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Political Situation

Georgia has significant democratic achievements to its credit, including peaceful transfers of power in 2012 and 2013, and the 2016 elections were widely viewed by the public as orderly and well-administered. The legislative and electoral framework is largely in line with international standards and conducive to the conduct of democratic elections. The country is anchored by a thriving and respected civil society sector, which is arguably its greatest democratic asset. Importantly, Georgians have strong aspirations to deepen their integration into the community of Western democracies and hold themselves to a high standard, and they ask others to hold them to that standard as well.

Georgia has been a democratic republic since the presidential elections and constitutional referendum of October 1995. The President is elected for a term of 5 years, limited to 2 terms; his constitutional successor is the Chairman of the Parliament. A powerful coalition of reformists headed by Mikheil Saakashvili, Nino Burjanadze and Zurab Zhvania came together to oppose Shevardnadze's government in the 02 November 2003 parliamentary elections.

The elections were widely regarded as rigged and the opposition organised massive demonstrations in the streets of Tbilisi. After two tense weeks, Shevardnadze resigned on 23 November 2003, and was replaced as president on an interim basis by Burjanadze. These events became known as the Rose Revolution. In January 2004 Mikheil Saakashvili was elected to a 5-year term. President Saakashvili was inaugurated on January 25, 2004. New parliamentary elections had been called for March 7, 2004.

International observers determined that the January 2004 presidential elections and the March 2004 parliamentary elections represented significant progress over previous elections and brought the country closer to meeting international standards, although several irregularities were noted. In contrast to previous years, there were fewer reports of harassment or violence against religious minorities. Police bribery of motorists also decreased significantly due to an overhaul of the highway police and elimination of the traditional traffic police.

Saakashvili was re-elected in January 2008, in snap presidential elections brought forward by several months following large-scale protests in November 2007, which led the government to call a state of emergency. The government received an absolute majority in parliament at elections in May 2008 following last-minute changes to the election code. A number of opposition politicians subsequently chose not to take up their seats in Parliament.

The August 2008 war with Russia provided temporary political unity, but demonstrations and calls for Saakashvili’s resignation started to resurface towards the end of 2008. The non-parliamentary opposition organised demonstrations that lasted from April- June 2009, demanding Saakashvili’s resignation and the holding of early elections. They accused Saakashvili of fraud in the 2008 elections, blamed him for taking Georgia into an unnecessary war, and eroding democracy. The protests largely passed off peacefully, despite accusations of police heavy-handedness and of protestors and journalists being attacked.

Critics accused Saakashvili of persecuting political opponents, controlling the media and not doing enough to tackle poverty. But disagreements on tactics and the failure to put forward any consistent policies have weakened the opposition, and protests have failed to threaten the government. Meanwhile, Saakashvili continued to try and hold a dialogue on electoral and constitutional reform with moderate elements in the opposition.

On October 15, 2010, the Parliament approved a number of amendments to the constitution, including provisions that shift political powers from the president to the prime minister following the 2013 presidential election. Saakashvili’s second and final term expires in October 2013. The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission considered the October 15 constitutional amendments to contain “several important improvements” but criticized the no-confidence procedures as a potential source of instability due to the time frame involved in the process and a potentially cumbersome process. Civil society activists, opposition leaders, the Venice Commission, and others had urged the Parliament to extend the period of debate which would have allowed “greater public buy-in and credibility.”

Many had assumed that once his second term had ended, the 44-year-old Saakashvili would attempt to move into the newly empowered premiership, like his arch nemesis, Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the United National Movement indicated it is backing the country's current prime minister, Vano Merabishvili, for the post.

Under Georgia’s constitution, President Saakashvili was prevented from running for a third term in 2013, though he remained in office until October 2013. The competitive election reinforced Georgia’s post-Soviet reputation as an island of democracy in an authoritarian neighborhood. President Mikheil Saakashvili faced the strongest challenge since he was first elected eight years ago.

Georgia suffered from "regime fatigue" and polarizing political divisions. The release of videos documenting horrific abuse in the country's prisons sparked massive protests in the capital Tbilisi and deepened doubts about the government's commitment to democracy. The president's reputation as a guarantor of liberalism and security were undermined by the crackdown on antigovernment protests in 2007 and the brief, cataclysmic war with Russia in August 20008. Unemployment is officially 16.5 percent, although the actual figure may be twice as high. Two-thirds of people between the ages of 20 and 24 were out of work. An August 2012 US National Democratic Institute poll found that joblessness and affordable health care were the top concerns for potential voters, with issues of NATO membership, human rights, and even territorial integrity of secondary importance.

The October 2012 parliamentary elections led to the first peaceful, democratic transfer of power in the country’s post-Soviet history. There are no legal restrictions on political party formation beyond registration requirements, and the election code adopted in December 2011 allows an individual to run for office without party affiliation. According to the OSCE’s election report, freedom of association, assembly, and expression were respected overall during the preelection period, although instances of harassment and intimidation of party activists marred the campaign.

The pro-European Georgian Dream party secured 48 of the 50 seats up for grabs in the second round of voting, the Central Election Commission said 31 October 2016. Georgian Dream took 67 of the parliament's 150 seats in the first round on October 8. Runoffs were held Sunday for 50 other seats in which no candidate claimed a majority. The second-round results give Georgian Dream a super majority of 115, cementing the party's grip on power and allowing it to form a new Cabinet and pass constitutional amendments. The opposition United National Movement (UNM) came in second with 27 seats, while the anti-Western Alliance of Patriots took six seats. Turnout was low in the runoffs, with only 37.5 percent of eligible voters participating.

Twenty-two parties and five coalitions fielded 12,902 candidates for proportional lists and, together with 201 initiative groups, nominated 369 mayoral and 4,727 majoritarian candidates. Despite numerous parties and candidates participating, the election campaign was marked by a striking lack of visible competition in the majority of the country, although events that took place were largely able to proceed without obstruction. Parties and candidates seemed either overly confident in, or resigned to, a particular outcome.

GD leaders explained their financial advantage by pointing to their superior fundraising skills and vision. By contrast, opposition parties faced a scarcity of funds, describing donors’ expressed hesitancy to contribute. Both parties acknowledged the advantage of incumbency and possible benefits of contributing to the ruling party.5 Given their financial constraints, the opposition parties used their state funding to focus on door-to-door canvassing, small-scale meetings, free air-time, and low-cost social media, and concentrated their efforts in districts they viewed as competitive. Both the ruling party and opposition parties claimed their opponents did not declare all donations.

On 23 February, 2021 Public Defender Nino Lomjaria termed the arrest of Nika Melia, the leader of the United National Movement, at the office of the opposition party by the use of force as "concerning". The Public Defender had earlier evaluated the relevant court decision, saying that "the application of the measure of detention against Nika Melia was neither substantiated nor necessary". The Public Defender’s Office is monitoring the ongoing developments and will additionally inform the public of the situation of the detainees.

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Page last modified: 01-10-2021 17:14:58 ZULU