Georgia’s reserve of democratic assets challenged by citizen disconnect


Georgia has an unenviable position in the Caucasus. Torn between Russia and the West, its people demand security and prosperity, according to the Stratfor intelligence group:

The ruling Georgian Dream coalition, which faces general elections in October, is hard pressed to deliver on these demands, confronting reinvigorated pro-Russia political groups fueled by public skepticism toward integration with the West. And although fears of Russian aggression linger, many believe Western capitals are intentionally holding back Tbilisi’s prospects of EU and NATO accession, to the country’s detriment.

“So Tbilisi has turned to other powers to counter Russia, mainly nearby Turkey and Iran, which have their own interest in curbing Moscow’s sway,” Stratfor adds. “But many Georgian high officials have begun to court yet another power: China.” RTWT

Georgia is approaching its October 8 parliamentary elections “equipped with a deepening reserve of democratic assets while also facing critical but surmountable challenges,” according to a pre­election assessment mission by the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

“The underlying elements for a democratic election process are largely in place in Georgia,” NDI noted. “However, the country’s leaders will be called upon to exercise substantial political will and partisan restraint to turn that potential into reality,” said the mission’s report:

Georgians have many achievements to their credit, including a vibrant political landscape and overwhelming support for a democratic future for their country. At the same time, the country is on the front lines of a broader struggle to defend European and Euro­Atlantic values from an aggressive and authoritarian worldview. Moreover, many of Georgians’ high and growing expectations of their leaders and institutions have not been fully met.

“As opinion polls consistently show, Georgians care most about employment, poverty, and the economy. Yet citizens report that the political parties focus primarily on pursuing personal battles and airing past grievances,” the report adds. “Given this disconnect, it is not surprising that more than half of Georgians are undecided about their political preferences. If people feel disconnected from the political system it can, over time, weaken the democratic fabric of the country and provide an opening for less democratic forces.”

More than a half of Georgia’s population (68 percent) consider themselves as unemployed, according to a recent NDI poll. Only 10 percent of respondents rate the work of the Parliament favorably as the country gears up for new elections in the fall. If elections were held tomorrow, only 15 percent of poll respondents would vote for Georgian Dream, The Washington Times adds (although GD would likely receive more than that given the large percentage of undecided which now stands at more than 50 percent, experts suggest).

Ecological concerns are also an issue, The Guardian reports. In a public opinion poll conducted by the National Democratic Institute last year, 43% of Tbilisians listed “pollution of the environment” as the main infrastructural problem if the city, followed closely by roads, traffic and parking.

The integrity of October’s parliamentary elections will depend on overcoming three primary challenges, the NDI mission found:

  • the possibility of violence and intimidation;
  • low confidence that laws will be applied impartially; and
  • the perception that some individuals will significantly influence the process from behind the scenes.

In addition, the delegation identified concerns about some aspects of the electoral framework and administration, parties’ campaigns, and the overall campaign environment.

The NDI delegation offered a number of recommendations to government and electoral authorities, the parliament, political parties, and NGOs to contribute to improvements in these areas. These included:

  • a code of conduct among political parties;
  • candidate debates;
  • expeditious and consistent due process for violations of the law;
  • development of an inclusive and transparent process for parliamentary parties to reach agreement on the electoral system and election code reform;
  • recruitment and training of women candidates; and
  • more rigorous reporting and investigation on campaign finances and donations.

NDI is a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy.


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