Georgia’s political struggles may not be over just yet

Georgia’s political struggles may not be over just yet

Over the last year, Georgia has faced political disunity between the ruling government party, Georgian Dream, and its opposition, United National Movement. Tensions have been brewing, but the pinnacle of the division came after the 2020 election in October, which was declared rigged by the opposition. Following this, protests erupted and the opposition leader, Nick Melia, was arrested. The EU has stepped in to broker a deal to resume the functioning of parliament. However, taking into account the deep institutional rifts between the political parties in regard to Russia, this solution is likely to only be temporary. Real change amongst the nation’s political actors needs to happen to consolidate democracy.

Deep political divisions 

Georgia has faced numerous political struggles over the last 20 years. It has, however, been perceived as a place of hope for democracy and freedom to thrive. The last year has been challenging, though. The reality of the situation is that Georgia has faced deep divisions over the nature of the relationship it should pursue with Russia.

Although Georgia has intentions to join the European Union and NATO, the ruling government party, Georgian Dream, appears to have closer ties with Russia than the opposition wishes. Bidzina Ivanishvilli, the founder of the Georgian Dream is in fact a billionaire who seemingly received help from Russia in reaching his billionaire status.

After gaining independence from the Soviet Union, Georgia had embarked on a journey of democracy, with strong support from the West, particularly the U.S. In 2003, Georgia experienced the Rose Revolution, which brought about significant constitutional changes and consolidated a pro-western government, allowing for the U.S. to play a larger role in aiding Georgia in its integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions as well as development of its market economy. 

This was, however, jeopardised by the war with Russia in 2008, which started as a result of then Georgian President Saakashviki sending troops into South Ossetia, in an attempt to crack down on separatism.

Russia responded in a very heavy handed way, seizing the opportunity to take back some military power over the region. The war enabled the Georgian Dream to win the elections in 2012 which subsequently created a rift in the political domain, with the opposition party, the United National Movement, taking a  very pro-Western stance.

Recent political disturbances

Since October last year, a political crisis erupted as a result of the Georgian Dream party winning the parliamentary election. The result was contested by the UNP, who called for a snap election.

In response, Nick Melia, the chair of the UNM led a boycott against the parliament and in February, an arrest was ordered against him. He was accused of inciting violence and encouraging others to break into the parliament. As a result, this provoked further street protests, demanding both a re-election and the release of Melia. This has also caused unease in the West.

Significant moves were made by the Georgian Prime Minister, Georgi Gakharia, to resign in order to stop further polarization within the political realm. This move was praised both by the opposition leadership as well as the U.S. Despite these developments, however, little progress was evident.

Brokered Deal

As previously stated, the West has been concerned about Georgia’s backslide in democracy. This is a particularly sensitive region due to the tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefore, the EU has stepped in to aid the development of political cohesiveness. This has included brokering a deal which calls on its signatories to work together in the interests of Georgia’s stability.

Furthermore, the deal also passes several judicial and electoral reforms in efforts to maintain the functioning of parliament. This could potentially lead to Melia being freed and the progression of the current political situation.

The likelihood of success

Although the EU deal has enabled some movement in the deadlock, it is hard to remain optimistic about its scope. Melia’s opposition party has already refused to endorse the deal, arguing that it is not sufficient. Other party leaders, such as Giga Bokeria, who heads the European Georgia Party, are of a similar opinion. 

Despite there being enough signatories for the deal to take place, and parliament to go ahead, this highlights the root of the problem – the deep political divisions and the weaknesses of the political system remain unresolved.

Although the EU, and potentially the U.S, with Biden’s new administration, are willing to work on stabilizing Georgia, the change must come from within to be effective. It is not yet evident if Biden is able to help Georgia gain the long-desired NATO membership and until Georgia is able to consolidate its democracy, an EU membership is also under question.

The constant helping hand of the West is realistically only a temporary solution and has in fact hindered constructive developments. This suggests the need for a shift from technocratic leadership to deeper democratic integration. 

As long as the divide over Russia remains so institutionalised, it seems unlikely that real change will be seen. As an added concern, this could be problematic for Georgia since COVID has been a prominent issue. One which needs to be carefully handled in order to avoid further damage to the economy.

Categories: Eurasia, Politics

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