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