Huntington Test to be passed in Georgia
First of all I would like to remember some historical lines about Georgia. My country is located in Caucasus, neighboring Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is true that this region was historically one of the key points of Silk Road and nowadays it is loosing the opportunity to be a hub between Asia and Europe again.
First Georgian Constitutional Republic was established in 1918, when after long period of Tsarist, Imperial Russian occupation was ended, while Russian Empire was on its ending phase of Communist Revolution and regime change.
That opportunity was used in very good way, Georgian political elite established constitutional republic, ruled by Constitution of Georgia and representatives from all over the territorial parts. It was one of the firsts examples in Europe, when women had active and passive rights to vote and to be elected officials. Five of them were elected MPs.
After consolidation of power in Russia by communist party, it was very hard to save free, independent Georgian Republic. In 1921, Red Army invaded independent state and Georgian Officials went in immigration.
70 years of Communist occupation left nothing for Georgia, but bloody repressions, hundreds of thousands killed or in exile, political elite, writers, intellectuals and public influencers were removed from history.
After independence referendum in 1991 March, Georgia reestablished independent state, but it was really problematic future struggle waiting for Georgian society.
After civil war between armed opposition and government forces, Russian backed and armed separatists with actually Russian forces too started war against central government. Imagine that there was civil war and battles backed by Russia as well.
Georgia lost its north-western territory, hundreds of thousands of Georgians was leaving Sokhumi and nearest regions, ethnic cleansing, war crimes – Georgia was in the situation like in 1921 as I mentioned above.
Civil war opposition forces decided that former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991, Eduard Shevardnadze could bring peace and stability to Georgian Society. Democratic consolidation was one of the main promises of Eduard Shevardnadze, yes war ended, some institutions started functioning, but Georgia continued to be a failed state with high numbers of corruption, bribery, organized crime and economic problems.
Georgia became member of Council of Europe, NATO started helping Georgians to improve military potentials, it was very good, because western interests were growing, therefore western actors were supporting some civil groups, non-governmental organizations and former young members of Shevardnadze’s ruling party, after growing dissatisfaction against government activists started non-violent action.
In 2003, parliamentary election was held, it was very clear that Shevardnadze rigged elections and opposition parties were consolidating their civil powers, gathering many people from Georgian regions.
On the day of Saint George, November 23rd, peaceful protesters went to Parliament building, former Ministry of Justice Mikheil Saakashvili came in the hall with red roses.
The Rose Revolution ended with elections in 2004, United National Movement became major group in newly elected parliament and Saakashvili became President of Georgia.
After painful reforms such as cutting corruption ties, struggling against organized crime with zero tolerance/broken window theory, Georgian state started functioning, from failed state it became strong, effective one.
But painful reforms always leave a civil dissatisfaction, government used a force against protesters in 2007, President Saakashvili was resigned, but by election results he returned.
Shortly, in 2008 after signing Bucharest resolution between NATO members about Georgia, it was very clear that as soon as possible our state was on the way of becoming member of North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Of Course it was like morning alarm for Russia and in August 2008, Russian 58th regular army crossed Georgian border through Roki Tunnel. After 5 day of war Russia totally invaded more territories than it was before August. Peace negotiations about ceasing fire was ended. Dissatisfaction and world economic crisis were about to happen for ruling party.
For political analysis: After the Rose Revolution former active civil persons nowadays were government officials, President Saakashvili’s superpower with no checks and balances was the main problem for democratic consolidation.
After all democratic reforms and liberalizations Georgia remained functional, but hybrid regime with authoritarian leanings. Former friend of government – Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili came to political opposition.
Ivanishvili’s wealth – more than 5 Billion Dollars was more than country’s budget and third of the total nominal GDP.
Everyone who was in the opposition in recent years, now started allying with Billionaire Oligarch.
In 2012, before the elections, someone showed video recordings of torturing prisoners, it was shocking news for everyone not only for government officials, but for their western partners.
On the voting boxes, people reelected United National Movement and Georgian Dream Coalition Party became the new ruler.
It was first example of peaceful change of government by elections in Georgia. Cosmetically, but truly nothing has changed after 8 years of GD governance, even now Georgia remains hybrid semi – authoritarian regime with some democratic institutions such as mostly free and fair elections, but judicial independence, politically motivated prosecutions and problematic steps toward Russian influence – remains unchanged.
For example: former Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava was imprisoned three times, last one was very laughy, prosecutor who was in the appeal court, now became Supreme Court justice and decided to take Ugulava to prison. That is law students reading material in the first year of study. But not for GD emperor – Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Last year, some parliament members and chairman invited Russian official Gavrilov to be a one of the main event organizers in Georgian Parliament. Everywhere Gavrilov was supporting Georgia’s breakaway occupied territories as independent states. Peaceful protesters gathered in front of parliament, but at late night government used a massive force to dismantle young people. It was alarm for Georgian society and political actors, they together demanded proportional electoral system instead of semi majoritarian and semi proportional that was giving a more power to the winning party(Winner takes all). After several days Bidzina Ivanishvili promised that 2020 Parliament elections should be with full proportional system, no barriers (but natural 0.67%).
Really it was huge step forward to Georgian democratic consolidation, but Ivanishvili lied. Some revolutionary members of ruling party disagreed. That was really good spectacle or TV show that should be on Netflix this year.
After peaceful blockades and protests our western partners and supporters started negotiating, facilitating between opposition parties and Georgian Dream.
It was compromise for opposition politicians to agree on semi proportional system. Until that 150 MPs were elected in that way: 77 with proportional vote and 73 with majoritarian districts.
GD offered 120 MPs to be elected with proportional system and 30 MPs with old majoritarian way. Compromise was agreed by opposition.
Society agreed that superpower in the hands of one ruler or party is the very problematic for democratic development, proportional system with all the negative side effects – is the only way to avoid authoritarian rulers.
Now, there’s huge attention by our western allies, Congress is speaking about Ivanishvilis’s Russian interests and possible sanctions against him. Opposition parties are negotiating for majoritarian candidates especially in Tbilisi and then in regions.
After coronavirus and lockdown it seems that GD is loosing supporters not only because their bed results of ruling, but because the economic problems, in April Georgian economic growth was -16 percent, after the civil war 28 years ago – it was first such a great fall for Georgians. Even in 2008 Russo-Georgian war and world economic crisis was not such painful.
Growing dissatisfaction and opposition party agreement – Georgian society in this year should face a new era of democratic development.
Samuel Huntington a great man once said that state should be considered a democratic one, when there was minimum two peaceful changes of ruling party by free and fair elections.
Georgia today is on its way to pass Huntington test for democracy.
It should be continued, governments changed and limited!
By Gaga Tutarashvili
Gaga Tutarashvili has a Master of Public Law and Policy at Ilia State University Tbilisi, Georgia