Georgia’s free and fair elections confirm political polarization


georgia election 2Georgia’s parliamentary elections were free, fair, competitive and overall confirmed existing trends, most observers attest. The results nevertheless confirmed continued polarization of the political space between the two dominant political parties, Georgia Dream and the United National Movement, a competition that seems likely to continue to define Georgian politics.  

The parliament is made up of party lists and single mandate seats.  In the party list portion, the GD has won with 49.3 and UNNM received 26.5 of the cote.  The GD is certain to form the next government and may even secure a constitutional majority. The composition of parliament will only be determined after the second round run-offs in 51 Majoritarian races.  

Strongly competitive and well-run, yesterday’s elections offered an opportunity for voters to make informed choices about their options in a pluralistic but polarized media environment,” said Ignacio Sanchez Amor, leader of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observer mission. “The unacceptable isolated incidents of violence we’ve seen had an impact but, thankfully, did not undermine an otherwise positive election.”

georgia isfedCivil society groups, including the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), played a prominent role in the electoral process. The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, for example, monitored the pre-election environment in all electoral districts through its 68 long-term observers (funded by the National Endowment for Democracy).

The elections were “held in a mostly calm and peaceful environment, were well-administered, and appeared to reflect the will of the Georgian people,” according to a preliminary report from the International Republican Institute (IRI).

The elections started smoothly, and the vast majority of Georgian voters, poll workers, party activists, and candidates demonstrated their commitment to democracy by participating peacefully in the election process, although in the evening the situation deteriorated in some areas, said National Democratic Institute observers. 

georgia electionThe opposition UNM accused the government of trying to “steal the elections,” and protested outside the central election commission, Transitions Online reports. But all credible international and domestic observers reported that the elections were free, fair and well-managed.  

Some 51 election districts in Georgia will likely hold a second round of run-offs; 18 of them the capital Tbilisi, DFWatch adds:

After 99.92% of votes have been counted, the governing Georgian Dream party has 48.6% in the proportionate system. This is expected to give them between 45 and 48 representatives, in addition to the marjoritarian MPs. The Georgian Dream leadership is confident that they are going to get a constitutional majority in parliament, which requires 113 seats.

The European Union called for all parties and candidates to avoid confrontation and violence in the second round.

georgia young lawyersThe violent incidents during the poll were blamed by Georgian politicians on everyone from Moscow to shadowy forces bent on destabilizing the vote, Reuters adds:

In one of them, a group of unidentified attackers threw stones and smashed windows at two polling stations in the village of Jikhashkari in western Georgia on Saturday night. They also damaged the ballot box and attacked international and local observers on the spot, the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) said in a statement. 

Former UNM leader Mikhail Saakashvili is claiming that the party was treated unfairly. He may try to instruct UNM candidates not to run in the runoff elections, but it is highly doubtful that they will follow him, analysts suggest. UNM remains a robust party and showed a stronger performance than in the last presidential elections. 

In his insightful article “Making due with the crew,” Hans Gubord, draws attention to Saakashvili’s prominent performance in the last weeks of the campaign that may have hurt the UNM and suggests that internal party realignments may be in the offing.   

Georgia_high_detail_mapThe election’s big surprise came from the little-known and inexperienced Union of Patriots, based on a socially conservative network of grassroots activists, which is entering parliament for the first time. The group emerged from Objectiv, an obscure internet radio station, won a few seats in municipal elections, and it has managed to enter parliament when other small parties failed to do so. One of their most prominent activists, Irma Inoshvili, broke the prison abuse story that tipped the 2012 election from UNM and to GD, and now seems poised to enter parliament.   

It is premature to describe the Union as pro-Russian (or ‘Moscow-tolerant’) or anti-Western until they take specific positions and actions, observers suggest, but the party will clearly be closely monitored and scrutinized. 

Already before the make-up of parliament is fully determined , one representative of  Georgian Dream party is talking about making two constitutional amendments, DFWatch reports:

Another round of single-seat districts has still not been held, and no-one knows how many members of parliament the governing party will end up having. The first change GD prepares to make is to have parliament appoint the president instead of holding direct elections, and the second, to change the definition of marriage in the Constitution…. so that it defines marriage as a union of a man and a woman with a goal of creating a family.

“If GD does secure a constitutional majority after the run-offs, civil society and Western partners will need to be vigilant to keep the government in check,” said Miriam Lanskoy, the NED’s Senior Director for Russia and Eurasia.

Regardless of what the political parties may get up to, the electorate has matured. Voters are more demanding and will not be easily manipulated anymore, wrote analyst Tornike Sharashenidze, noting that civil society has strengthened and become more self-assured since the 2012 elections.



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