People tend give a lot of weight to plebiscites and referendums due to their focus on political participation. However, petitions can also help to improve things in many ways and make life more enjoyable and healthier.
Over the last decade there have been several developments and platforms that make online petitioning much easier and geographically more widespread, with many activists making extensive use of the tool today. In some countries if signatures pass a certain threshold, elected officials are obligated to enact or prevent changes that energizes an active segment of society. The list of subjects varies greatly and have included issues such as preventing U.S. President Donald Trump from carrying through on his inaugural state visit to the UK, whether to accept more asylum seekers, particularly relevant in Western Europe as of late; and calls for Nike to stop the slaughter of kangaroos in manufacturing of soccer shoes, etc.
Let me present the brief history of the Georgian public’s willingness to sign petitions. In the mid-1990s, Georgia was experiencing bizarre times both politically and economically. Civic activities were very premature and were limited to street demonstrations. Sometimes protesters were beaten to the death by the police. All this ended in 2012 after the regime was changed in peaceful elections. This is very well reflected in GORBI’s longitudinal studies, where, among several topics, we managed to measure people’s perceptions and experience with petitioning.
In 1995, a large majority of respondents (70%) believed that they would never sign a petition under any circumstances. This figure has since significantly decreased and today only 41% pledged never sign a petition no matter what. Interestingly (and not surprisingly), over the last two decades things have changed for the better and today almost every third (30%) of surveyed respondents would sign a petition compared to 14% in 1995 and 21% ten years ago. In parallel, since 1995, the number of those who have by now signed a petition has nearly doubled, reaching 30%.
Chart 1: Historic Attitudes towards signing petition (%)
Source: The European Values Survey and the World Values Surveys
I personally have very limited experience in petitioning, having done so only once after my friend, a journalist, ended up in a prison due to his political views some ten years ago. At that time, I put my signature on a paper document. Now one can petition electronically, with no need for meetings and phone calls.
So, what would I petition for if I decided to do so? Well, there are several outstanding issues and the first that comes to my mind is to help my country regain worldwide acceptance of its true name – SAKARTVELO (საქართველო). Those who speaks Armenian, Azeri, English, Spanish, Russian each use a different word when referring to my country’s name. So, I would certainly sign a petition demanding the government to introduce a constitutional amendment and make it mandatory for Georgian current and future officials to work with all countries until they make changes and call us Sakartvelo. Lately, there have already been two positive cases: Lithuania (Ačiū Lietuvai) made the decision to call us Sakartvelo instead of Gruzia (the Russian version of Sakartvelo) and Japan changed Gruzia with Georgia. Thank you, Japan (ありがとう、日本) for making this first step in the right direction and please start calling us by our true name soonest.
The second thing that I would really like to try to change via petition is to ban using khantsi (our traditional Georgian drinking horn) with more than two liters of white wine and one liter for a red liquid. However, I am afraid that the Georgian association of toast masters would take this case to the Constitutional Court and the court would rule against limits of khantsi volumes, attributing this to the “right to free personality" and that "[big volumes of wine] can only harm the user's health, making the user responsible for the outcome…The responsibility for such actions does not cause dangerous consequences for the public,” as they ruled in the recent legalization of cannabis. Of course, the personal rights of wives of big wine drinkers will be ignored, despite the fact that the Constitutional Court has the best gender balance compared to other courts (5 men and 4 women).
And the third thing that I would petition for as hard as the two and which would require Sisyphus's endless toil, is to make transparent the procurement processes of several international organizations operating in the region. Though, I have promised to write a separate column about this phenomenon, it took more time then I was expecting (I just need to categorize by typology around 70 cases with 15 or so organizations).
GORBI has a big track record of winning bids in several countries with several organizations. Since 1998, only with the World Bank Group, we conducted over 100 projects in 12 countries and not surprisingly we know the language, professional ethics and how quality matters of the largest players in this industry. Regardless, during our existence, we have experienced many cases of misconduct …including sad and funny ones.
As it is shown on Chart 1, in 2018 almost every third (30%) surveyed adult indicated an intention to possibly petition. This is a pretty big number and may even rise if the subject is interesting. Out of three mentioned above, I think naming Sakartvelo this country and introducing wine volume limits for khanti’s seems achievable.
Note: I would like to extend special appreciation to Ani Lortkipanidze who assisted with the analysis and charts featured in this article
GORBI is an exclusive member of the Gallup International research network and has more than two decades of experience in survey research (gorbi.com)