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Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev

Dmitry Anatolyevich MedvedevMedvedev

2013 – A crucial year for Georgia

For a small and politically volatile country that had previously only changed its political leaders through civil war and revolution, its parliamentary elections in October marked a significant step forward on its way towards democracy. 2012 was a groundbreaking year for Georgia, but what does 2013 have ahead? An analysis by Roy Yu

Whether or not the results of the parliamentary elections in October are good or bad in themselves, they marked a triumph for democracy. It was a systematic breakthrough when President Mikhail Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM), the ruling party of Georgia for nearly a decade, conceded defeat to Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream. The most important lesson learned is that Georgia has successfully demonstrated its ability to hold peaceful elections, the result of which was acceptable to all sides and international watchdogs.

A new Georgia or another Ukraine?


That being said, this historic development and peaceful transfer of power was just the first step. With the arrival of 2013, several crucial questions are still daunting this young and fragile nation. How will Saakashvili and his UNM adjust from being the ruling party to being the political opposition? Will this adjustment be swift and successful? Will Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream be able to successfully cohabitate with Saakashvili who will remain the president of the country until October 2013? Or will everything just go wrong and Georgia will plunge into that type of political chaos that troubled Ukraine after the Orange Revolution in 2004?

The idea that Georgia would possibly be another Ukraine is purely unfounded. Many similarities can be drawn from the pre-elections atmospheres in Georgia, before the October parliamentary elections, and in Ukraine, in November 2004. In both instances, the political scene was highly charged, marked by a high level of confrontation and political polarization before the elections. This, again, highlights the fact that the country’s political system is still in the process of development and sophistication, that the political culture with its democratic traditions in Georgia are still young.

A new Prime Minister, a new vision

The elections left Georgia with a rather uneasy situation: an entirely new and awkward cohabitation between Saakashvili’s UNM, which, in addition to controlling the presidency, still is a significant fraction in the Parliament, and Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream, which is now the majority in Parliament and makes up the government. Since October, the two leaders, along with their parties, have constantly been vying for power and influence.

Only two months in office, Ivanishvili has arrested a number of senior officials from the previous government on corruption charges, while many others are currently placed under investigation and public inquiry. While some believe that Georgian Dream is merely fulfilling its campaign promises to tackle corruption, others believe that these cases simply represent Ivanishvili’s political payback towards Saakashvili’s entourage.

A Big Agenda for Ivanishvili

Georgian Dream

The biggest challenge that Ivanishvili faces now is the incomplete reform legacy. Although Saakashvili has modernized the country in a very fast and impressive way, he has also done so in a very technocratic and, arguably, authoritative way. Although many social service institutions, modeled after the West, have been built, very few rule-of-law institutions are in place. The prison system, for example, is still greatly repressive in the country, and Georgia currently has the highest prison population per capita in Europe. In short, reforms and changes were bought at a high price.

Therefore, the key task for Ivanishvili is to build up these missing legal institutions. Georgia’s future depends highly on how well he will be able to accomplish this task. The current government has some competent people and desirable goals, such as tackling corruption and bolstering economic performance, but it is having difficulties in achieving them since these people lack the necessary experience. That being said, they have a very “tempting” instrument that they can use unfortunately: the fairly repressive legal system.

In this respect, successful cohabitation between Saakashvili and Ivanishvili is not only essential to bolster the country’s legal institutions, but also to achieve Georgia’s daunting and long political agenda in 2013. Many things are still left to be done: strengthening the political system on the national level, reforming local governance, improving election laws, conducting free and transparent presidential elections in October 2013, developing the economy and creating more jobs, as well as improving the country’s security.

The last point is in fact of great political importance. Georgian’s two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, nearly 20 percent of the country’s territory, still remain a delicate issue since the disastrous and bitter war that was fought in August 2008. National security and post-conflict management, for example, the issues of internally displaced persons and national truth reconciliation, cannot be put on the political back burner while other domestic reforms are being carried out. This issue is also the key in determining Georgia’s relationship with the United States, the EU, and NATO in the near future.

In 2013, Georgia is faced with two options, one positive and the other negative. The positive option would be for Ivanishvili to forget all possibilities of political payback and to focus solely on democratic reforms. The negative, on the other hand, would be to follow the old route of Ukraine and to stumble in political chaos and deadlocks.

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1st picture (source): Anna Woźniak / Creative Commons License

2nd picture (source): European People's Party - EPP / Creative Commons License

3rd picture (source): Anna Woźniak / Creative Commons License