On November 3, the leaders of all eight opposition political parties that won seats in the Georgian parliament based on the results of the October 31 elections signed an agreement pledging to refuse to take up their parliamentary mandates and to completely boycott the new legislature. This ad hoc political coalition is convinced that the authorities falsified the voting results. The opposition announced the beginning of mass protests demanding the resignation of the Election Administration (EA) and the scheduling of new elections (Civil.ge, November 2).
Fifty political parties and blocs took part in last weekend’s elections. Despite the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, 56.11 percent of voters came out to cast their ballots at polling stations across the country. According to the EA’s official data, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili’s ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party received 48.21 percent of vote, former president Mikhail Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) obtained 27.18 percent, European Georgia (EG) won 3.79 percent, Lelo for Georgia (LG) had 3.16 percent, the party Strategy of King David the Builder (SKDB) drew 3.15 percent, the nationalistic but pro-Russian Alliance of Patriots (AP) attracted 3.14 percent, the Libertarian Party “Girchi” took 2.89 percent, the “Citizens” party finished with 1.33 percent, and the Georgian Labor Party (GLP)—1 percent (Cec.gov.ge, accessed November 5).
The October 31 elections were the first held under the newly modified constitutional framework, with 120 members of parliament (MP) elected via party lists and the remaining 30 running in single-member majoritarian districts (see EDM, October 26) Ruling-party candidates won outright (garnering at least 50 percent plus one vote) in the first round in 14 out of 30 majoritarian districts, and they lead in the remaining 16 districts, now headed for a runoff. Thus, Ivanishivili’s GD appears likely to ultimately hold up to 91 seats in the new parliament: 61 MPs elected via the proportional party list, and 30 MPs elected in the single-member races. This is much more than a simple majority of deputies (76), giving it unfettered freedom in unilateral lawmaking, though just shy of the supermajority that would be necessary to pass any further changes to the constitution.
The opposition is ready to fight to overturn the election results and threatens to leave GD “alone” in the new parliament. (Kommersant, November 2). In an interview with this author, on November 3, constitutional law expert Vaktang Khmaladze said that even if all opposition MPs give up their mandates, GD will have enough votes in the chamber to recognize the elected parliament as legitimate. According to the scholar, “The refusal of mandates is a rather complicated legal procedure: a party must annul the party list, and then all elected MPs are required to confirm their resignation. Without following these procedures, they will legally be considered MPs.”
Formally, “loneliness” in parliament does not create legal consequences for the ruling party. But many experts believe Georgian Dream will pay a high “price” for moving forward with “one-party rule.” David Avalishvili, from the analytical news outlet Nation.ge, stipulated, “In such conditions, Ivanishvili will lose the support of the United States and Europe. The West will not agree to consider a one-party regime a democracy. The loss of Western political and financial support will create too many risks for Georgia” (Author’s interview, November 4).
The opposition is not only boycotting the new parliament but launching massive street protests. Three persons were detained this week during clashes with law enforcement in front of the Saburtalo district election commission offices. Another noteworthy rally coalesced outside the Isani district election commission building (Interpressnews, November 4).
Former president Mikheil Saakashvili, who is currently residing in Ukraine, where he heads the National Council for Reforms (see EDM, May 13), said that he does not aspire to return to power in Tbilisi: “I am not interested in any position, including the position of prime minister.” Nevertheless, he hinted that opposition supporters in Georgia should emulate the anti-government protesters who came out into the streets to call for regime change following rigged elections in Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Armenia and Belarus. “The international community tells you [Georgians] that if you are a worse people than the Kyrgyz, if you are a worse people than the Armenians, if you are a worse people than Belarusians, if you are a worse people than Ukrainians, then you do not deserve freedom… Why should the international community care about the fate of Georgia, if the Georgian people themselves do not vote?” Saakashvili underlined (1tv.ge November 4).
Amidst the current protests, the authorities have so far remained calm; but they accuse the opposition of trying to destabilize the situation in the country. The executive secretary and political council member of the ruling party, Irakli Kobakhidze, said at a briefing that the electoral administration is conducting an accurate recount of votes, but opposition leaders are resorting to subversion. “We must urge these political actors to act as befits a country with such a developed political culture as Georgia. Unfortunately, they do not demonstrate such a culture today. They need to change their attitude to politics and their own behavior,” the GD party leader stressed (1tv.ge, November 4)
The opposition is planning a massive demonstration on November 8, in the center of Tbilisi, demanding that officials schedule new elections. The leaders of all political parties called on their supporters from all over the country to travel to the capital for the rally and deliver a tough ultimatum to the authorities. Ivanishvili’s party and the government of Giorgi Gakharia now face a difficult choice. New elections would mean complete political surrender. But on the other hand, they hardly wish to see a repeat of the bloody protests of June 20, 2019 (see EDM, June 24, 2019).
The outcome of the confrontation will depend on the ability of the ruling party to find a compromise. One of the leaders of the united opposition, Gubaz Sanikidze, is certain that the return of Mikhail Saakashvili to Georgian politics would have to be one key plank of such a compromise. For this, according to Sanikidze, every third Georgian had voted on October 31 (1tv.ge, November 3).