Georgia has experienced very little real competition during its parliamentary elections over the past 25 years. Violent coups, peaceful revolutions, elections characterized by weak candidates running against entrenched leaders and pseudo opposition parties, and poor level of civic participation have certainly not helped. But the potential for a real multiparty system exists, as long as expectations are not excessive.
In might not be evident at first glance but the most competitive parliamentary election to date was the one held in October 2003. The election was unique in that 6 political parties successfully overcame the electoral threshold. However, the outcome was annulled due to allegations of vote rigging and resulted in the Rose Revolution, which culminated in President Edward Shevardnadze’s abrupt political departure and the installation of a Western-backed government.
To be sure, Shevi’s last years in office were pretty “pluralistic.” Several home-grown oligarchs had their own political parties, television stations, and circles of business elites; the judicial system was not firmly under the control any one political party and verdicts (in most instances) were anyway determined more by the highest bribe. Moreover, for party bosses, selling their places in the party list was a lucrative business.
Having a two-party and competitive system is not bad if it is about true competition. Parties also have to be well established and not resort to violence when changing office. However, neither the “multiparty” system during the Saakashvili period nor the current two-party system works effectively. In 2007, street protests had prevented parliament from working for 3 months straight. When the MPs finally managed to convene for session, they voted for 99 laws! I immediately asked a contact in the parliament, the then PM, how that was at all humanly possible, he responded that “it was an order from above.” He believes in God, but that is not who he meant.
The 2012 parliamentary elections produced a two-party parliament, with the Georgian Dream coalition claiming the majority of seats and around 40% going to the previous ruling National Movement. The rest - pseudo or independent political parties - failed to overcome the 5% barrier. There is ongoing talk about conducting interim parliamentary elections next year, a full year earlier than currently stipulated in the constitution. Supporters argue that the parliamentary makeup does not correspond to reality, claiming the National Movement represents less than 40% of the population. This is true if we consider the party ratings (Chart 1). I personally agree that there is a need for new elections but as things stand now, this would not result in any significant democratic change. We would still have a two-party system, the only difference being that the Georgian Dream coalition would occupy a larger majority of seats.
No one would argue with me if I say that we need a multi-party parliament, but achieving this seems to be an impossible feat. Apart from winning voters’ hearts and minds, all parties need cash in order to build sustainable party infrastructure. Though all prefer green paper money, such cash comes from only one country, our northern neighbour (sometime it comes from Ukraine, but that shouldn’t be mixed up with its origin). If not “advised” by government, local business would not bother to invest in politics. So, this seems to be a gridlock. Most of us would agree that Georgian politics needs new faces and most of us also would agree that they are hard to come by. Either they are not interested in serving the people or their time hasn’t come yet.
Our politicians need to start thinking more pragmatically and begin using Georgia’s wealth as if it were oil deposits or a gold mine. This real wealth is found in the Georgian people. For example, just less than 20% of the population is made up of national minorities. Because they barely represent political power on the national level, they are not contributing their unique social capital to the country’s politics. For me and most of my friends, it does not matter if any bad politician is ethnically Georgian or not. In Georgia, women make up 53% of the population but they are also underrepresented in the parliament and government. This is another source of wealth that we are wasting. Again, I don’t care about the gender of a bad politician.
Like in most “almost free” countries, we have had richer politicians compared to business elites. In addition, what is still lacking is true public participation and not only during election days. Every time Georgia experiences a gathering of at least 500 protesters (except in mining town of Tkibuli) the main demand is always the same: the president’s resignation. I can hardly recall any instance when the public protested low wages or pensions, violence on TV or food quality in the supermarkets, etc.
Chart 1. Party ratings (% of those who will participate in election and would vote)
Source: GORBI nationwide surveys of 1,000 adult respondents
Bottom line is that we need a true multiparty system ASAP, and the reality is that it is very hard to achieve, given the pace of the political process development.
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 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.