Georgia’s Parliamentary Elections Begin a Shift in Country’s Political Landscape

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 13 Issue: 162

Georgia held nationwide parliamentary elections on October 8. Against the background of the country’s stagnant economy and worsening living conditions, it was not entirely clear if the ruling Georgian Dream–Democratic Georgia (GDDG) party would actually manage to hold on to power (see EDM, September 28). Ultimately, GDDG emerged victorious, hence formally securing its control over the government for the next four years. Yet, at the same time, these elections have weakened all of Georgia’s domestic political forces, including the ruling party, thus signaling a shift in the country’s political landscape.

The elections were characterized by a low turnout. Only 51.6 percent of voters turned out at the polls (, October 10). Almost half of the Georgian electorate stayed home, suggesting widespread public apathy and disappointment with the entire Georgian political establishment.

In total, three political parties overcame the 5 percent threshold of votes needed to make it into the parliament. According to preliminary results, GDDG received 49 percent of the vote, thus taking 44 seats via proportional party lists, out of a possible total 77 in the 150-seat parliament. The rest of the 73 members of the legislature are elected in single-member majoritarian districts. In those districts, GDDG won 23 seats, thus bringing the total number of its members of parliament (MP) to 67. In the rest of the 50 districts, no candidate won an absolute majority of the votes, necessitating future runoff races (, accessed October 11).

More than likely, GDDG will win most of these runoffs (to be held next month) and will secure a constitutional majority of 100 seats in the parliament. However, the fact that GDDG only took 23 out of a total 73 majoritarian districts in the first round reflects the party’s shaky political ground. Furthermore, in the election, GDDG received 856,000 votes, which is 325,000 (or 27.5 percent) less in comparison to the 1.181 million votes that the GDDG-led coalition garnered in the October 2012 elections (, accessed October 11). Thus, it appears GDDG and its grip on power are both in decline.

The biggest loser, however, was the major opposition party, United National Movement (UNM). In fact, the October 8 elections were a crushing defeat for UNM. Against the seemingly unpopular GDDG, UNM was gearing up to win the elections and retake power that it lost four years ago. The party leaders and regular members loudly declared looming victory in the weeks and months ahead of the elections (, September 26; see EDM, September 28). However, UNM only achieved a distant second place, despite the mass mobilization of its electorate. Second place might not seem like a bad result for any political party. However, against the background of its much lauded and self-proclaimed predicted victory, it certainly looks like a humiliating defeat for UNM.

The party received only 27 percent of total votes, which, in fact, is 13 percent less than what UNM garnered in 2012. UNM was only able to win the most votes in two of the proportional party list electoral districts. Moreover, it failed to win outright even one single-member constituency district in the first round (though it pushed 50 single-mandate district races into second-round runoffs ). The once popular former first lady Sandra Roelofs, the wife of former president Mikhail Saakashvili (who is still the formal leader of UNM), failed to win in her own district (, accessed October 11). It remains to be seen if UNM manages to win any single-member constituency. In most districts, its candidates trail GDDG members by significant margins (, October 10). Overall, UNM currently has only 27 seats out of 150. Even if UNM’s candidates win runoffs in some of the districts, the party’s current parliamentary faction will definitely see the number of its MPs almost halved.

UNM has already cried foul that the elections were purportedly falsified (, October 9), even though the European Union and other international observer missions assessed the elections as free and fair (Civil Georgia, October 9). At the same time, UNM quickly descended into an internal blame game, turmoil and infighting to find a scapegoat for the defeat and figure out the party’s next steps. Some UNM members even indirectly called on Saakashvili to step down as party leader (, October 10). In the days following the elections, UNM leaders and members ferociously argued whether the party should boycott the parliament altogether, including the coming runoffs in the single-member constituencies. Saakashvili argued for the latter, while other party leaders were more inclined toward not boycotting either the parliament or the runoffs (Civil Georgia, October 10). In the following days and weeks, such intra-party fault lines will likely become even clearer. At this point, however, it is already beyond doubt that UNM is in deep crisis. It would not be a surprise if this crisis ultimately results in splitting the party or at least in ousting Saakashvili as the party leader.

The third and the last political party that made it into the parliament is the Alliance of Patriots (AP), a far right party, which barely overcame the 5 percent threshold. Although, AP will have just small faction of six MPs, the fact that this marginal group entered the legislature clearly illustrates the country’s shifting political landscape and, generally, Georgians’ disappointment with the political establishment.

Notably, none of the smaller mainstream pro-Western political parties—Irakli Alasania’s Free Democrats and David Usupashvili’s Republican Party—overcame the 5 percent threshold to enter the legislature. In fact, following his party’s defeat, Alasania announced he is temporarily quitting politics (, October 10). Similarly, other more-or-less significant political actors: Nino Burjanadze’s Democratic Movement, Shalva Natelashvili’s Labor Party, and Paata Burchuladze’s State for People will remain outside the parliament.

The October 8 elections sent a clear signal to the Georgian political establishment: the Georgian public is deeply disappointed with the political elites and craves a new political force with fresh ideas and new leadership. So far, no such force seems be on the horizon. Nevertheless, the next four years may well produce one since the current crop of established political elites—both in the government and in the opposition—is leaving open a political space ripe for a new generation of leaders to enter.