“It’s a shame!”
Anti-government demonstrations continue for the 4th consecutive day in Tbilisi.
“There have been great tensions between our people, but I believe that we can overcome them. We have to foster an equal dialogue, find ways to solve burning questions in a positive manner, and I believe that with equal dialogue and trust we can heal the questions that have divided us in the past. There is no other way.”
This was the address by the Russian Duma Deputy, Sergei Gavrilov, in the Georgian Parliament on the morning of June 20th. Gavrilov addressed the Assembly for Legislators from Orthodox Christian countries in Russian from the Chairman of the Parlimanet’s seat. Gavrilov’s presence in the Georgian Parliament sparked an immediate outrage from the opposition party – with opposition party members bursting in with a Georgian flag and demanding the occupant to leave immediately. 20 per cent of Georgia is occupied by Russia, with the illegitimate border being extended day by day.
The citizens of Georgia were no less appalled by Gavrilov’s presence in their Parliament- over 20,000 people gathered on the same day in front of the Parliament with concrete demands to the government: the resignation of the Chairman of the Parliament Irakli Kobakhidze and a proportionate electoral system starting from the 2020 parliamentary elections. Georgia’s current electoral system is mixed, with 77 members of the parliament elected with the proportionate vote and 73 from the majoritarian vote. As the majoritarian system does now allow for proportionate representation in the parliament, the opposition for a long time has been demanding to a switch to a fully proportionate electoral system.
The government did not respond to these demands after the first night of protests. Instead, the night ended with a violent clash between the protesters and the police. As a group of protesters attempted to break-into the Parliament, the police responded with firing rubber bullets and breaking-up the protestors by using tear gas. More than 200 people were injured, with two of them losing their eyes. What was meant to be a one-day protest condemning Russian presence in the Georgian parliament turned into continuous demonstrations against the Georgian government.
Although Kobakhidze resigned after the night following the violent clashes, the citizens demands have only grown in number. The ongoing demonstrations have put-forward the following demands to the government: the resignation of the Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia, Giorgi Gakharia; the release of detained protesters from the night before; the punishment of police who used extreme force on protesters; and a proportionate electoral system starting from 2020. After the fourth day of demonstrations, Bidzina Ivanishvili – founder of the ruling party Georgian Dream – announced that the elections will be administered in a proportionate system from 2020 onwards. The Georgian citizens are planning to keep protesting until all of their demands have been met. Putin, on the other hand, has responded by banning all direct flights from Russia to Georgia (tourism made up 7.6 per cent of the Georgia’s GDP in 2018, with Russian tourists making up a large number of the percentage.)
The evident decline in the Georgian Dream – the ruling party’s – popularity brings into question the party’s future in Georgia’s 2020 parliamentary elections. Georgian politics is highly polarised, with two main parties being the Georgian Dream (current ruling party founded by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili) and the United National Movement (party founded by former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili). As people feel less and less represented by either party, it will be interesting to see what the 2020 parliamentary elections will hold for the country. Perhaps a switch to a proportionate electoral system will allow for new progressive and pro-European parties such as European Georgia and Girchi to redefine Georgian politics.
Anastasia Mgaloblishvili is a former intern at the German Marshall Fund’s Warsaw office. She completed her Bachelor’s in International Relations in TalTech and will continue her Master’s in the College of Europe’s Politics and Governance program.