When the Soviet Union started flirting with political openness 30 years ago and lost its grip, democratic governance became the only alternative for much of Eastern Europe, whether the people were prepared for it or not. With the geopolitical chess match of the Cold War over, many dictators lost their legitimacy and were removed from power by force or the ballot.
Georgia had a rocky start as an independent state but overall has benefited enormously from democracy, experiencing several peaceful and successful transitions of power via elections over the last decade. While there is currently no appetite for other forms of governance, there is always the risk of returning to authoritarianism if those in power and civil society fail to consolidate democracy.
Conducting popular elections do not always translate to a strong or healthy democratic governance, at least in the Western liberal sense. Leaders in the region these days are elected to office, but some “secured” themselves permanent support from the electorate after making the necessary adjustments to their constitutions.
We all are democracies in this region but what makes us different is the level of civic engagement that holds elected officials accountable. In this regard Georgia is truly exceptional. Thanks to mass protests, the country’s leadership was forced to make drastic changes and improvements on several occasions. As a result, there is broad support for representative democracy.
2500 years ago, Plato, the Greek philosopher or perhaps, the smartest man that this planet has ever hosted, believed that “The best king is the one who is the best of philosophers and the best at war.” He described five forms of governance and how they were replacing each other when one was eventually failing.
Over the past three decades now, social scientists have been measuring preferred forms of governance by asking respondents in surveys to assess various types of political systems and what they think about each for governing their respective countries. In Georgia, GORBI was a pioneer in measuring public attitudes towards different styles of governance, including democratic political systems, strong leader, military rule or by a system where experts rule.
Since 1995, the majority of the public has welcomed strong leader rule the most. The exception was in 2009, when “only” 44% of the public thought that a strong leader would be fitting for their country’s needs. However, and alarmingly, a sizeable majority of the adult population (74%) today supports this form of political management which is nearly three times the global average (26%).
In addition, 60% of surveyed respondents in 2018 supported rule by experts over elected representatives, an option that has had its ups and downs over the last twenty years. Four years ago, only a third of respondents backed this option. Worldwide, this nonrepresentative and technocratic system is today favored by half of all respondents (49%).
Though Georgia did experience a short-lived coup d’état that installed a council of thugs dressed in army fatigues in the early 90s, the country has never experienced military rule. With no human or historical memory of such form of rule, it is not surprising that it is liked the least. In 2018, only a quarter of respondents supported military rule. Interestingly, this number has increased more than twofold since 1995, but it is still close to the world average of 24% (if that is any comfort).
The table also clearly demonstrates that in Georgia, and overall, people have always had faith and trust in democratic governance, preferring it over nondemocratic systems. However, in recent years the latter has been gaining significant support.
Bottom line is that, based on international survey findings, poor democracies are vulnerable to the regime change. But as soon as they become consolidated and the country succeeds in addressing poverty and generates wealth, the democracy becomes safe. Thus, strengthening democracy and tackling poverty should be the ultimate moto.