Geopolitical Stakes High for Upcoming Georgian Elections

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 30

(Source: Interpress News)

Executive Summary:

  • The upcoming parliamentary elections in Georgia will sway the country either toward Europe or closer to Russia.
  • Public opinion polls in Georgia show a divide among constituents, who have become drastically disillusioned with the current political parties and feel as though none of them truly represent their views.
  • Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili has warned about potential Russian interference in the elections, referring to Moscow’s ongoing occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The European Union outlined nine priorities Georgia must fulfill before opening talks for EU accession, including a free and fair parliamentary election in October 2024 (, November 8, 2023). Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili directly defined this election as “Europe or not Europe” and emphasized that “we must be ready for everything” and stay mobilized (IPN, February 25). This statement further underscores the Western community’s interest in keeping Georgia within the orbit of the West and away from Russian influence. US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, James O’Brien, underlined Georgia’s role in the regional security context and explained the West’s attitude: support the poll-proven aspiration of the majority of Georgians for European integration (, January 25).

From both political and legislative points of view, this complex pre-election situation foreshadows an intense struggle between political actors. Unlike the 2020 parliamentary elections, more international missions are actively monitoring the pre-election period as part of Western efforts to assist Georgia (, February 13; USA Georgian Embassy, February 22). Pundits and election watchdogs have heavily criticized the latest amendments to the Electoral Code initiated by Georgia’s ruling party, Georgian Dream (GD). Zuabishvili vetoed these amendments after calling them “anti-European,” and opponents consider the amendments to be tailored to the interests of GD (Civil Georgia, February 15; Georgia Today, February 21). Parliament, where GD holds the majority, however, can easily overcome the presidential veto. Along with new rules for electing the Central Election Commission (CEC) chairperson and members, which no longer require broad consent between the political parties, the amendments terminate the position of the Deputy Chairman of the CEC, which had previously been intended for the opposition (, February 19).

The 2024 election, according to the Constitution, will be held with a 5 percent threshold and a fully proportional voting system. The National Democratic Institute’s (NDI) pre-election observation mission, however, considers that the 5 percent electoral threshold and prohibiting of party blocs are fraught with reducing political pluralism in the new parliament (NDI, February 25). Public opinion polls show, however, that the nine political parties who gained seats in the parliament due to the 1 percent threshold at the 2020 elections were not able to either increase their electoral resources significantly nor improve their organizational structure.

Credible opinion polls about the ratings of political parties show that since 2012, Georgia has lived in a bipolar political environment dominated by the ruling GD and the largest opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM). Support for the rest of the parties is below 5 percent (IRI, November 15, 2023; NDI, December 11, 2023). The polls have revealed citizens’ drastic disillusionment with political parties, and 62 percent said none of the parties represent their interests.

Such a large number of undecided voters prompted some analysts to suggest that there is a public demand for an alternative political force to GD and UNM. So far, however, attempts by several parties to appear as a new alternative have failed (Georgia Today, August 30, 2021). The prospects of creating such a force around Zourabichvili, who recently became politically active and is trying to consolidate Georgia’s pro-European groups, seem lacking (Sakartvelos Ambebi, February 6). Attempts by the minor opposition parties to establish a single major political alliance as an alternative force have stumbled over disagreements on several political and organizational issues. In addition, antagonism between some party leaders and the unwillingness to sacrifice partisan and political identity for a temporary merger delayed the process (TV-Pirveli, January 23).

The return of GD founder and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili to politics for the third time as an Honorary Party Chair can be attributed unequivocally to the upcoming elections in 2024. This is evidenced by his right to nominate a prime minister through his seat as honorary party chair and his landmark statements before GD’s political council (Civil Georgia, December 30, 2023). Similarly, the reshuffle of personnel in GD leadership and the government, such as when GD Chair Irakli Kobakhidze and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili switched positions, was motivated by electoral considerations. GD argues that its research shows 60 percent support for the party and claims to remain in power with a constitutional majority in parliament (Democracy & Freedom Watch, January 29;, February 23).

While UNM has been weakened due to inter-party strife and the departure of some of its members, it remains the leading opposition party and principal rival of GD. The absence of a charismatic leader prompts the UNM to rely on its founder—the imprisoned ex-president Mikhail Saakashvili. Despite Ukrainian citizenship prohibiting his participation in Georgia’s political activities and elections, Saakashvili has been actively engaged in this process. UNM has launched campaigns to liberate Saakashvili, including, among other measures, collecting signatures in Georgia and in Europe to present them to Zourabichvili and encourage her to pardon him. UNM claims that without Saakashvili’s release, the elections will be illegitimate (, July 21, 2023;, December 7, 2023; IPN, February 21;, February 22; Rezonansi, February 24, 26).

Zourabichvili made a statement about Russian interference in the upcoming election in an interview with Deutsche Welle at the recent Munich Security Conference. GD has since required Zourabichvili to prove this statement. Zourabichvili referred to a hybrid war, which Russia has long been waging against Georgia, though she did not submit any specific evidence. The majority of local experts consider Russia’s intervention probable.  This intervention could include creating new pro-Russian forces and covertly supporting existing pro-Russian political groups by providing them with financial, political-technological, and information-propaganda means (IPN, February 19; Rezonansi, February 20).

Taking into account all components of the geopolitical situation in the region, Russia’s motivation to intervene in Georgia’s elections to prevent pro-Western and anti-Russian forces from coming to power seems well-founded. This poses a risk of further radicalization of the processes leading up to the election. Various events may occur in these eight months, dramatically changing the situation and seriously affecting voters’ seemingly entrenched attitudes. Local peculiarities of electoral behavior are quite different from those in the West. Georgian citizens usually vote for strong and charismatic leaders rather than for partisan programs and ideologies.