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Elections in Georgia: Saakashvili’s return and Putin’s revenge

Author : Karen Madoyan

Source : 112 Ukraine

One of the factors that distinguishes the election campaign in 2016, is unprecedented activation of pro-Russian forces
18:09, 6 October 2016

Read the original text at eurointegration.com.ua.

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Already this Saturday, October 8, Georgia to hold the next parliamentary elections.

Ukrainian media promote the idea that this campaign is a confrontation between the two main political forces - the ruling coalition "Georgian Dream" and oppositional "United National Movement" (UNM). The members of the ruling coalition from the beginning owe their position to Georgian politics richest man and former Prime Minister Ivanishvili Bidzini, the last power is traditionally associated with the former president of Georgia, and now chairman of the Odesa Regional State Administration Mikheil Saakashvili.

Can we consider the forthcoming elections to the supreme legislative authority the usual fight between the dominant teams of the last four years?

Related: Saakashvili: Ukraine is going through what Georgia went through before the Rose Revolution

The crisis of "dreamers"

Previous parliamentary elections in Georgia were the end of the era of domination "United National Movement" in the executive and the legislature.

As a result of the victory of Bidzina Ivanishvili and his coalition, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was forced to leave the country. A number of senior officials from Saakashvili entourage were prosecuted and found themselves behind bars.

In this case, after the elections in 2012 UNM managed to secure 65 of the 150 seats and consolidate its status as a leading opposition force.

Related: European competition of Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia

The ruling coalition with the party "Georgian Dream" was joined by the Republican Party, "Free Democrats," and "National Forum". The new coalition was the symbiosis of pro-Western politicians to the traditionalist wing, united by a desire to get parliamentary seats using the resources of Bidzina Ivanishvili.

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However, in such a way they managed to survive only two years. In November 2014, Defense Minister Irakli Alasania resigned.

The reason for the dismissal was embezzling more than $ 2 million from the department budget. Foreign Minister and State Minister for European Integration, which were also appointed under the quota of "Free Democrats," have left their posts in the government.

Related: Ukraine and Georgia will get visa liberalization in 2016 - EU Commissioner

Toward the beginning of the new parliamentary leadership campaign in 2016 the Republican Party, a key coalition partner (its representative is parliament speaker David Usupashvili), decided to go to the polls alone. Subsequently, representatives of "National Forum" voiced the decision to try their hand in the electoral field.

Thus, the party "Georgian Dream" had no other choice but had to join the new election cycle out of the coalition format.

In order not to lose the votes of potential supporters, "dreamers" were most distanced from the most marginalized members of the coalition, such as Gogi Topadze and Tamaz Mechiauri. Both MPs recently did not hide their sympathy for the Eurasian Union and criticized the foreign policy of Georgia aimed at integration into Euro-Atlantic structures.

Related: The Russo-Georgian war of 2008: eight years since the invasion

Obviously, the "Georgian Dream" was included in the new election cycle in a bad shape.

For four years, significant breakthroughs in economics were not observed. The ruling team and failed to improve the lives of ordinary citizens. The policy of improving relations with Russia has not justified itself. Moscow in recent years only strengthened support for separatist regimes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The only positive achievement of the "dreamers" was the Association Agreement with the EU. But the promised visa liberalization for citizens of Georgia within the Schengen area still remains a dream, which does not add the popularity of the government.

As for the opposition, it has nothing new in its campaign. The only unusual way, perhaps, was the inclusion in the campaign of former first lady of Georgia Sandra Roelofs. The wife of Mikheil Saakashvili is running as the candidate in Zugdidi (Western Georgia) - a region traditionally loyal to "nationals."

With the beginning of the election campaign, Mikheil Saakashvili started actively commenting on the internal political situation in Georgia. He even promised to return home to "protect the election results." It is difficult to say whether Saakashvili will raise the ratings of his party.

But it is clear that his rhetoric irritates Tbilisi. Georgian President George Margvelashvili has urged his predecessor not to interfere in the election process.

Russian factor

One of the factors that distinguishes the election campaign in 2016, is unprecedented activation of pro-Russian forces.

A key player in this field is a former ally of Saakashvili in the Rose Revolution and former parliament speaker and now leader of "Democratic Movement - United Georgia" Nino Burjanadze. She openly criticizes Georgia's pro-Western course and declares the need to restore full relations with Russia.

Related: Russian attack on Georgia was a prologue to war against Ukraine - Poroshenko

Over the past few years, Burjanadze repeatedly visited Moscow, where she met with key representatives of the Russian political establishment, including Vladimir Putin. In 2014, she has openly supported the annexation of Crimea.

Another prominent pro-Russian force can be considered "Alliance of Patriots of Georgia." It became known after his representatives received two seats in the Tbilisi sakrebulo (city council) for the results of the 2014 local elections.

Related: Russia simplifies visa regime for Georgia, - Foreign Ministry

Earlier Georgian media repeatedly referred to the possibility of unification of "Democratic Movement - United Georgia" and "Alliance of Patriots of Georgia" bloc in the election, because both forces have similar positions. Moreover, the association increased the chances of parties to overcome the five percent barrier. However, Nino Burjanadze decided to go to the elections alone.

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As for the "Alliance," in case of success its representatives may be under the wing of the ruling coalition if it is formed on the basis of "Georgian Dream."

New faces

When world famous Georgian opera singer and philanthropist Paata Burchuladze founded the NGO "Fund of Georgia" and began to develop media activity, many commentators interpreted these actions as an application for entry to politics.

May 28, 2016 Burchuladze held founding congress and established on his initiative movement "state for the people." At the Congress, he said about the decision to devote himself to political activities.

Burchuladze noted that Georgian politics needs new faces and new ideas. The people welcomed the arrival of charismatic bass, that became traveling around the country and campaigning for a political party.

Related: Georgia calls Interpol to prosecute ex-president Saakashvili

According to recent survey of the International Republican Institute (IRI), Paata Burchuladze gained 75% of support among Georgians.

The expert community does not exclude that the parliamentary mandate is only an intermediate step in his career. His final goal is the presidency.

This version may be not be groundless. Burchuladze has advantages against the background of most of current politicians. His name is not associated with a scandal in the country. For active charity, he received the title of Goodwill Ambassador of the UN. He is one of the world's most known Georgians.

The political ratings

Rating agencies and leading NGOs actively publish data on various electoral crush of the Georgian citizens.

According to a survey conducted in July by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), 17% people are ready to support the "Georgian Dream," 13% - UNM. Other political forces cannot even overcome the five percent barrier.

Related: Saakashvili’s 100 days: rises and falls of the Georgian reformer

Published last week a survey of GFK is very similar to NDI data – only "Georgian Dream" (25.4%) and UNM (26%) can overcome the threshold in parliamentary elections. These parties are followed by the Labor Party with 3.8% support, "Free Democrats" - 3.6%, and bloc of Paata Burchuladze "State for the people" - 2.6%.

About 40% of the population do not know for whom to vote for. If the turnout would still amount to more than 50%, the other parties can obtain the chance to get into parliament, along with the "dreamers" and "nationals."

Related: Ukrainian far right to commemorate victims of Russian-led invasion of Georgia

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