Is democracy worth fighting for?

Over the past three millennia, there were very few moments when Georgians have lived in peace (yes our history goes back that far!) From the very beginning we have been fighting to defend own territory (and sometimes to annex foreign soil in the process). Sectarian divisions over the last 16 centuries were great cause for countless massacres by invaders. However, democracy is the new social religion we are fighting for.

There are two main enemies in this struggle: the most powerful one – ourselves and a less powerful but very militarized one - our big neighbor Russia.  At first glance, one might ask why should Georgians feel the need to fight for democracy if our country was already labeled a democracy back in 1991, when it broke free from the USSR? The answer may be obvious for some but most won’t want to admit it. It makes life easier for politicians when all players representing hybrid regimes call themselves democracies.
 
To refresh memories, I present here some fascinating labels given to scores of countries that are broadly considered democracies. For the sake of brevity, and with apologizes, I will not provide the names of academics or politicians that have come up with these original labels. 
 
Cambodia was labelled a “nascent democracy” that was “on the road to democratic consolidation;” Haiti was said to be undergoing a “long,” “ongoing” and even “unending” democratic transition; Cameroon, and Kazakhstan were characterized as “democratizers,” and the Central African Republic and Congo-Brazzaville were called “would be democracies”. Where transitions failed to bring democracy, countries were described as “stalled,” “protracted” or “flawed.” Thus, Kenya was said to be in a state of “arrested democratic consolidation,” Zambia was described as “stuck in transition,” and Albania and Nigeria were said to be in “permanent transition;” And, of course Georgia, – a “Beacon of Democracy”

During the 1990s for example, Russia was treated as a case of being in “protracted” democratic transition. In the early 2000s, even the deepening authoritarianism under Vladimir Putin was viewed as a “failure to consolidate” democracy.  Personally, I find “country in democratic transition,” most neutral and name appealing. But as reality and recent history has demonstrated, these characterizations are certainly misleading since not all regimes end up having true democratic governments. Though in some countries formal and popular elections are held and autocrats fall,  new ones replace them, regardless of the number of transitions. However, some of them democratized because they followed correct policies (Ghana, Mexico, Slovakia, Taiwan, etc).

Georgia is an interesting case given the presence of regional hegemon, Russia. The occupation of Georgia’s breakaway territories, along with continued humanitarian and economic challenges in the country present another concern – the ruling political powers should steer clear of using these problems as excuses for backsliding on democracy and human rights.

Georgia’s 2013 presidential election was a milestone in the country’s history, as it represented the first time a sitting president left office as a result of an electoral outcome rather than a coup or revolution. All previous presidential elections in Georgia occurred either in the context of extra-legal political upheaval, such as Mikheil Saakashvili’s election as president in January 2004, or with the help of extensive use of administrative resources and low voter turnout, such as Saakashvili’s re-election in 2008. Georgia’s two presidents prior to Saakashvili, Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Eduard Shevardnadze, were forced to flee the capitol before completing their terms in office.

Recent local municipal elections, which included a first ever runoff vote, is another important step towards democratization. Though Georgia passed a basic test for being categorized as an electoral democracy, the country’s legacy of authoritarianism is not a distant memory. A couple of decades ago, some scholars believed that a leader’s reelection under free elections was “enough” for the country to turn into a democratic system. Clearly this is not quite correct and is not always working. Until recent elections, Ukraine managed to re-elect a president three times, but it is hard to say that its citizens enjoy the true benefits of the democracy label. For Georgia too it would be a mistake to say that the latest presidential and local elections were “enough” to relax and consider the current system a true democracy.

Existing public opinion and sentiments towards basic democratic issues are very important. Over the years GORBI has been asking the Georgian public questions to assess satisfaction with the existing situation on the ground. As shown in Table 1, there have been some positive shifts in the public’s evaluation of basic rights. Right to vote, free elections and freedom of speech and press have notably increased after the recent change of power. By and large, the public is still unhappy with the independence of the judicial system.
 

Table 1: Q. To what extent do you think that the following elements apply in Georgia?

 

 

2012

2013

2014

Rights of vote

75

83

82

Free elections

71

78

75

Freedom of speech

67

74

77

Gender equality

62

64

60

Freedom of press

60

69

69

Protection of minority rights

60

60

62

Respect of human rights

57

59

54

Rule of law

55

52

46

Independence of Justice

53

43

41

Good governance

53

52

42

Lack of corruption

52

45

38

 

Source: GORBI nationwide surveys. Note: numbers are given in percentages only positive responses are shown.

Overall, the basic instruments that one should wish to have to establish democratic rule of law exist in Georgia (at least according to a representative sample of its adult population) and this is considered the prevailing reality by the majority of Georgians. Strengthening this is not an easy game to play but it is doable and more importantly, there is no alternative.  

 As a regional hub for partner organizations and international clients, since 2003, GORBI is the only Georgian member of the Gallup International research network to have over two decades of experience in survey research in post-Soviet Union countries, as well as Mongolia and Iraq. All 3 surveys were conducted on a national representative sample of 1,000 respondents; data retains a 3% margin of error, with confidence at 95%. This data was provided exclusively to the Financial. Please do not visit our site ( www.gorbi.com ); it is under construction.

 

Author: The FINANCIAL


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