Georgian election nears
With less than a month until the upcoming Georgian parliamentary elections on October 31st, New Eastern Europe is watching the developments in Tbilisi closely. This election will be the first since the electoral structure was reformed from a majoritarian system to a predominantly proportional one. Georgia, like the rest of the world, is also facing the economic and public health difficulties related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Make sure to follow NEE’s Georgian Election News for regular updates. #GEElelctionNEWS
This week in Georgia…
The ruling party takes the lead
A recent poll, conducted by the Georgian Institute of Politics, found that the majority of international and local election observers surveyed believe that the ruling Georgian Dream Party is leading significantly against the opposition. Experts expect the Georgian Dream to obtain somewhere between 39 and 53 per cent of the proportional votes, followed by the main opposition, United National Movement (UNM), which is predicted to get between 16 and 25 per cent of the vote share. Almost 60 organisations have registered as observers for the upcoming elections, with OSCE/ODIHR slated to provide the largest international observation.
This poll, which also predicts that the new election threshold of one per cent should result in a more multiparty parliament, supports the findings of the recent public poll commissioned by the TV station Rustavi2. It shows 55.7 per cent support for the Georgian Dream party and 16.2 per cent for the United National Movement. This poll, however, is highly disputed by the united opposition, which claims the numbers have been manipulated by the pro-governmental leadership of the TV station.
Opposition leader to face off in debate against Prime Minister Gakharia
The public broadcast station will air a debate on October 15th between the Georgian Dream prime minister, Giorgi Gakharia, and one of the opposition figures, Giorgi Vashadze. Noticeably lacking from the event will be the United National Movement’s candidate for prime minister, Mikheil Saakashvili, whose candidacy is highly controversial due to the fact that he is wanted for corruption charges and currently living in Ukraine. With no UNM candidate to be present in person, Vashadze, a member of a party that is polling at less than five per cent, has emerged as the most visible challenger to Gakharia.
Georgian Dream releases its platform
On October 1st, the Georgian Dream released its party platform at an event in Tbilisi. The head of the party’s election campaign, Irakli Kobakhidze, who previously resigned from parliament in the wake of the 2019 protests, announced that the Georgian Dream’s platform will focus on addressing poverty and the Russian occupation in the breakaway regions of Tskhinvali (the so-called South Ossetia) and Abkhazia. He also promised that Georgia will submit a formal application for membership in the European Union by 2024.
Aside from these commitments, the event’s rhetoric was largely retrospective. A lengthy speech by the party chairman and founder, Bidzina Ivanishvili, was devoted primarily to criticising the former United National Movement government and its “despotic and misanthropic” administration. Ivanishvili highlighted the Georgian Dream’s successes over the last eight years, including Georgia’s Association Agreement and free trade agreement with the European Union, investments in education and infrastructure, and reforms to the judiciary. While listing off self-proclaimed successes under the current administration, Ivanishvili devoted just as much time to comparing each achievement against the former UNM government’s “failures”.
During a two-hour campaign event, Georgian Dream party officials clearly highlighted their achievements to date and emphasised the “pain and trauma” caused by Saakashvili’s former government. Noticeably lacking from the event were clear policy proposals and a vision for what the party could offer the Georgian people in its next term.
COVID-19 cases spike in the Adjara region
Despite what was initially lauded as a seemingly successful public health campaign against COVID-19 in the earliest months of the pandemic, Georgia is now following the trend of many European countries with a concerning upsurge in cases. At the end of July, the country had reported a mere 1,100 cases and 16 deaths since the onset of the pandemic. However, a summer of loosened restrictions and increased domestic travel led to an outbreak of COVID-19 in the Black Sea Adjara region in September, which has since spread to other parts of the country.
As of October 6th, 9,245 cases have been reported and the country is averaging 500 new cases a day. Despite this concerning spike in infections, the Georgian Dream government has chosen not to lock down the region of Adjara or shut down parts of the economy for a second time. Surveys taken in June showed that a significant percentage of people’s opinions shifted following the first months of the pandemic, and people now see the economic impact of restrictions worse than the virus itself.
With less than a month until the election, it is crucial for the government to maintain favour with its supporters and continue to try and sway the undecided voters. When asked at a recent press conference if he would consider delaying the election due to the rising number of cases, Gakharia said that he sees no reason to do so, as long as everyone “shoulders the responsibility” of taking the necessary precautions.
Mackenzie Baldinger is a contributing editor with New Eastern Europe and a political researcher focusing on political extremism and populism in Central and Eastern Europe. She has a Master’s Degree in International Relations from Central European University and is currently completing an Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree in European Politics at Leiden University.
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