze is a more moderate and flexible politician than the assertive and overbearing Baramidze. He has demonstrated on more than one occasion his readiness to seek compromise, most recently in talks earlier this month with his successor as parliament speaker, Davit Usupashvili, on further constitutional reform and ending the ENM boycott of parliamentary proceedings.

Registration of presidential candidates began on July 2; as of July 18, the Central Electoral Commission had received 14 applications, two of which have been rejected because the people involved hold dual citizenship. The most prominent presidential hopefuls are former parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze; extraparliamentary Labor Party Chairman Shota Natelashvili; and Giorgi Targamadze, head of the small Christian-Democratic Movement that was part of the opposition in the outgoing parliament. Former Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili, who now heads the opposition Georgia'a Path party, has said she may run, but as a French national she, too, may fall foul of the prohibition on dual citizenship.

In early May, Georgian Dream nominated as its presidential candidate Education Minister Giorgi Margvelashvili. Prime Minister Ivanishvili predicted on July 3 that Margvelashvili would win in the first round. But the findings of the June NDA poll showed his popularity rating at only 29 percent, in contrast with the 52 percent of respondents who identified Georgian Dream as the party "closest" to them. Ten percent of respondents said they would vote for the ENM's candidate, five percent for Burjanadze, four percent for Targamadze, and three percent for Natelashvili.

Both Burjanadze and Targamadze believe the election will go to a runoff after no candidate garners over 50 percent on October 31.
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Eugenio from: Vienna
July 21, 2013 19:29
Aha, see, the RFE/RL has repetedly promised the demise of Vladimir Putin and of Bashar, whereas it is the pro-US losers who leave the scene one after the other: Yushchenko, Julia, Tadic, and now Mischa. I wonder how long it will take before he ends up in a prison cell similar to the one where Julia is sitting, or in a camp similar to the one where Khodorkovsky has spent the best years of his youth :-))).
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
August 02, 2013 06:39
One of the RFE/RL mentor, Eugenio from Vienna,
Not too genuine - blames donkey, he rides as he wish,
Threatened himself kill Putin, lying I said it in his name,
Getting permit from Russia-CIA for my mother be killed.
They killed my mother 7/7/2012 - as game of Zhenia.

He also always threatening-predicting - as a crow,
Die USA, Georgia, Ukraine, CIS - they have to go.
Gloating at the suffering, Russia inflicts on nations,
Pinning some his comments on me - to kill me too.
Troll promise non-Russians neck-tie, to cut-throats.

Did you, Troll, cut-throats in 1956 Hungary and Georgia?
In Afghan war? In North Caucasus? In Moldova? In Abkhazia? In Beslan? On non-Russians from Russia through USA?
I think you would...

by: American Troll
July 22, 2013 01:18
I will solemnly mark the transition with a custom-made marble cake shaped like a necktie.

by: Miss the burritos from: Tbilisi
July 22, 2013 04:23
One minor complaint. The United National Movement is usually abbreviated at UNM in news articles. There are other article published by Radio Free Europe that refer to the United National Movement as "UNM".

The abbreviation ENM would refer to the Georgian language equivalent of United National Movement, which is Ertiani Natsionaluri Modzraoba.

But, I believe the correct abbreviation is UNM.

by: Salome from: Tbilisi, Georgia
July 22, 2013 08:51
I just wanted to remind you that October 27, 2013 was set as the final date for the presidential elections in Georgia. It is the final and official information and President Saakashvili has already signed and published the relevant documentation.

by: Mamuka
July 22, 2013 12:36
How times change... it wasn't so long ago that everyone assumed Misha would "pull a Putin" and become PM while safely installing Vano or Ugulava as President. ra vi aba...

(That's Georgian for "who'da ever thunk it")
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
August 02, 2013 07:20
Don't be so pessimistic, Mamuka - Brits say life is a bitch.
Georgians not Brits, more emotional and if loosing "pitch",
They tend to get upset by treachery, as in 1993 Abkhazia.
Instead of meticulously investigating "Truth", for a breach,
They withdrawn and Russia unleashed genocide bestialia.

Sure Georgia stands at the crossroad of physical survival.
Standing-up to Russia did not stop Russia's Nazi reprisals.
Ivanishvili's Dream Team, appeasing Russia - is the same.
Normalize relationship with Russia doesn't mean the game
Of new Russian "pomeshics", be their serfs, to be honored.

One must consider the threat but be relentless in principals
Of right to live in dignity and be free, Russia is not your pall.
They will again destroy individuals and nations, kill-cleanse
Elderly, children, women - often bestially, by whole families,
To breed Russians in houses of non-Russian nation's lands.

To have balanced policy, be able to defend oneself by arms
With help of international community and UN, change World
For better Future and better understanding of imperial game
Of Russia and seduced by them Cousin Emperors. Not bold
Wording, but with god relationship with friends, new and old.

And keep building prosperity and dignified life in your lands -
But not for Russians to grab it, as in 2008 - but invite friends,
For all Globe to see and to know if Russia would grab again
Any yard of improved land, or renewed house, for their gain.
Be relentless-meticulous like Brits, if Russians cut your vein.

by: ubunyu@yahoo.ca from: Botswanaland
July 23, 2013 13:27
I thought Saarkashvili was un-elected last year. Yet here he is still waiting to step down.

And elections??? Georgia seems to equate democracy and elections it has so freaking many of them. Who's paying for all this ballot-box 'exercise'.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
July 24, 2013 10:33
The last-year elections were parliamentary in which Saakaschwili's political party lost a majority in the Parliament.
And this coming Fall there will be a presidential election held, because Saakaschwili's term as a President is about to expire. Capitto, Ubunyu?

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.