Georgia: On the right course, but a free electoral environment is a must.

COMMENTARY

The positive assessment of the pre-election mission of the US Government that visited Tbilisi over the last days sums up well the current political atmosphere in Tbilisi. The stress that marked the years of the Saakashvili administration with its heavy handed police tactics and massive surveillance has gone, and everybody can notice this. This has greatly contributed to creating the right conditions in which Georgians will choose their next President on 27 October. Yet there is no room for complacency. Georgia is not just Tbilisi and outside the capital old habits die hard.

Two particular concerns need to be highlighted. The first is connected with disruptions to the campaign activities of the candidate of the United National Movement, David Bakradze. Appearance of the odd clown at election gatherings is a known and accepted ploy in elections in western countries. Indeed many a British Prime Minister had to endure the presence of one during their campaigning. But there is a fine line between making a point and disrupting a political event, with or without violence. This line must not be crossed and Georgian law enforcement bodies must see to that. Bakradze is in this election the underdog and his rights need to be protected, fully. The second issue which was correctly also raised by the US delegation is that related to National Minorities. Here the Georgian Dream government has been less than re-assuring in its conduct nationally, but even more so in terms of the attitude of its proxies in the regions. Georgia is not simply a country of ethnic Georgians – it is a multi-ethnic and multi-faith country, and has been for many centuries. Those trying to give an impression otherwise are wrong. This is an issue with importance way beyond the current Presidential election, but the election will provide another test as to how Georgia is treating its national minorities. Here Ivanishvili and co are yet to prove themselves.

This commentary was prepared by the editorial team of CEW.  

Georgia prepares to choose “the man on the white horse”. Or is it just his horse?

The race is on for the office of President of Georgia after the governing Georgian Dream coalition led by Bidhzina Ivanishvili announced that it will nominate Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Giorgi Margvelashvili to the post. Given the massive victory that Georgian Dream registered in last October’s parliamentary elections and its continued popularity in recent opinion polls, Margvelashvili starts the race as the favourite to win.

The office of President of Georgia will be divested from most of its powers after the October elections following constitutional amendments that the previous government of Mikhail Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) pushed through before its election defeat. Executive power will now be vested in the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. The UNM still has to nominate its candidate for the elections, and has announced that it will do primaries to select its candidate. A number of other Georgian personalities are considering contesting as independent candidates.

Georgians have traditionally looked for “a man on the white horse” to lead them.  Georgian history is full of imagery of Georgian leaders, usually men, and on one or two occasions also women, riding into battle on horseback, often slaying a dragon. This time round the situation is rather confusing since the first person in the country will not be the one with the effective power. More…

The Georgian roller-coaster continues non stop.

Bidhzina Ivanishvili at the Congress of his Georgian Dream Party in Tbilisi on 16 February 2013.

Bidhzina Ivanishvili at the Congress of his Georgian Dream Party in Tbilisi on 16 February 2013.

Only days after Georgian politics plunged into pessimism with ugly scenes of intolerance in front of the National Library as President, Government and Parliament played a cat and mouse game which they insist on calling cohabitation, it was time for the roller coaster to turn on the up side. Reconciliation was in the air as the two sides pulled back from brinkmanship politics and focused instead on necessary compromise. The sight of two MPs, one from the government coalition and one from the opposition having a fist fight on live prime tv was not reassuring, but Georgians have got used to theatrics and are no longer much impressed by it.

Of more substance was the news that the Government and the opposition were edging closer to agreeing a constitutional settlement that would address the immediate concerns of the two sides. More…

Georgia: Oh so democratic!

scuffles outside national library in GeorgiaGeorgian civil society organisations had tough words for politicians following incidents at a protest in front of the National Library where President Saakashvili was due to speak. The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, Transparency International – Georgia, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association and the Open Society – Georgia Foundation condemned the acts of violence that ensued. In their statement the four NGOs said

“We believe that the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia has failed to take preventive measures in an effective manner to avoid injuring of guests of the event. The situation could only be de-escalated after the Interior Minister arrived at the scene. It is clearly a positive fact that the minister personally got involved in the developments; however, we believe that the Interior Ministry has failed to plan adequate measures for ensuring safety of participants, resulting in the necessity to postpone the presidential address.” The NGOs warned that “freedom of assembly and expression is one of the most important values of a democratic society but it must be realized within the legal constraints. We understand that some people have been suffering from the sense of injustice for over the years; nevertheless, this may not justify such illegal acts.”

Saakashvili accuses opponents of “winner takes all”mentality.

President Saakashvili addressing PACE in Strasbourg on 21 January 2013. (picture courtesy of the Council of Europe).

President Saakashvili addressing PACE in Strasbourg on 21 January 2013. (picture courtesy of the Council of Europe).

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on Monday (21 January) addressed the Plenary Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. In a wide ranging speech he spoke about Georgia’s current political challenges, its relations with Russia and  Georgia’s long term European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations

Referring to events that unfolded in Georgia following the Parliamentary elections on 1 October, Saakashvili said that PM Bidzina Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream coalition was suffering from “winner-takes-it-all mentality” and accused the new government of applying “selective justice” and targeting former government officials, UNM lawmakers, local authorities, judiciary and media. He said that the new authorities were pursuing the “campaign to silence political opposition” and accused the government of attempts to get constitutional majority in the Parliament through “direct blackmails” against UNM lawmakers pressuring them to switch sides. He also accused the government of pressuring Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) and claimed that the government “pushed the director of GPB to resign”.

Saakashvili, however, also said that there was still room for “a fruitful cohabitation” and mentioned his five-point plan, which he offered to the new government in his New Year’s address to the nation as a basis for cooperation. More…

No Georgian please. We’re NATO!

The Secretary General of NATO , Anders Fogh Rasmussen, last week nearly became the first victim of Georgia’s new system of political cohabitation when he got caught into the controversy surrounding the arrest and charging of senior military and security officials from the previous government on accusations of abuse of power.

Rasmussen’s facebook page was bombarded with Georgians commenting on various statements that the Secretary General made throughout the week, as he met with President Mikheil Saakashvili in Prague and later in Brussels with the new Prime Minister Bidhzina Ivanishvili. The problem was that many of the comments were in Georgian. At a press conference with Ivanishvili, Rasmussen reminded all Georgians that the official languages of the NATO alliance were English and French and asked them not to post in Georgian. More…