Georgia’s growth suffers under political rivalry

Georgia’s growth suffers under political rivalry

One year after the victory of the Georgian Dream coalition in parliamentary elections, the political rivalry between the former ruling party United National Movement and the Georgian Dream continues to define Georgian politics.

Georgia’s political landscape underwent serious changes in the past year. In October 2012, the Georgian Dream coalition headed by Bidzina Ivanishvili, a former tycoon turned politician, won the parliamentary elections in a landslide and ended the almost decade long rule of the United National Movement. However, Mikhael Saakashvili, the leader of the United National Movement, continued to serve as president of the country until his term ended in October 2013.

During this period dubbed “the cohabitation period”, the two strongmen of Georgian politics were often openly hostile toward each other and the political life of the country was entirely shaped by the rivalry between the Georgian Dream coalition and the former ruling party United National Movement.

After the electoral victory of the Georgian Dream coalition, many Saakashvili allies faced criminal proceedings including the former Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia, Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, and a number of other officials.

The initial response of the United National Movement was to denounce the arrests as a witch hunt motivated by revenge. Although the Georgian Dream government argued that these investigations were lawful and that their mandate is to address the past abuses of power, many voiced concern over these investigations claiming that they look too similar to political retaliation rather than legal proceedings.

One of Saakashvili’s closest allies, former Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili, was arrested on corruption charges in May 2013. Recently, he complained about being threatened by the chief prosecutor, who allegedly told him that his relatives would get arrested and his conditions in prison would get worse if he did not cooperate. Although these allegations are not proven to be true at the moment and denied by the chief prosecutor’s office, they underline the contentious nature of Georgian politics that became the norm over the past year.

During a visit in Tbilisi on October 23, Polish Prime Minister Sikorski told the press that Georgia should “avoid both the substance and even the appearance of politically motivated justice.” While praising Georgia’s process within the framework of Eastern Partnership before the Vilnius Summit, the Minister encouraged Georgia to continue to modernize and remember that vendettas are not a part of the European society.

Similar warnings from high profile figures such as NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen and EU Foreign Policy Chief Ashton had received much attention earlier in 2013. Analysts predicted that the already fragile Georgian democracy would lose more ground if these investigations turned in political retaliation.

Meanwhile, economic growth in 2013 did not live up to expectations. According to Asian Development Bank, Georgia’s GDP growth slowed down to 1.7% in the first seven months of 2013 due to investor caution linked to political transition and delays in public infrastructure projects among other factors. The initial forecast by the IMF was 6% for 2013, but it was downsized to 2.5% by October 2013.

In 2014, the government expects GDP to grow by 5% and recover from the economic slowdown of 2013. Reuters reported that IMF representative Azim Sadikov said that the “growth rate should double next year as long as the government acts to shore up investor confidence and does a better job of explaining policy.”

The tense political climate is likely to continue in Georgia as the local elections are scheduled to take place in June 2014. The recent scuffles in the parliament prove that politics are as contentious as ever in Georgia. However, as two strongmen of Georgia whose rivalry dominated the political scene stepped down from their posts, there is room for focusing on concrete policies to tackle Georgia’s problems.

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