Georgia met 2013 without a traditional posh concert on Tbilisi’s Freedom Square and parallel celebrations in major cities across the country. The annual presidential speech was followed by that of the Prime Minister this year. All the changes that the year 2012 brought were clearly visible on the New Year’s Night.
Elections, prisons, street protests and the unclear future of Parliament in Kutaisi
Parliamentary elections of October 1 wins the title of the top event of the year; and perhaps not only of this year. Though local civil society organizations and international society had been expected Saakashvili’s UNM to retain the power and feared subsequent protests, the billionaire-turned-politician Bidzina Ivanishvili secured himself 85 seats in 150-seat Georgian Parliament winning a near constitutional majority.
The Parliamentary elections were preceded by a number of dramatic events. Bidzina Ivanishvili and his supporters have been the targets of attacks from the government since the billionaire announced his political ambitions in late 2011. As the elections came closer, Georgia got divided into the Blues (the color of Georgian Dream Coalition) and the Reds (the color of UNM) and few months preceding the elections were marked fist-fights and mud-throwing.
In July, President Saakashvili, hoping to warm up the public, appointed the new government with his all-time ally and a rather controversial Minister of Interior, Vano Merabishvili as a Prime Minister, also introducing the vague position of the State Minister of Employment.
The decisive point in the mutual mud-throwing came in the end of September as few opposition-inclined TV channels published the videos of prison abuse that sparked fierce massive protests, leaving UNM with insufficient time to clean off.
Thus, the brand new parliamentary building in Kutaisi, one of Saakashvili’s favorite projects, is to be ruled by Georgian Dream, if the latter does not take the legislative body back to Tbilisi.
Cohabitation in the shadow of arrests
The elections were highly praised by international society and, as the power became divided between Saakashvili and Ivanishvili, the two leaders were called to “cohabitate”. Thus came into Georgian language the new word: “cohabitation.”
The new ruling party started off with few controversial steps. Several key figures from the police structures of the previous government were arrested. The list of detained former officials included those whom Georgia longed to see in prison for years. Then again, there were also others. The arrest of former officials raised questions about the methods of the new government. Ivanishvili’s team vows that international criticism of his actions comes as a result of Saakashvili’s foreign lobbyists (not that Ivanishvili cannot and has not hired his own lobbyists).
Publishing secretly taken videos was rather popular during the previous government; however, it seems to appeal to the new government as well.
Presidential power was minimized after the elections. As Saakashvili’s budget was cut and his second airplane was gone, the administration decided to shut down the outer lights at the presidential palace.
Some of MPs from the UNM left the party and though they formed their own fraction within the Parliament, Georgian Dream can most probably count on their support. The Parliament was possible to outlaw presidential veto on the amnesty law. Georgian Dream has gripped nearly all branches of the government (except the court system and the local governance) and it seems that the “cohabitation” is slowly moving to the end.
Still, political confrontation does not prevent two Georgian men to share a toast. On the jubilee of the Patriarch Ilia II, Saakashvili patted his rival as Ivanishvili joked that Patriarch likes Saakashvili more than him, adding this one to his already rich list of peculiar jokes.
Relations with Russia: trade, you fool
Georgia’s breakaway regions have been as breakaway as ever during 2012. However, the new government tried to soften its position towards Moscow. Georgian products seem to be on their way back to “Mother Russia.” Ivanishvili appointed the special representative for the relations with Russia Zurab Abashidze who in late December met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin. Though both in Georgia and abroad direct talks were welcomed, no tangible results of these talks are known publicly. The suggestion to open the railway road to Abkhazia also saw no further development so far
The West: constans.
NATO and EU integration remain the unchanged foreign policy priorities. New Defense Minister Irakli Alasania vowed for the support of the ISAF mission. Nine Georgian soldiers died in Afghanistan during 2012, making the total number 19.
In June, Georgia launched visa liberalization process with the EU, hoping it will end up in visa-free regime for Georgian citizens.
Few other events in Georgia sparked popular attention during the year but nothing was able to out- shadow internal political dynamics. Even the London Olympics that brought seven medals to Georgia including one Gold in judo.