By Ioseb Jorjoliani (Georgian Institute of Politics)

The Republic of Georgia held its Parliamentary elections on October 8th. With a voter turnout of about 52 percent, the ruling party- Georgian Dream (GD) secured a victory of 48.67 percent. The main opposition party – United National Movement (UNM) came in second with 27.11 percent. Unlike the two-party dominated election of 2012, 2016 saw the emergence of a new political group called Alliance of Patriots (AoP), passing the 5 percent threshold to qualify for parliamentary representation and gaining 5.01% of total votes. According to Georgian electoral law, the AoP will have 6 representatives in the parliament while Georgian Dream and United National Movement reserved 44 and 27 seats respectively. However, elections are not over yet; only 77 seats are allocated through proportional vote and the rest 73 are distributed through single constituency mandates. Single constituency mandates are won through simple majority votes. No winner has been revealed in 50 constituencies thus the central election commission will hold a second round of elections until November 2nd 2016, in most constituencies GD and UNM candidates will face each other again in a second round.

Who Won and Why
The victory of Georgian Dream was not unexpected as most of the election polls suggested GD victory. Even “Rustavi 2” exit poll ( a TV station closely aligned with UNM) predicted a GD victory by a narrow margin. During the campaign, Georgian Dream highlighted its achievements and revealed rather impressive plans such as new massive highway construction and founding of a new Technological university along with other plans in economic development and social welfare. Parallel to this GD constantly emphasized the fact that UNM’s return to power would be disastrous for the country.

UNM built its campaign platform on calling for a regime change and blaming the GD government for all the shortcomings the opposition party faced, UNM portrayed itself as a victim of GD regime as some members of the party were prosecuted and are currently in jail. An incident two days before the elections, was also seen (at least from UNM supporters) as a way of threatening the opposition: an automobile of a UNM parliamentarian, Givi Targamadze exploded, injuring three pedestrians, Targamadze himself was unharmed. However, the reasons behind the attack are still unknown. Targamadze is a UNM member who is no longer running for parliament and remains rather irrelevant in this election. Some blame former President Saakashvili to escalate situation for elections in “peaceful” Georgia, calling this attack staged. Moreover, the audio recordings that allegedly reveals Saakashvili, planning a military coup scenario with his party members, intensifies those claims. Some accuse Former Prime Minister Ivanishvili as he still maintains authority over the GD government and despises his opponents from UNM.

The duel between these two aforementioned figures was interesting in this parliamentary election although none of them were running for the public office.
In 2012, Ivanishvili ousted Saakashvili’s party through parliamentary elections. In 2015, Saakashvili lost his Georgian citizenship after accepting an Ukrainian one for his job as a governor of the region Odessa. Saakashvili still maintains presence in Georgian politics via his interactive Facebook livestreams and other TV appearances, where he promised Georgians that he will return to Georgia after the elections. Ivanishvili who resigned in 2013 as a Prime Minister celebrated GD victory with supporters right after exit poll results were announced, “You have Kvirikashvili (Prime Minister of Georgia) instead of those confused, disorganized people. You have a government you love,” said Ivanishvili as the crowd chanted his name. Saakashvili on the other hand backed down on his promise to come back to Georgia from Ukraine, claiming he has a job to do as a governor.

Saakashvili’s promise to come back to Georgia and oust Ivanishvili (from informal rule) was rather a bad PR for UNM. Most of the undecided voters which amounted 50 percent in June according to NDI polls were a good source of additional voters for UNM. However, the campaign of UN was largely based on Saakashvili’s return to power, whose promises were rather threatening to the Georgian population. Most undecided voters remained loath to vote for a change and revenge that Saakashvili aspired for. That is why the most of the undecided voters ended up either voting to maintain status quo or did not vote at all.

Aftermath of the Elections
Although not in the list of UNM delegates for the parliament, Saakashvili urged his party members not to participate in a second round of the elections for single mandate votes, “I do not see a reason to participate in a second round as it will only legitimize the results of this rigged election.” said Saakashvili in his address after the election. This could be a very controversial topic among his party members. Before the elections UNM was on its way to rebranding itself, as the top 10 of the proportional list was filled with newcomers who had rather experienced political past and remarkable achievements. However, the party failed in this process as the members were not able to distance UNM from Saakashvili. Some say it was the main reason for UNM’s loss in this election, “All researches showed our rating was increasing. The people started believing in new faces. At the same time Georgian Dream conducted the campaign saying all this was a big lie and Misha wanted to return and bring those nine years back… The population was a bit confused… When a critical moment came, National Movement’s campaign has become ultra-aggressive as Misha appeared saying he was planning to come back to Georgia and that the army and police was on his side,” – said Shota Utiashvili, who served as a high official in Saakashvili’s government.

Some of UNM members also brought up the initiative of boycotting the results and staying out of the parliament as a sign of protest. This is also a subject of internal debate among party members, most of whom were hesitant to comment on this issue as the discussion is ongoing and the decision has yet to be made. However, Helen Khoshtaria, one of the new faces of UNM and a current candidate for MP who is qualified to participate in a second round for single mandate wrote on her Facebook, “Boycott is a suicide for the most progressive political group [UNM] and will be deleterious for Georgia”. This clearly hints to the disagreements within the party. However, Saakashvili’s role in the party still remains highly respected and that could play a deciding role in the final outcome of whether UNM participates in the second round and enters the parliament.

Georgian Dream will presumably gain constitutional majority in the parliament. GD, under Prime Minister Kvirikashvili’s leadership, will have the chance to change several constitutional frameworks, for example Nukri Kantaria, MP from GD said that the right to elect president will be subject to parliamentary votes rather than popular elections if GD gets constitutional majority. Parliamentarians from GD have been highly disappointed by the location of Parliament, which is in Kutaisi, the third biggest city in Georgia, this also subject to constitutional change and will definitely be on the table after new parliament gathers in Kutaisi.
It will surely please GD officials if UNM stays out of the parliament as both party members mostly distrust each other and bipartisan work becomes impossible in certain instances. However, it will not benefit the pluralism in the country as GD will end up alone with AoP, that might leave the new government without the main critic.

Response from the West
The election in Georgia was monitored by local and international NGOs and multilateral organizations. The evaluations of this election is mostly positive:
“The International Republican Institute (IRI) concluded that Georgia’s October 8 parliamentary elections were ‘held in a mostly calm and peaceful environment, were well-administered, and appeared to reflect the will of the Georgian people.”
The Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE reported a bit critical statement, emphasizing several violations in the campaigning and voting processes, “The 8 October parliamentary elections in Georgia were competitive, well-administered and fundamental freedoms were generally respected. The otherwise calm and open campaign atmosphere was, however, impacted by allegations of unlawful campaigning and some incidents of violence…
One of the first to highlight Georgia’s achievement to hold a democratic election was the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, “I congratulate the Georgian people to the successful first round of parliamentary elections. Georgia has again demonstrated maturity and functionality of his young democracy.” said Steinmeier in his statement. High Representative of the European for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini and EU Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy also released a statement: “We look forward to working with the democratically elected new Parliament and Government of Georgia.”
After reading the responses from the west it is clear that the elections in Georgia are widely perceived as another step towards further democratic development.

What About Other Parties
As mentioned, Alliance of Patriots gained 5.01% of total votes, meaning that they will have a small but respectable representation. AoP is widely seen as a pro-Russian party but Georgian public has never seen them in public office thus predicting their performance in the parliament will be a bit unprecedented.

It is certain that three parties reserved seats in the parliament but there is a certain level of disappointment as the most affluent western oriented parties- Republicans and Free Democrats failed to gain 5 percent of votes. This is unfortunate as Georgian parliament truly lost western oriented politicians, one of them being, Republican, David Usupashvili who was parliamentary chair since 2012 under a GD majority. Irakli Alasania, also viewed positively in the West, decided to leave his party after the loss in the elections, he was followed by other five members of his party. The future of Free Democrats is yet unknown.
Some rumors claimed that Republican Usupashvili might be appointed as a Head of National Security Council while former Free Democrat, Viktor Dolidze might become the State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration. Again, these claims have neither been confirmed nor denied by any governmental official.

Other parties which hoped to reserve seats in the parliament like Nino Burjanadze Democrats and State for the People led by a famous opera singer, Paata Burchuladze, both failed to reach 5% threshold gaining 3.5% and 3.4% respectively. The notion of undecided voters clearly played a big role in leaving aforementioned parties out of the parliament. Some voters did not see alternative to Georgian Dream. A newly created opposition party under the leadership of a famous opera singer Paata Burchuladze failed to gather votes as he made several mistakes, first by creating a loose alliance and then letting it collapse after two months for superficial disagreements. Burchuladze was indeed an inexperienced politician but public support for his party was high as he is a beloved by many in Georgia. He definitely could have played a greater role in Georgian politics and filled the gap of the third party in Georgian parliament. Nino Burjanadze who is seen as the most prominent pro-Russian politician in Georgia, failed to deliver her message to voters. She could have gathered more votes among those in support of closer ties with Russia but as we see Alliance of Patriots happened to do a better job with this.

Conclusion
There are three takeaways from this election. First, this is the parliamentary elections that has widespread recognition not only among the local but also global scale and the notion of Georgian Dream being pro-Russian party should be finally rejected by internal and external powers as majority of Georgian population along with GD voted for Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Georgia has never been closer to Europe than it currently is and this new election is a precursor of Georgia’s extending ties with the West.
Second, there will certainly be a temptation to consolidate one-party rule, especially if the UNM boycotts the election results. Like all the other previous governments in Georgia, there is a chance of GD becoming dominant power and reform the constitution the way it pleases. This should be in the interest of UNM not to let such actions happen and represent the will of about 500,000 voters via entering the parliament, especially when the other opposition presence will be much limited in this new parliament.
Third and most importantly, democracy in Georgia is stronger than it was five years ago but it should not be enervating for those in power. Georgia faces challenges of institution building, defending territorial encroachment, and the development of the economy. With all these obstacles ahead, all political parties should be willing to talk rather than be subject to proxy political battles.

Photo source: http://agenda.ge/news/41494/eng