How to rectify Georgia’s statehood

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Supporters of Georgian opposition presidential candidate attend a protest rally in Tbilisi, Georgia, 2 December 2018. [Zurab Kurtsikidze/EPA/EFE]

It is a well-known Georgian secret, that the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili runs the country’s affairs through his “Georgian dream” political party, police and judiciary and even some other political parties and most of the mass media, writes Nino Burjanadze.

Nino Burjanadze is former the chairman of the Georgian Parliament.

The upcoming parliamentary elections in Georgia in November 2020 are due to be the most crucial since the country has gained independence 28 years ago. All our democratic and traditional values will be at stake.

The growing disillusionment of Georgian population in the current system is reaching such a troubling level that only deep reforms of the electoral rules and the end of the paternalistic manner of the elite ruling can save us from major disturbances.

The popular dissatisfaction derives not only from some obvious procedural discrepancies. This is the outcome of the current manner of ruling: administrative resources, the politicisation of the judiciary system and the justified feeling of non-separation between different governing branches. And all this begins and ends with the unofficial one-man rule.

This is a well-known Georgian secret, that the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili runs the country’s affairs through his “Georgian dream” political party, police and judiciary and even some other political parties and most of the mass media.

This causes growing frustration and can be partially cured by free proportional elections as the key to change the rotten oligarchical habits of running the state. This must begin with the electoral reform, which will help to bring Georgia into the necessary democratic recovery.

We are marking these days our independence and the thirtieth anniversary of the massive demonstrations against Soviet governance, which resulted in  21 deaths. Georgia was then probably the most active republic in the USSR seeking for freedom. Unfortunately, the end of the communist regime was followed by civil war.

Few times the governments were charged by street protests rather than the civilised way of elections. We see some overall improvements in Georgian democratic culture during the last ten years, but the explosive potential has not disappeared and it is rather rapidly growing now.

The rising tension is troubling but we would see a solution rather in incorporating the traditionalists into a democratic process. Unfortunately, current reigning political practice is very far from responding to any reasonable popular demand.

We see it on the surface during past and last presidential campaign (there will be no more separate elections of President). The two rounds of elections have disclosed major discrepancies as was stated by the most authoritative international bodies. If we dig deeper, we find a severe political crisis.

The Elections Observation mission set by OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights had presented a report, which has specified the events of campaign disruption, vandalism and even violence in the course of last presidential elections.

It mentions “the use of negative, harsh and at times violent rhetoric significantly overshadowed the campaign, particularly for the second round, and went unaddressed by the authorities”.

Moreover, we read in the report:

“Throughout the campaign, there were incidents of misuse of administrative resources, and before the second round, a series of social and financial initiatives were announced, in particular, debt relief for 600,000 individuals by a private financial institution linked to the chairperson of the ruling party. These incidents blurred the line between the state and the ruling party”.

If you add to this deep concern over harsh inflammatory rhetoric and almost exclusively negative campaigning, we get a very gloomy picture.

Following the report, ten prominent members of the European Parliament have sent a letter to the Representative of the EU on Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini. They have stated:

“Most credible interlocutors and organizations, namely the Venice Commission, and Georgia’s credible watchdogs and non-governmental organizations, such as ISFED, have long identified Georgia’s mixed election system prone to produce supermajorities as a major systemic problem.”

“The decision of the current government to delay in enacting the fully proportional election system from 2020 to 2024 received much criticism from all these stakeholders, in particular, the civil society. Following the presidential elections, virtually all of Georgia’s opposition political parties and credible civil society have called upon the Government to engage in dialogue over achieving a compromise on the election system already for 2020”.

It must be emphasized that all major opposition parties, including my own, support the demand of enacting fully proportional elections system. Today the Parliament of Georgia has 150 members, elected for a four-year term, 77 seats by proportional representation and 73 in single-seat constituencies.

The use of “administrative resources” in the election of the 73 deputies especially allows forging the elections de facto.

The needed reform will not just bring Georgia to certain normal and civil elections procedures but will change positively the whole climate of which is currently can be described as disappointment and frustration. This is the way to incorporate in the democratic process both traditionalists and modernists and to strengthen trust in our institutions.

We hope that civilised Europe will help Georgia to find her natural place on the continent by urging her to meet the electoral standards and bringing back the faith in democracy. The alternative is hard to imagine.

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