Recent Georgian elections became more transparent and usually mark a regular transition of power, as noted by several international observers. In 2018, Prime Minister Georgi Kvirikashvili resigned from his post after waves of protests in the country. His successor Mamuka Bakhtadze, a former Minister of Finance, and a new cabinet were approved by the parliament shortly after. Bakhtadze is the fourth Prime Minister of the ruling pro-European Georgian Dream party since it came to power in 2012. Since the presidential elections of 2013, won by Giorgi Margvelashvili, Georgian Dream has been in charge of both the presidency and the government and has held a majority in parliament. In the 2016 parliamentary elections the coalition between Georgian Dream and Democratic Georgia gained total victory again. Support of a pro-European policy and integration into the West are popular among parliamentarians and civic society. Top goals of Georgia are memberships in NATO and EU. The country’s problems and voter’s concerns circulate around unemployment, human rights and territorial integrity. The latter originates from a conflict with the breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia and a violent dispute between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia in 2008.
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- 4,926,330 (July 2017)
- Governmental Type:
- semi-presidential republic
- Ruling Coalition:
- Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia coalition
- Last Elections:
- 8 October 2016 (parliamentary elections)
- Next Elections:
- October 2018 (presidential elections)
- Sister Parties:
- Social-Democrats for Development of Georgia (SDD)
The August 2008 crisis
A priority spelled out by then president Mikhail Saakashvili after his election in 2004, was trying to bring back the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia under Georgian authority. He quickly established authority in Adjara and shifted attention towards the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This led to sharp tensions, among others with Russia, already not too pleased with Georgian aspirations to join international organizations like NATO and the EU since the 2003 Rose Revolution brought pro-Western Saakashvili to power. In August 2008 tensions between Russia and Georgia started escalating. An incident of a Russian spy plane shot down over Georgian territory resulted in a brief full scale war.
On 8 August 2008, Georgian troops entered South Ossetia as, what the Georgian authorities would later claim, a response to Russian provocation. However, the Russian military response was swift. As a result, the Georgian military was thrown back out of South Ossetia, after which the Russian side proceeded to enter Georgia proper. The Georgian side claimed grave shelling of the town of Gori, while the Russians retorted with similar accusations concerning the South Ossetian town of Tskhinvali. The war was officially over in five days, with a truce. The international community demanded that Russia withdraw its forces from Georgian territory. After stalling for several weeks, the Russian military eventually started dismantling its check points on Georgian territory. In a unilateral action the Russian Federation also recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states and started diplomatic relations with the two as early as October 2008.
The initial international response gravely condemned Russia for its actions and demanded withdrawal from Georgia. Specifically, the US started lobbying intensively for a sped-up Georgian accession to the NATO; something that European countries were somewhat divided in, even if equally condemning Russia. As time went by and investigations were launched, however, more and more reprimands started to appear towards the Georgian side as well as the Russian side. In October/November 2008 an independent international investigation group was created to look into the August events, headed by Heidi Tagliavini, a Swiss diplomat who served as UN Secretary General's special representative to Georgia from 2002 to 2006. The report eventually put some of the blame on both sides.
Democracy and human rights
Georgia is seen as one of the frontrunners in the region when it comes to democracy and human rights. The country scores relatively well on relevant international indexes, such as Freedom House, which describes it as ‘partly free’. It further has a lively and vocal civil society, an active opposition and political plurality, which often results in harsh political confrontations and a high level of polarisation. Since 2012 the Georgian Dream coalition is in power with, currently, a constitutional majority in parliament.
While doing relatively well in the areas of democratisation and human rights, there are still some concerns, especially regarding the status of the opposition. Opposition party United National Movement has claimed that its prominent members are subjected to politically motivated investigations and trials, with its founder Mikhail Saakashvili unable to formally lead the party having lost his Georgian citizenship in 2015, after gaining the Ukrainian citizenship, and unable to return to Georgia as he is wanted by Georgian authorities. There are also some concerns surrounding the role of Georgian Dream founder and former PM Bidzina Ivanishvili: there are allegations that he still wields quite some power behind the scenes while not having any formal (political) position. Informal actors having a big influence on political choices continues to be a challenge for Georgia. Additionally, critics say the judicial branch does not work independently from the government and the parliament, whose interests often affect the judges’ decisions.
Georgia is eager to continue improving its ties with the West by joining EU and NATO. It has signed and ratified the EU Association Agreement (which includes the long-expected visa-free travel possibilities to most EU member states) and has strived for NATO membership for some time, but without being very successful.
Gender and minority political participation
While there are no legal obstacles to women, Georgian politics remains dominated by men. Former parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze was previously the woman holding the highest political function, but she left the then ruling National Movement shortly before the parliamentary elections of 2008. Women remain underrepresented in politics, although there have been some improvements. Currently there are 23 female MPs, more than the 17 female representatives in the parliament before. On a local level, politics are more male dominated. Parties hold the opinion, that they would like to nominate more female candidates, but the problem is rather, that there are not enough women who actually want to take part. A career in politics is often seen as something not ‘feminine’ in Georgian society, mainly because the political scene is often described as “rough-edged” and influenced by a “macho culture”. Moreover, many women leave university when they marry or get pregnant and exchange their education for family.
National minorities enjoy full (political) rights under the constitution, and make up 16.2 percent of Georgia’s population. The two largest national minorities in the country are the Azeri and the Armenians. Besides that, a variety of smaller groups live within the state borders. Due to the fact that minorities often do not speak Georgian, their level of political participation is relatively low. However, especially in the run-up to the latest presidential election, more information in Armenian, Azeri, Ossetian and Russian was provided. There are no ethnic political parties, although several parties have included members of national minorities in lists and as majoritarian candidates, nominating them in districts where minorities form a substantial part of the population.
Georgia is a democratic republic, headed by President Giorgi Margvelashvili, who was elected in 2013. The parliament (the ‘Sakartvelos Parlament'i’) consists of 150 members, elected in a mixed electoral system consisting of 84 constituencies. 77 members are elected based on party lists. The remaining 73 single-mandate majoritarian constituencies are elected directly in voting districts in a first-past-the-post-system. All members are elected to four-year terms. After the peaceful Rose Revolution of November 2003 and the installation of Mikhail Saakashvili in January 2004, the outgoing parliament adopted on 5 February 2004 far-reaching changes to the constitution, which increased the power of the executive. As a result, the President has the power to dissolve the parliament, while he or she can stay in government even when the parliament has expressed its lack of confidence. Presidential powers were also increased in other areas, including the judiciary. Only with the constitutional amendments of 2010, the President decided that these powers were transferred back to the parliament after the presidential elections of October 2013. The new parliament was relocated from the capital of Tbilisi to the country's second largest city of Kutaisi after the parliamentary elections of 2012.
In the October 2016 parliamentary elections, the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG) party gained some 48.67 percent of the votes in the party-list contest over 77 parliamentary seats, with the main opposition party United National Movement (UNM) coming in second with 27.11 percent. Voter turnout was 51.63 percent. The electoral bloc Alliance of Patriots came in third with 5.01 percent. Other parties did not manage to clear the electoral threshold of 5 percent.
Election results 2016
|Party||% votes proportional lists||Seats proportional lists|
|Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia||48.67%||44|
|United National Movement||27.11%||27|
|Alliance of Patriots||5.01%||6|
|State for People||3.45%||0|
The remaining 73 seats were contested in single-mandate constituencies. 50 of them had to be conducted through a second round of voting on 30 October, because no candidate gained more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round. In the other 23 districts GDDG-related candidates won the first round. In the run-off GDDG candidates won in 49 districts and gained a constitutional 116-seat majority required to change the constitution.
Ignacio Sanchez Amor, the special coordinator and leader of the OSCE short-term observer mission, called the elections "strongly competitive and well-run" in a first reaction, saying they "offered an opportunity for voters to make informed choices about their options in a pluralistic but polarized media environment". The later published report stated that the elections were “well-administered and fundamental freedoms were generally respected”. However, the atmosphere during the campaign was accompanied by some incidents of violence. The media coverage was categorized as pluralistic, but sometimes lacking in balance between ruling and opposition parties. Furthermore, problems during the voting procedure were noticed, which increased tensions between the candidates.
Paolo Alli, head of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly also noted that "Georgia has reaffirmed its status as the leader of democratic transformation in this region. He further added that "the conduct of this election is greatly encouraging for all those who support Georgia on its path towards Euro-Atlantic integration".
The opposition was less positive. UNM accused the government of attempts to "steal elections". "We will defend our votes", said UNM’s campaign chief Nika Melia, to protesters outside the CEC early on October 9.
Nino Burjandaze, former president of Georgia and leader of the opposition Democratic Movement - United Georgia said her party "will not recognise these results" and "the elections were not free and fair". She also stated "we have evidence of electoral fraud in favour of Georgian Dream, such as, for example, multiple voting".
With all the votes counted, Georgian Dream’s candidate Giorgi Margvelashvili was the winner of the October 2013 presidential elections, with 62.12 percent of the votes. In the election results Margvelashvili was followed by Davit Bakradze of the United National Movement (UNM), the party of outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili, with almost 22 percent of the votes. Former parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze, leader of the Democratic Movement-United Georgia party, received just over 10 percent of the votes. The three front runners were followed by Labour Party leader Shalva Natelashvili (2.88 percent) and Christian-Democratic Party leader Giorgi Targamadze (1.06 percent).
|Giorgi Margvelashvili||Georgian Dream||62.12 %|
|Davit Bakradze||United National Movement||21.72 %|
|Nino Burjanadze||Democratic Movement - United Georgia||10,19 %|
|Shalva Natelashvili||Labour Party||2.88 %|
|Giorgi Targamadze||Christian-Democratic Party||1.06 %|
Georgia’s largest election observers’ organisation, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, said the election day had been “calm” and voting had occurred in accordance with the procedures in the majority of polling station. The organisation did mention some “significant shortcomings”, including voting with an invalid ID mainly in Batumi (Adjara Autonomous Republic) and problems with voter lists. Another observer, the Tbilisi-based Transparency International Georgia, reported 70 cases of “significant procedural violations”.
The OSCE observers’ preliminary conclusions stated the election conduct was quite positive overall. The election was “efficiently administered, transparent and took place in an amicable and constructive environment. On election day, voters were able to express their choice freely”. However, the OSCE observers did note the election was “negatively impacted by allegations of political pressure, including on United National Movement (UNM) representatives at local-self governmental institutions”. Although the campaign eventually evolved from a confrontation between the Prime Minister and the President to a competition among the main candidates, “personality politics continued to dominate the public debate throughout the campaign”.
Elections and political situation
- Alfred Mozer Stichting: Report Assessment visit to Georgia
- BBC News Laywer claims Georgia Presidency
- Country Profile Georgia
- Eurasia.net: Georgia prepares for new parliamentary election
- ICG: Georgia: What now? 3 December 2003
- OSCE Election Reports
- RFE/RL Georgia: Saakashvili Raising Hopes That Corruption May Be Tackled In Earnest
- Transnational Crime and Corruption Centre
- Transparency International Corruption Index
Georgia’s separatist regions
- BBC: South Ossetia
- ICG: Saakashvili’s Ajara success: Repeatable elsewhere in Georgia?
- ICG Crisiswatch September 2004
- Institute for War and Peace reporting
- Transitions Online (March-August 2004)
- BBC Russia warns Georgia after threat
- CSIS: Iraq and the Caucasus
- European Commission: EU’s relations with Georgia
- European Neighborhood Policy
- IIAS Newsletter, article M.P. Amineh: Rethinking Geopolitics in Post-Soviet Central Eurasia
- Transitions Online (March – August 2004)
Economic situation and poverty
- Edie news centre BTC pipeline construction suspended
- Friends of the Earth
- Goldman Prize recipient
- Independent.co.uk Exposed: BP, its pipeline, and an environmental time bomb
Political Parties and Blocs