In the autumn of 2012, the Georgian people did something incredible – they overthrew the 9-year-long dictatorship of Mikheil Saakashvili-led United National Movement. Four years have passed since then. Little time is left until the autumn of 2016 and the pre-election race is gathering pace.
The ruling coalition, Georgian Dream, has disappointed voters after it has failed to fulfill most of its promises. The policy of the notorious cohabitation (civil reconciliation) left unpunished those who had been tyrannizing their own people for nine years. Voters little care who forced that policy upon the incumbent authorities – promises must be fulfilled! Neither have any economic miracles happened. Although people are no longer jailed or deprived of their businesses, and political opponents are not killed in the street, it is not a reason to stop moving forward.
It is impossible and wrong to keep building one’s election strategy on the fact that your opponent is worse than you are.
The winners are moving towards the autumn elections by separate parties, not in a bloc. There is an impression that the former coalition seeks to disprove the most popular slogan in Georgia - “Our unity is our strength!”
The situation lays hopes for a revenge for the United National Movement, the more so as its key personnel has survived the pseudo-persecutions and preserved the sources of financing and foreign support. Suffice it to say that U.S. Congressman Steve Russell openly demands freezing and arresting the financial assets of Bidzina Ivanishvili so that he could not hold the United National Movement from returning to power. What is all that but a bright example of interference into internal affairs of a sovereign state and attempts of external control?
Bidzina Ivanishvili, who left the political field yet three years ago, is still the most favorite target of the United National Movement’s furious assaults. The latest of the assaults was accusations of misappropriating several hectares of the botanical garden’s territory. Meantime the leadership of the botanical garden and the municipality disclaim these reports, which proves that the deal was legal and mutually advantageous. At least, the media fuss sparked protests in the style of the United National Movement - with evil eyes, hysteric cries – when the arguments and explanations of the opponents make no difference.
Irma Nadirashvili, a functionary from the United National Movement, blame the oligarch for what she called a very grave crime. In particular, she thinks that he cares for zebras and penguins more than for people.
“In 2012, the people elected Ivanishvili for he could settle such problems as poverty, unemployment and other social issues. Instead, Ivanishvili cares for his house, for the incomes of his bank, for zebras, penguins, everything but people. Now he seeks to seize the botanical garden. He will not manage to do it,” Nadirashvili said. If the opponents of ‘the Nationals’ afforded such statements, the Party would immediately submit a declaration to the UN on flagrant discrimination and infringement of the rights of zebras and penguins. In the meantime, the ex-president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili, who ran away from the country, is sure that his party will win the parliamentary elections this autumn and he will return with glory.
“I am sure in victory. I have no doubts. There are two forces: one is linked to Bidzina Ivanishvili, the other – with me. There is no third force at the given stage. All the rest is just imitation,” Saakashvili told Rustavi-2.
At the same time, he is too noble-minded to abandon Odessa to the whims of the fate – he has been governing the region for little time. Although Saakashvili has not yet managed to turn Odessa into Switzerland or Singapore, he has managed to drive it to a situation that a contingent of the National Guard has been pulled there to keep order.
The United National Movement is well aware of real state of affairs. Therefore, it is ready to join coalition union with other political forces, at least the ones it can bribe or win round. Representatives of the non-parliamentary opposition have their stances too. For instance, Leader of the Labor Party Shalva Natelashvili – the Georgian policy’s Robin Hood and Don Quixote in one person – says announcing October 8 as the elections date was the first criminal step towards election rigging. Why the election rigging is not possible on October 30 remains unclear. If his party wants to work with voters, it has six months to do it.
The Democratic Movement led by Nino Burjanadze, an experienced politician, ex-speaker of the parliament, is actively preparing for the elections too. Promising to nominate serious candidates by the elections, Burjanadze denies the possibility of a union with the ex-prime minister Irakli Garibashvili.
The Georgian Dream former ruling coalition is not idling either. The Republic Party preserved all the ministerial posts after leaving the coalition, and Defense Minister Tinatin Khidasheli called absurd Steve Russell’s arms trade-related allegations against Bidzina Ivanishvili. Her husband, Speaker of the Georgian Parliament David Usupashvili, commented on the election date and the new threshold (50% instead of previous 30%) to the parliament for single-mandate deputies. He called the decisions logical and democratic and did not rule out a second round of elections.
For the first time, Georgian Dream - Democratic Georgia Party is running for the parliament independently. Although it is said to have more chances than others, it has probably made a tactical step to neutralize the key triumph card of the United National Movement – the U.S. support. Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili travelled to the United States, visited the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) he graduated from in 1998. It is not hard to guess why 18 years after receiving his Master’s Degree, the prime minister suddenly felt nostalgia for his student years, for alma mater where he met with the teaching staff and students.
It was a direct signal to Americans, as the entire ruling elite in Georgia studied in U.S., had lived there for years and shares the Western values. Perhaps, it was an attempt, though a naïve one, to persuade Washington that moderate and sober-minded politicians are better than reckless radicals are.
It is hard to call that mission successful, as Washington so far prefers just those reckless radicals.
Irakli Chkheidze, political analyst (Tbilisi, Georgia) for EADaily