As anticipated on the eve of Georgia’s parliamentary elections (see EDM, May 19), the composition of the new parliament should guarantee the stability and continuity of the incumbent leadership’s liberal economic policies and security alignment with the West. The governing National Movement won 119 out of 150 seats in the new parliament.
Georgia’s voting system gave the dozen opposition parties a unique incentive to unite, if they were to obtain a sizeable representation in the new parliament. Under that system, 75 parliamentary seats are allocated to party lists on the basis of proportional representation and another 75 to winners of multi-candidate races in single-mandate districts. Opposition parties and blocs, however, ran not only against the governing party but also against each other, splintering their active electoral base and discouraging potential supporters from voting.
The parliamentary representation threshold was 5 percent for parties (lowered from 6 percent by the governing majority at the opposition’s insistence); and the winning margin in single-mandate districts was only 30 percent (again at the opposition’s behest, reflecting the small parties’ hopes of winning some seats with only a plurality of the votes cast). It was therefore clear from the outset that any dispersal of votes among numerous opposition parties and blocs would only increase the margin of the National Movement’s victory. Yet the small-party ambitions and intensely personalized politics of their leaders kept them divided and exacerbated those divisions in the aftermath of the election.
Ultimately, the National Movement won 48 of the 75 parliamentary seats in the contest by party or bloc lists and 71 of the 75 seats in the single-mandate districts. Overall in the newly elected parliament, the United Opposition (a bloc of eight small parties and some individual politicians) obtained 17 seats; the left-populist Labor Party and the self-styled Christian-Democrats, six seats each; and the putatively right-of-center Republican Party, two seats, for a total of 31. The National Movement’s 119 seats provide a comfortable margin of safety above the majority of 100 needed to amend the constitutional (Civil Georgia, June 7).
Following the new parliament’s inaugural sitting on June 7, rifts have deepened among and within opposition groups over strategy and tactics as well as over the pecking order among them. Twelve elected deputies from the United Opposition have renounced their mandates and, along with most party leaders within that bloc, declared a boycott of parliament. They staged public events in downtown Tbilisi, denouncing the elections in general as “criminal” and in front of television cameras tearing up the documents that certified their own election as deputies. Leaders of seven out of eight parties in that bloc deem the newly elected parliament as well as President Mikheil Saakashvili (who was re-elected in January) “illegitimate” and feel free to say so on national television channels.
The irreconcilable opposition tries to depict the parliament as “appointed from above” (rather than elected) and as a “single-party parliament.” By boycotting it they seek to create the impression that Georgia is being governed as a “one-party state.” To make sure that candidates from lower spots on the bloc’s list do not take up the boycotters’ seats in parliament, United Opposition leaders have legally annulled the bloc’s list of candidates. Thus, 10 parliamentary seats may well remain vacant indefinitely; and another two United Opposition seats will have to be filled by repeat elections in two single-mandate districts within the city of Tbilisi.
Preempting the leaders, however, five other deputies from the United Opposition have decided to keep the seats they won in parliament. Similarly, the two deputies elected from the Republican Party have distanced themselves from that party and are sitting in Parliament. Stung, the leaders of that bloc and that party are denouncing the dissenters as “traitors” and “fake oppositionists” and are vowing to “continue the struggle.” Within the Labor Party, four elected deputies including party leader Shalva Natelashvili are boycotting the parliament, while two others have taken up their seats in it. The four Labor boycotters, however, have not renounced their mandates, thus apparently preparing to take up their seats after a face-saving interval or deal (Rustavi-2 TV, The Messenger, Civil Georgia, June 11-18).
Opposition parties differ among themselves and within their ranks over the format of their relations from this point onward. Some suggest creating an “alternative parliament.” Others insist on boycotting the existing parliament but without creating an “alternative” one. Whether to create a “coordinating center” of opposition parties is another disputed issue. Several newly elected deputies have quit their parties in protest against “dictatorial” behavior by the respective leaders. The split among radicals compounds the split between radicals and moderates.