On 1 October, Georgians vote in parliamentary elections. Although the vote can be given to representatives of several political parties; mainly two actors count on the electoral scene. The choice between them can lead to the largest changes in Georgia since the Rose Revolution.
We imagine Georgia as a beautiful country, full of helpful people, great food and wine. Along with the atmosphere of a Georgian feast, we like the direction chosen by the country after Mikhail Saakashvili’s rise to power. With the support of the entire society (in the presidential election in 2004, he received more than 96 percent of votes), from the beginning the President has realized the policy of ambitious reforms. Together with a group of well-educated (as he is) people, surrounded by US advisers, he successfully fought corruption, changed the face of law enforcement, improved education system and launched the tourism sector. In a very short time, thanks to financial support of the West, he changed the whole country. The presidential team created a new image of Georgia abroad – as a small but brave and adventurous country. Therefore, by 2008, the country had been very close to joining NATO and the European Union. Later, however, the Georgian-Russian war complicated the situation, but did not break the spirit of reform created by Mikhail Saakashvili and public confidence in the President.
Doing a pragmatic analysis, an observer could say that Saakashvili and his team continue to perform their duties well. Despite the growing need for democratization of the political system and stimulation of economy, Saakashvili seems to have enough energy and commitment for further reforms for the good of the country. However, the voters more likely are guided by emotions, not a pragmatic assessment. And emotionally a new player – Bidzina Ivanishvili – excels. The billionaire with assets that equal a budget of a small state manipulates the mood of society, effectively pointing out to spheres where Saakashvili makes the biggest mistakes. With the support of several PR-companies Ivanishvili leads the campaign in a truly American style. So far, it is the current president with his American diploma, flawless English and excellent interpersonal skills who is perceived the most “Western” of Georgian politicians. Ivanishvili also feels quite at home organizing rallies and telling people what they want to hear in the time of economic crisis: the need for real changes and liberation of the country from the hands of Saakashvili’s repressive regime. The recent prison scandal has only strengthened Ivanishvili, whose competition for power with the president is the fight almost for the dignity of the Georgians.
Thinking about the elections, we should not forget that we are talking about 150 deputies, which will take parliamentary seats. Therefore, apart from the opposition Saakashvili – Ivanishvili,this is not just a fight between the two political titans; this is the struggle of different political parties, but two groups are particularly important. The pro-presidential “United National Movement” has a well articulated pro-Western identity. More difficult is to define political beliefs common for the majority of members, because, as it should be with the party in power, it includes a whole range of views which would be difficult to place only on the “left” or “right” side of the political scene. The Prime Minister, Vano Merabishvili, has declared that the main emphasis for the elections is fighting unemployment and promoting the social role of the government in health care, education and pensions. Economic reforms supporting independence of Georgia, which is still dependent on external financial assistance, were also promised.
In regard to the electoral bloc “Georgian Dream” of Bidzina Ivanishvili, it is much more difficult to assess the political purpose of the Coalition. The six parties included in the “Georgian Dream” are basically united by the hostility to President Saakashvili and the desire for power as it is, as well as money of Ivanishvili, who generously gives it to all coalition partners. It is more difficult to define the program of the “Georgian Dream”, although it definitely committed to support the pro-Western course, including a desire to join NATO and the European Union. In terms of domestic politics, the opposition with Ivanishvili as a leader focus attention on critics of the government, although observers noticed that around the billionaire there are many talented politicians, led by Irakli Alasania and Tedo Dzhaporidze. The two diplomats are well known internationally, and can successfully pursue an effective foreign policy of Georgia.
Voting results in Georgia one should expect with calmness. Yes, of course, we expect a big change. The era of Saakashvili’s total hegemony is finished. The man who has certainly made a lot for his country will have to accept the presence of dangerous political opponents. The balance of power is usually good for the democracy, but the question is whether the current president agrees with that. Regardless of the election’s results, the great advantage of one party over the other is excluded. In the Georgian Parliament they, finally, will conduct a real discussion between the government and the opposition. Until now, this body too often was guided by the President’s instructions.
Normalization of the Parliament is already close, now it depends only on the conduct of elections. Under the conditions of absence of voting violations, attempts to falsify the results or military intervention in case of demonstrations, any result will serve the development of the Georgian state. The ruling party is put to the most difficult test. If the President Saakashvili and his team appreciate the democracy and development of Georgia as it has often been noted by them, they have to understand that in democratic conditions they should be ready to share the power, and sometimes lose it.