On December 11, the newly elected parliament of Georgia gathered for its opening session. Of the legislative body’s 150 deputies, only 88 attended the event. All represented billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili’s ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party (Civil.ge, Kommersant December 11, 2020).
Georgian Dream has governed the country since 2012. The opposition hoped that the October 31, 2020, general elections would be a step toward a more pluralistic parliamentary model and that Georgian would elect a coalition government for the first time in history. But according to the Election Administration’s official data, GD received 48.21 percent of the 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) garnered 1 percent (Cec.gov.ge, accessed November 5, 2020).
Despite the fact, that eight opposition parties obtained seats in the national legislature, the opposition accused the authorities of “total falsification” and boycotted the second round of elections on November 21 (Civil.ge, November 2, 2020; see EDM, November 5, 2020). As a result, GD won 90 seats and the opposition 60. The ruling party has already formed a government, and Giorgi Gakharia again became prime minister. Almost all ministers kept their position in the cabinet. With an absolute majority of votes, the GD can pass any law: 60 opposition members of parliament (MP) will not be able to create problems for Ivanishvili’s one-party rule.
The “united opposition” decided to go for broke: all opposition parties not only refused to participate in the second round of elections but also boycotted the first session of parliament (see above). At the same time, almost all MPs from the opposition announced a desire to cancel their mandates.
For the first time since independence, Georgia runs the risk of becoming a “one-party regime” with no opposition in the parliament if the parties fail to reach a compromise. The opposition is demanding early parliamentary elections in 2021 or 2022. But GD has balked at this and refuses to even consider the issue. The ruling party’s maximum compromise offer at this point is to agree to adopt new electoral legislation and to reform the Election Administration agency ahead of the 2021 municipal elections.
The largest opposition faction, Saakashvili’s UNM, also demands the adoption of an act of “grand amnesty,” which would cancel all sentences and criminal cases against the former president and would allow him to return to Georgian politics in 2021 (Nation.ge, December 29, 2020).
Negotiations between GD and the united opposition, which are being conducted with the support of the United States’ ambassador to Georgia, Kelly C. Degnan, and the head of the European Union’s delegation, Karl Harcell, have so far ended in vain. UNM head Nikanor Melia has openly expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that the US ambassador does not publicly criticize GD nor explicitly state her support for the Georgian opposition. Melia recalled that the Georgian people expect from the United States, first of all, support for democracy based on common values. “We want to strengthen Western values in this country so that our children have a future. Any person who turns his or her back on all this, whoever he or she is, whatever his or her mission, I have serious doubts about their sincerity, to put it mildly. I think that the US ambassador should think seriously [about her approach to the mediation],” Nikanor Melia said (1tv.ge, December 2, 2020).
Nonetheless, the relatively neutral position of US Ambassador Degnan—like that of Harcell and many Western friends of Georgia, who call on the Georgian opposition not to boycott the new parliament (see EDM, December 2, 2020)—can be explained by the fact that international observers did not find evidence of a “total falsification” of the October 31 elections (Civil.ge, November 4, 2020).
GD leaders do not hide that they are unhappy about the united opposition’s boycott. Former speaker of the Georgian parliament Irakli Kobakhidze even accused his colleagues from across the aisle of “sabotaging democracy.” He has threatened to immediately legislatively deprive the opposition lawmakers of their mandates as well as halt state funding to the parties participating in the boycott. Moreover, Kobakhidze pledged to prohibit UNM’s participation in the 2021 elections if its leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, who was stripped of his Georgian citizenship several years ago, does not stop interfering in Georgia’s political processes (Kommersant, December 17, 2020).
The inability of Georgia’s rival factions to agree to early elections could lead to significant political turbulence in the spring. Discontent with the government is growing in the country, mainly due to the severe economic and social crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic (Kavkazsky Uzel, November 5, 2020). Last year, when the government was forced to impose a lockdown to thwart the spread of the coronavirus, the country lost tens of thousands of jobs. The national currency, the lari, became devalued by 20 percent over the course of 2020 (Commersant.ge, December 11, 2020). Many goods and services have become more expensive. At the end of the year, at the request of foreign investors, the Georgian National Energy and Water supply regulatory commission (GNEWSRC) decided to significantly increase the domestic price of electricity to household consumers (Civil.ge, December 29, 2020).
A coronavirus immunization will be delivered to Georgia no earlier than April. But at that point, only a small number of Georgians will be able to take advantage of the vaccine opportunity. The authorities will, thus, be forced to maintain restrictions on the operation of public transportation and many areas of business for several months after that. Social tensions in the country can be expected to grow; and if the ruling party does not make any concessions to the opposition, the latter’s leadership will be able to bring thousands of disaffected people into the streets of Georgian cities. Several weeks ago, UNM leader Nika Melia specifically urged society “not to be afraid of the word revolution” (Ipress.ge, December 19, 2020).
The possibility of a compromise still exists—but only if the government and the opposition, with the assistance of Georgia’s Western partners, abandon their maximalist positions from 2020. A new round of talks at the residence of Ambassador Degnan is scheduled to take place in early January.