In October, Georgia had parliamentary elections that ended with an unexpected victory of the opposition and a change of the ruling team. It was an unprecedented event in the modern history of this country. The coalition Georgian Dream (GD) under the leadership of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili took power away from the United National Movement (UNM), which was in power since 2003. More than three months (what is about 100 days) passed after the elections and the formation of the new cabinet. Analyzing the internal and external policies of the current team, we should consider whether the maturity test has been passed and the dream of Georgian voters has been realised.
Before 2003, i.e. before the Rose Revolution, Georgia was going in the direction of complete disintegration and decline. The population hoped that their country could survive at all. Despite the controversial and contradictory opinions about the leader of this revolution Mikhail Saakashvili, for the eight years of his governing the state apparatus has begun to work, and the country is no longer sinking into chaos. Under the reign of Saakashvili, Georgia chose a course on democracy and the newly elected president energetically faced the issued challenges. The culmination of this process was the defeat of the ruling party under the direction of the president and the peaceful transfer of power to the winning coalition Georgian Dream. In this regard, the model and style of government, created by President Saakashvili, was not the one Georgian people dreamed about.
The dreams of the Georgians
The leader of the winning party had a reason to give such a name to his party. He, as a Georgian and a businessman, has made his dreams come true – he achieved success, making a fortune and thus providing a comfortable life for himself and his family. This is the dream of each of his fellow countrymen, and Ivanishvili promised to fulfill this dream to all the people who were ready to support him. The GD coalition got 55 percent of votes. As a decisive point voters took not the program, but the financial capabilities of the GD leader, and his promises to invest his own means to revive Georgia’s economy.
Soon he announced reforms of economy and of agricultural sector. In regard to economic policy, Ivanishvili presented the idea of creating two funds – investment and creative – in order to attract foreign capital into Georgia. The investment fund will involve both the companies and individual businessmen with their own capital. If a foreign investor decides to invest 25 %, the remaining 75 % will be provided by the Fund. The creative Fund will consist of experts, whose task will be to develop an investment portfolio with the most necessary for Georgia offers. In agriculture, it is planned to establish a fund of $ 1 billion lari (about 460 million euros) to help solve the problems in the sector, this fund will finance the purchase of agricultural machinery and construction of regional processing factories.
The post-election reality
All the positive initiatives turned out in the shadow of numerous detentions and interrogations of members of the previous regime, mainly former ministers – including Minister of the Interior and police officers. The first detention just for show was the arrest of former Minister of Defense and of the Interior Bacho Akhalaia. He was one of the leading figures of the regime under the leadership of still acting President Mikhail Saakashvili. After the Rose Revolution, he held important government posts, started with the Deputy Ombudsman. Administering the Department of Corrections of the Ministry of Justice, in 2009, at the age of 28, Akhalaia was appointed Minister of Defense. When the opposition party Georgian Dream came to power in Georgia, he left the country. Later he came back, but was almost immediately detained and interrogated, and then temporarily arrested and imprisoned at Tbilisi prison. Akhalaia was charged of the use of verbal and physical violence against his subordinates in 2011, when he was Minister of Defense. Also the former Minister of Energy Alexander Khetaguri and the former Minister of Education, and then Justice Minister, Nika Gvaramia were arrested. According to prosecutors, they were suspected of illegally transferring funds – up to USD 1 000 000 – to the accounts of paper companies.
The art of cutting up events
The Georgian society considers the arrests of the officials fair and deserved, but, on the other hand, fears of further escalation of coercion. Georgian citizens, in particular, expect the new government to unzip the problem of unemployment. But today, the Georgian economy and companies are in a worse situation than before the elections. The manufacture and sale are blocked because the majority of Georgian companies are currently being checked by the state control and tax administration. You can easily make a note of general disappointment because of that shameless struggle between the ruling and the opposition camps. The Georgian society would much more appreciate a desire to find common ground between the two parties, as well as the continuation of the democratic transfer of power.
The co-existing of the two warring sides is watched internationally, the EU gives a special attention to the positive cooperation of the Prime Minister with President. High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton during her visit to Tbilisi said that the relationship between PM – President was essential to Brussels as a part of a democratic transfer of power. Especially there can be no revenge on political enemies. However, both Ivanishvili and Saakashvili do not avoid confrontation and rivalry. As an example you can consider the recently proposed amnesty by the Prime Minister, in particular for alleged political prisoners of the regime of President. Ivanishvili convened a special commission to investigate validity of the detention and the processes undertaken during the presidency of his rival. The pardon bill was submitted for consideration to the parliament. President immediately vetoed the section on the so-called political prisoners and those who have committed crimes against minors. Detainees during President Saakashvili governing were taken as enemies of the state, such as alleged spies paid by Russia. The presidential veto was rejected by the parliamentary majority and the law came back to the president, who the second time refused to sign it. Finally, he was signed by the Speaker of Parliament in accordance with the constitutional procedure. About two hundred people were released, and over the next two weeks, the prosecutor should consider the next cases.
How to keep the energy stabilization?
Now public attention has focused on a political struggle, but it should be noted that in long perspective, the decisive factor for the new leader to remain in power will be fast fulfillment of campaign promises. Before the elections, Ivanishvili promised the reduction of electricity tariffs. But it has not yet occurred. Personal friendship between President Saakashvili and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev as well as “brotherhood” and partnership between the two countries, allowed Georgia to sign a lucrative long-term contract for the supply of Azerbaijani gas at a discount, which other countries can only dream of, thus guaranteeing its energy security.
Meanwhile, the first statements of the Prime Minister Ivanishvili could significantly undermine the energy balance of Georgia. In an interview, Georgian PM questioned the sense of the construction of the Baku – Kars – Akhalkalaki railway, what caused a storm of protest in Baku. This railway line should be a window for the Azerbaijani exports to Europe, and Baku is looking with great hope at its completing. Georgian Prime Minister later retracted his words, especially when Baku spreaded rumors about a possible change in thegas prices for Georgia.
Two models of heaven on earth
During the election campaign one of the most frequently shown pro-government election commercials urged voters to consider if they want to go back to the dark days of the 90s – Shevardnadze’s period – insisting that it would happen when the opposition came to power. Thus they suggested that the adoption of the State Board of GD would put the country back to the past . What kind of a “future past” was suggested to Georgia after the election?
Let’s consider the two conflicting visions on functioning of the state apparatus by both UNM and GD. Georgia, that Ivanishvili would like to build, is presented in a micro scale in a small village in the country’s western part. It is Chorvila where the Prime Minister came from.and where he lived for several years. In this small area, as in the rest of Sachkhere region, “the socialism reigns”. This is a place where everyone can receive free medical care or have an operation – all paid by the billionaire. He financed full gasification of the region, repaired roads and bridges, schools, and even paid for new windows and roofs for all the houses. It was not surprising that the GD candidate scored 94 % of votes here – it was the highest score for this candidate all around Georgia.
President Saakashvili has another vision of the country, which is presented in Georgia’s “center” by the House of Justice, built on his demand. This institution works according to the principle of a “one window” system, when you can submit and withdraw documents – such as a passport – without excessive bureaucracy and within few minutes. Saakashvili proposes to build a country where the government is creating the system based on citizens’ sustainability and does not interfere into their lives. They are somehow alone. Ivanishvili’s Georgia is another Georgia. This is the country, based on the assumption that the state takes on the burden of caring for its citizens, providing them with free education, health care and jobs after graduation. Paradoxically, both models can be called “the Georgian dream”. The first is close to the capitalist way of life, and, on the one hand, it is not yet fully known, but there lays its attraction. While the second model is based on the principles of socialism, and as the majority of Georgians were living in a socialist system before, they still remember it. And many people recall those times with nostalgia. There is, however, a political dilemma: it is connected to the dependence on Russia. It seems that Ivanishvili wants to build Georgia according to the model of a state guardianship, taking socialism as an example, as it already had its “five minutes” in Georgia. The main question which still causes doubts is whether such Georgia will come again into the orbit of the Kremlin.
The Kremlin has been stressing for several years that it does not intend to conduct a dialogue with Saakashvili’s regime. After the change of Georgian government, Russia agreed to a formal meeting. The former ambassador to Russia Zurab Abashidze received the mission to normalize relations on behalf of the Georgian minister. He held his post in 2000-2004. Abashidze said that the dialogue should be resumed without any preconditions. For a long time Russia has been slow to respond to the appointment of a Special Representative of Georgia and emphasized that the change in relations between the two countries must be consistent with the interests of the Russian state and business. Therefore, a radical turn between Tbilisi and Moscow could hardly be expected. The improvement of relations would be possible only after deep and radical changes within the Kremlin. However, we should consider the Georgian-Russian meeting the first success of Ivanishvili’s team, especially for the renewal of citrus fruit export from Georgia to Russia. Tbilisi is still awaiting cancellation of Russian embargo on Georgian wine and mineral water. Still, strengthening the Georgian-Russian relations and increasing the level of their quality are visible – the example is the first meeting between the PMs after years.
100 days. What comes next?
The appearance of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili on the Georgian political scene has aroused great expectations in the society waiting for a positive change, both in domestic and external context, as well as in the economic situation of the country. It should be noted that the last three months of presence on the political scene of the new party did not bring anything impressive in this regard. The pressing problems – unemployment and access to health care – are not solved, and focusing public attention on the fight with the previously ruling party does not improve the mood of the electorate. In regard to relations with neighboring Russia, particularly in the economic context, there’s no doubt that the Georgian society expects great improvements.
Relaunching trade between the two countries opens a huge market for Georgian production and job opportunities for many voters of GD. On December 9, 2012 at a meeting with representatives of the Russian presidential administration, Sergei Lavrov said that “Russia is ready to return Georgian products to its market … other issues will also improve the relationship, but we want to know the context in which we should normalize our relations”. According to experts, this may mean that the Kremlin requires a change of the course in Georgian foreign policy, for example, termination of NATO entering process. Ivanishvili has recently confirmed a European course of Georgian foreign policy, indicating further efforts to integrate into the structures of the European Union. However, other factors – such as the return of many figures straight from Eduard Shevardnadze’s era, who for many years were living in Moscow, and organization of demonstrations in support of the Georgian-Russian friendship cause concerns about Georgian Dream. This does not mean Georgia would land back in the 1990s. There is hope that the new government will take responsibility and face the challenges, not only focusing on the political struggle with the former ruling party and – quite frequent recently – rivalry with the President.
Translated by MA