Georgia goes to the polls in a few days’ time. What happens on 1 October will determine the future of the country for a long time. It is for the Georgian people to decide who they want to govern them and what sort of future they want for their country. But Europe has a duty to observe this process carefully, and to give a true and fair assessment afterwards. Thousands of observers and journalists will be in Georgia these days to do just that.
On too many occasions Europe’s vision of Georgia has been clouded by considerations that are certainly not valid for the current circumstances. Georgia has a damaged society, partly a result of a style of government in recent years that has been confrontational in its approach. The prisons torture scandal over the last days has further exacerbated the problem. The European Union and the United States, Georgia’s two main friends in the world, should have done more in the past years to help raise concerns and address serious shortcomings in the field of democratic governance, human rights and the rule of law.
It is important that these failures of the international community will not be repeated in the context of these parliamentary elections. The electoral campaign that has been raging on for months has been far from perfect, but at least Georgians now have a credible choice of parties to choose from. The message of the opposition parties which was initially muffled and distorted eventually broke through, so no Georgian can now say that he has not been able to hear the different sides.
The heroes of the story are the Georgian NGOs, such as “GYLA”, “Transparency International Georgia” and “This affects you”, who’s crusade, over the last year and more, to ensure a free and fair election has been heroic. Foreign observers, who turn up in Georgia a day or two before the elections, or even those who arrived four weeks before, need to listen very carefully to what the local civil society is saying on these elections.
Despite all the problems that occurred, and the poisoned climate that at times has marked the atmosphere around the elections, there is still a chance for these elections to be a turning point for the political evolution of the South Caucasus, and of Georgia in particular. However there should be zero tolerance from election observer missions for election fraud, and problems if they occur need to be spelled out in unambiguous language. If on the other hand the process is flawless than an equally clear assessment is necessary so that the people of Georgia can move on, the healing process can start, and the long term ambitions of all main Georgian political forces, that of embedding the country in the European and Euro- Atlantic community, can start taking shape.