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Will Georgia's Ruling Party Use Super-Majority For Common Good Or To Further Own Interests?

Bidzina Ivanishvili (left) and Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili wave at a Georgian Dream rally after the first round of the parliamentary elections in Tbilisi on October 8.
Bidzina Ivanishvili (left) and Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili wave at a Georgian Dream rally after the first round of the parliamentary elections in Tbilisi on October 8.

The second round of voting in the Georgian parliamentary elections has confirmed expectations that the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party will have a constitutional majority (at least 113 of the total 150 mandates) in the new parliament.

Opinions differ, nonetheless, as to the likely impact of that concentration of power. Likewise unclear is how tactical disagreements within the opposition United National Movement, the second-largest parliament faction, will affect its future political course.

As a result of the October 30 runoffs in 50 of the 75 single-mandate constituencies in which no candidate received the required 50 percent of the vote during the first round on October 8, Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia will have 115 seats, the United National Movement 27, the Alliance of Patriots six, and the Industrialists-Our Homeland bloc one. Paris-born former Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili won election as an independent candidate.

The new legislature thus comprises fewer parties than any of its predecessors: the 2012 parliamentary ballot that ended the United National Movement's nine years in power was won by a six-party bloc led by Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia with 85 mandates, compared to 65 for the United National Movement.

Several analysts attributed Georgian Dream's impressive showing in last month's vote to the systematic demonization of the United National Movement, and specifically of its former leader, ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, by Georgian Dream's founder, wealthy philanthropist Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Former Economy Minister Lado Papava described the results of the October 8 vote as "the victory of the virtual wolf," meaning that many people voted for Georgian Dream because they believed it is the sole political force strong enough to prevent the return to power of the "wolf," Saakashvili's United National Movement.

Saakashvili is currently governor of the Ukrainian city of Odesa. Shortly before the October 8 vote, he announced his intention of returning to Georgia after the ballot to celebrate his party's victory, but failed to do so. His wife, Sandra Roelofs, won election to parliament on the United National Movement's party list, and demonstratively withdrew her candidacy in one of the runoffs.

Other factors, too, contributed to Georgian Dream's victory, including voters' rejection of political leaders who, according to commentator Khatuna Lagazidze, have exhausted their potential and "are squeezed dry like a lemon." Lagazidze did not name names, but she may have been referring, among others, to former parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze, whose Democratic Movement garnered just 3.53 percent of the vote. Lagazidze acknowledged that the elections marked "the end of an era," but predicted that the "political vacuum" resulting from "Ivanishvili's clearing out of the entire political spectrum" will soon be filled by "people with a different mentality."

Who Will Fill The Void?

The primary victims of that "clearing-out" process, however, were Georgian Dream's erstwhile coalition partners, the unequivocally pro-Western Free Democrats and the Republican Party, and the National Forum, which polled 4.62 percent, 1.55 percent, and 0.73 percent, respectively. Free Democrats Chairman Irakli Alasania and veteran Republican party member Davit Usupashvili had served respectively as defense minister and parliament speaker, and were highly regarded in the West.

Both men have now quit the parties with which they had long been associated (in Usupashvili's case since the 1990s.) Alasania has said he will withdraw from political life "temporarily," as he sees no chance for his party to exert any influence on the political process.

Usupashvili for his part has vowed to spend the next few months consulting with all those who remain committed to "working for an independent, free, European, democratic Georgia." He told journalists that Georgia's political future cannot be shaped "either by political conglomerates that have fused with the administrative bureaucracy," meaning Georgian Dream, or "political groupings held together by their past sins," a clear allusion to the United National Movement.

Usupashvili further said the next parliamentary ballot, due in 2020, "should be won by a new type of political force which would be fully capable of governing the country and will carry in its genetic code the values of multiparty democracy." He did not say whether he personally intends to establish such a party, but commentators take it for granted he will try to do so.

National Forum Chairman Kakhaber Shartava, too, has openly declared his intention of creating a "genuine, serious, classic, European[-style] party" that would unite those political forces that failed to win representation in the new parliament.

Analyst Valerian Gorgiladze, however, considers unlikely the emergence of a new opposition force uniting those parties that failed to gain parliamentary representation. He predicts the institutionalization of a two-party system instead of the hoped-for multiparty system and coalition government.

Will Georgian Dream Abuse Its Power?

Even prior to the runoff vote, an impassioned discussion was taking place of the perceived risks inherent in Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia's anticipated acquisition of a constitutional majority. In particular, some observers expressed concern at the possibility that Ivanishvili, who although he holds no formal political office is widely believed to influence Georgian Dream's policy-making from behind the scenes, might use that power to settle old scores with the United National Movement.

Independent analyst Gia Khukhashvili made the point that in and of itself a constitutional majority does not automatically mean the party in question will try to abuse it to usurp power, and that it is both unfair and unjust to impute such nefarious intentions to Georgian Dream. Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili described that constitutional majority on October 31 as "imposing an even greater obligation" on Georgian Dream, of which he is chairman, to implement its "ambitious improve the education system, bring about swift economic and infrastructure growth, and improve the welfare of each individual citizen."

As for Ivanishvili's future role and influence, Khukhashvili stressed that "the transition from personal to institutional rule must take place very quickly. If Kvirikashvili remains prime minister, then it is he who should make decisions and bear the responsibility for them. The constant allusions to Ivanishvili, which frequently morph into speculation, must end.... It's better that Kvirikashvili should make mistakes than that we should constantly feel that someone else wields power."

Zaal Anjaparidze similarly opined in an extensive interview with the news portal that a constitutional majority is a source of both risk and opportunity. He said he considered it unlikely that Georgian Dream will use that majority to try to usurp power, but that it could influence the process of decision-making. (By contrast, between 2008-12 the United National Movement availed itself of its constitutional majority to push through parliament amendments to the constitution and election law intended to facilitate its reelection in the October 2012 parliamentary elections.)

Anjaparidze went on to suggest that "if we look at the broader picture, from the point of view of political pluralism and a multiparty system, a three-party parliament where more or less all the various ideological views held by society are represented is not such a bad outcome for a transitional democracy like ours."

By contrast, Independent Experts Club President Soso Tsiskarishvili commented darkly that the elections of 2016 "will go down in history as the transition from young Georgian democracy to 'bidzinocracy,'" meaning Ivanishvili will exert supreme power through the party he founded.

What role remains, then, for the United National Movement within the new parliament? Immediately after the October 8 vote, the party appeared to be on the verge of splitting into a radical faction headed by Saakashvili, who advocated a boycott of both the runoffs and the new parliament, and the moderate pragmatists, who argued that the party owed it to its electorate to take up its parliament mandates. At a meeting on October 12, the party's most senior members voted by 33 votes in favor and nine against, with seven abstentions, for the latter course of action.

Anjaparidze predicts that the United National Movement faction "will try to use their resources within parliament to inflict the maximum political and informational discomfort on [the country's] leadership, and their representatives are already openly saying so."

Cooperation between the United National Movement and the Alliance of Patriots within parliament is highly unlikely, however, given the latter's anti-Western orientation.

The fact that both international election observers and the U.S. State Department have hailed the outcome of the vote as democratic and reflecting the will of the Georgian people undercuts even further the position of the United National Movement's radical wing.

Saakashvili nonetheless declared on October 31 that he refused to accept the outcome of what he termed "a falsified vote." "We must work together to put Georgia back on the path to democratic, European development. We must achieve as swiftly as possible the holding of honest elections and bring a normal government to power in Georgia," he said.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

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.


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