Internal political results of the year in Georgia
photo by Alexander Giorgadze
It was a difficult year
The year 2020 did not start easily for Georgia. A political crisis was added to the economic crisis and the depreciation of the lari – the ruling party reneged on its promise to switch to a proportional election system, which led to protests in society. There was practically no hope that the authorities would come to their senses and compromise. And that meant a political dead end
Compromise on March 8
In the spring, a “miracle” happened. With the mediation of the EU and US ambassadors, the authorities and the opposition managed to reach an agreement on changing the electoral system. Why this is important – the old electoral system was mixed – 75 deputies were elected by lists, and 75 by majority constituencies. In majoritarian districts, candidates from the ruling party almost always won. In the 2016 elections, the ruling party won a constitutional majority in parliament with less than half of the popular vote. This was one of the circumstances that made it impossible to change the government in Georgia through elections. The precedent of 2012 was not a democratic change of power, but an electoral revolution, with a split within the ruling elite, the threat of riots and military intervention from outside. So this “exception” only proves the rule.
The government left some insurance in the agreement in the form of 30 majority seats in parliament. This insurance ultimately worked, allowing the ruling party to have a solid majority and not depend on a possible change in the position of several MPs from their party. The opposition and civil society did not have to choose. Moreover, given the situation at the time, the new electoral system did not bode well for the authorities. By early 2020, the government’s ratings were at an all-time low. The economic prospects of the country, to put it mildly, did not inspire optimism, social tensions grew, and the opposition was preparing for a decisive battle. In March it was generally difficult to imagine what the authorities could do in the short time that remained until October 31 (the day of parliamentary elections) in order to somehow improve their situation. And here the covid came to Georgia.
This scary covid
At first it was something distant and not about us. Throughout February, Georgia empathized with our girl from Tbilisi, who ended up in Wuhan during quarantine and kept a blog on Radio Liberty. Then there was Bergamo, and many were seriously concerned, Italy is close and many of our fellow citizens are often there. And then the covid came to us. Came when the level of hysteria about a new disease had already peaked. The scanty figures of statistics were complemented by the horrors spread by the local and global media. When the government began to “act,” timid voices about the rationality of the government’s measures were drowned out by panic attacks. The algorithm of the authorities’ actions was simple and clear – literally, step by step, implement all the recommendations of the World Health Organization, gradually introducing all possible and impossible restrictions. At the first stage, the authorities acted locally, closing certain areas, which led to serious discontent among the residents of these areas. And only then they moved on to “carpet bombing”.
At first, they banned movement at night, then closed shops and markets for non-food products, bars and restaurants, stopped the movement of intercity transport, and then public transport. The situation was complicated by the fact that on the eve of the main religious holiday in Georgia – Easter, a large crowd of people was expected in the churches. This is not only about the Easter night itself, the entire week preceding Easter from Lazare’s Saturday to Easter service, this is the time when even non-religious residents of the country visit temples. As a result, a full lockdown with a ban on movement was introduced a week before Easter, which lasted for three weeks.
However, the first lockdown ended “well” for Georgia, the country was among the world leaders in terms of the number of infected and dead, the Air Force devoted a lot of material to the main fighters against the pandemic, calling them three musketeers, and the government received serious support in the form of grants and loans. Even those who have suffered from the economic shutdown have gotten some of this support. But the main result – the rating of the authorities that saved the population “from imminent death,” soared to over 40%. For the first time in the past few years, the majority of the country’s population began to believe that Georgia was developing in the right direction, and criticism of the opposition, which mainly boiled down to accusations of insufficient assistance to the population and insufficient measures taken against the covids, looked unconvincing.
Then there was summer, summer without limits. Even without foreign tourism, which last year, immediately after the cancellation of flights from the Russian Federation following the results of “Gavrilov’s Night”, reached record levels in the entire history of the country, but with the activity of local tourists, who simply missed outdoor activities. The effect of deferred demand had an effect, and after the spring draconian measures, for small and medium-sized businesses it was like a breath of air for a person who was being strangled for a long time. There were elections ahead and it was impossible to stifle further.
Elections, elections, candidates….
In the March 8 agreement between the government and the opposition, there was an excellent clause, according to which there was almost no barrier to getting into parliament. That is, in order to get into the parliament, the party needed to gain at least one percent of the votes and this created the illusion that now, if not everyone, then almost everyone can win. Conversations about the cancellation of black-and-white films of our policy (a struggle exclusively between the ruling party of the Georgian Dream and the former ruling party of the National Movement), about the inevitability of a coalition government, and so on, were commonplace during the election campaign. However, these expectations were not destined to come true.
The election campaign and the elections themselves reaffirmed that there are only two political forces in Georgia – the ruling party and the former ruling party. This is explained quite simply, only they have a significant number of motivated voters. The ruling party has what is called an administrative resource, that is, people whose welfare directly depends on whether the GM will remain in power or not. Whereas the National Movement also has an administrative resource, but only the former. That is, people who hope to return to power or to jobs, with the return of the National Movement. Add to this those who vote for these political forces with their hearts, we are talking about admirers and haters of Mikhail Saakashvili personally.
As a result, we have two motivated groups of politically active voters, which other parties do not and cannot have. No matter how interesting the economic part of the Lelo program is, no matter how much the Revival Strategy is creative in social networks and no matter how attractive the experience and contacts abroad of the leaders of “European Georgia” may look, without the presence of real power “on earth” to make a serious competition between the two leading political forces will never work. The only real hope of the third pole was the hope for a “golden share”, that is, the situation when the GD or the National Movement would not have enough votes to reach the majority and would have to create a coalition, but these hopes were not destined to come true either.
It is thankless to assess how the opposition conducted its election campaign, in the end “everyone writes as he breathes”. Therefore, we will not judge them harshly, in the end they did everything as in a textbook, even almost all programs were written. The only pity is that no one reads programs in our country, and certainly no one will vote on them. And what does it matter, especially now.
And could it be this way?
Election day is a holiday in any country. But each country has its own holiday, because no one has canceled the national flavor. For example, in the Soviet Union it was a holiday with a rich buffet, where the deficit was sold and with colorful posters like “Deputy is a servant of the people”. In the Vatican, people are waiting for the appearance of white smoke over the papal curia, while in Georgia they were waiting for a coalition government. No, at first everything was the same as always – adult aunts on duty at the polling stations for a total registration of the state employees who came and skimping, and the courtyard punks, providing physical. protecting the interests of respected people, and bribery of voters in the regions, and many other constant companions of our elections. But there was also something new, namely a huge number of final protocols of the commissions, in which there was no elementary balance between those who came to the elections and the votes cast for political parties. It seems to be a “trifle”, but precisely because of such a “trifle” we again have a political crisis. Of course, if the gap were 20-25 percent, nothing would help the authorities. But the difference from 4 to 7 percent turned out to be insufficient neither for our Western partners, nor, which is much more important, for ordinary voters.
The solidarity decision of the entire opposition not to enter parliament at all for any gimmicks surprised everyone, both the authorities, and Western partners, and the opposition itself. All talk about revolutions, be they peaceful or not, turned out to be talk in favor of the poor. The upper classes may well govern themselves in the old way, and the lower ones, although it is hard to live in the old way, who asks them. The opposition hoped very much for the support of the West, these were hopes from the cycle – abroad will help us. It did not help, even the visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not help. Yes, they admitted that the elections were held with “fatal” violations, but firstly, as Viktor Stepanovich Chernomyrdin, who died in the Bose, said “It never happened, and now again,” and secondly, well, it’s a very inappropriate moment, the war region, changing of the guard in the White House, covid crisis and so on.
The opposition unanimously wrote statements about the rejection of parliamentary mandates and non-recognition of the election results. This does not mean at all that the parliament in Georgia will be one-party. There is another round of negotiations between the government and the opposition ahead, then another round is possible, and one more. And who knows, maybe they can do something.
It is not known for certain whether we will succeed in anything. In the spring, the authorities explained the introduction of the lockdown by the fact that “life is more important than the economy”, during the pre-election period, to timid questions about why not postponing the elections due to the pandemic, the authorities replied that “now the most important thing is democracy”. After the elections, accordingly, the main thing again became “saving lives,” especially since, unlike spring, we are again champions in terms of covids. but just the opposite. On the other hand, power can be understood, the question of power is the main question of being. It is also possible to understand exactly the opposition, for which the main question of being is also the question of power. Therefore, who will die there because some will become deputies, while others will retain power, nobody was at all interested. There are no Covid-skeptics among politicians, so the argument that they believed that nothing would change from the elections is not true. Simply, to paraphrase the well-known expression, “the problems of the electorate are the problems of the electorate”.
And the problems for the electorate are above the roof. Throughout the modern history of Georgia, the authorities have drawn an exclusively negative influence on the inclusive spheres of the economy, what is commonly called small and medium-sized businesses – to keep, not to let them go, to prohibit. But if people who lost a piece of bread from the ban on the import of contraband products for $ 300 borrowed from a neighbor from Ergneti and Sadakhlo could retrain to ferry cars from Poti to Rustavi or work as tourist guides (not everyone succeeded, but nevertheless), now such people have no way out. Last time, in the spring, for four months of forced downtime, such people (not all, but many) were paid a lump sum of 300 lari (slightly less than $ 100). Probably it will be so this time. Oddly enough, they survived. All the talk that the policy of the authorities will finish off medium and small businesses is talk in favor of the poor. Medium and small businesses will live much worse than before, but there will be, although of course, there will be exceptions to this rule, not all will survive.
In general, politicians in general, and the authorities in particular, have nothing to do with who and how will survive. Each of them solves the problems of their own survival and well-being. And nothing can be done about it, just mathematically, the financial assistance and loans received to fight the pandemic are much more than tax revenues from small and medium-sized businesses. Nothing personal just business. So today the task of the authorities looks simple – come to an agreement with the opposition, or at least with a part of the opposition, on the conditions for entering parliament, in order to look more or less decent. However, this is not at all critical for the authorities.
As for the epidemic, the rescue of the drowning is the work of the drowning themselves. That is, if you get sick the likelihood that you will be rescued, of course, is. But it is better to be ready to save yourself with a supply of medicines, a pulse oximeter (a device for measuring the oxygen content in blood) and a portable oxygen machine. The same applies to other areas of life, or rather survival, from security to material security.
The year 2021 has begun hard for Georgia. A political crisis was added to the economic crisis and the depreciation of the lari …
Gela Vasadze, GSAC