Georgia

Last update: 6 months ago

Georgian elections have become more transparent and usually mark a regular transition of power, as noted by several international observers. In 2018, Prime Minister Georgi Kvirikashvili resigned from his post after waves of protests in the country and was succeeded by Mamuka Bakhtadze. Bakhtadze was the fourth Prime Minister of the ruling pro-European Georgian Dream (GD) party since it came to power in 2012. Since the presidential elections of 2013, GD has been in charge of both the presidency and the government and has held a majority in parliament. In the 2016 parliamentary elections, the coalition between GD and Democratic Georgia gained total victory for the second time. GD's eight-year rule was extended once more, after the Otober 2020 elections. However, the outcome was denounced by the opposition parties, which accused them of rigging the elections and abusinig their power. As a result, the opposition refused to enter parliament.

International observers stated that there were a few shortcomings, but that the elections were overall competitive and with respect to the citizens' rights. The opposition continued to boycot parliament as protesters took to the streets. In February of 2021 opposition leader Nika Melia was convicted of organising "mass violence" at a 2019 protest, which escalated the already existing political conflict. To de-escalate the situation, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia stepped down and was succeeded by Irakli Garibashvili. However, Nika Melia was violently arrested the following day. An EU-brokered deal that was signed between GD and opposition parties paved the way for political stablility, after which Melia was released. However, the political crisis which took hold of the country has not immedietly been resolved. The country's politics remain polarized. 

Support of a pro-European policy and integration into the West remain popular among parliamentarians and civic society. This is something which the entire country agrees on, as over 80% of Georgians are in favour of EU membership. Another top goal of most of Georgia's political parties is memberships in NATO. The country’s problems and voter’s concerns revolve around unemployment, human rights and territorial integrity. The latter originates from a conflict with the breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia and a violent dispute between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia in 2008. This has much to do with the country's pro-Western and anti-Russian views. 

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Map of Georgia

Short facts

Population:
3,989,743 (2020)
Governmental Type:
semi-presidential republic
Ruling Coalition:
Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia coalition
Last Elections:
October 2020 (Parliamentary elections)
Next Elections:
2021 (Local elections)
Sister Parties:
Social-Democrats for Development of Georgia (SDD)
Image of Salome Zurabishvili (Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Salome_Zurabishvili_cropped.jpg)

Salome Zurabishvili

President

Read biography
Image of Irakli Garibasjvili (Source: Wikimedia )

Irakli Garibasjvili

Prime Minister

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Political Situation

The August 2008 crisis
A priority spelt out by then-president Mikhail Saakashvili after his election in 2004, was to try and bring back the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia under Georgian authority. He quickly established authority in Adjara and shifted attention towards the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This led to sharp tensions, among others with Russia. Russia was not too pleased with Georgian aspirations to join international organisations like NATO and the EU. Such aspirations are apparently in consequence of the 2003 Rose Revolution bringing pro-Western Saakashvili to power. In August 2008 tensions between Russia and Georgia started escalating. An incident of a Russian spy plane shot down over Georgian territory resulted in a brief full-scale war.

The initial international response gravely condemned Russia for its actions and demanded withdrawal from Georgia. Specifically, the US started lobbying intensively for a sped-up Georgian accession to the NATO; something that European countries were somewhat divided in, even if equally condemning Russia. As time went by and investigations were launched, however, more and more reprimands started to appear towards the Georgian side as well as the Russian side. In October/November 2008 an independent international investigation group was created to look into the August events, headed by Heidi Tagliavini, a Swiss diplomat who served as UN Secretary General's special representative to Georgia from 2002 to 2006. The report eventually put some of the blame on both sides.

Democracy and human rights
Georgia is seen as one of the frontrunners in the region when it comes to democracy and human rights. The country scores relatively well on relevant international indexes, such as Freedom House, which describes it as ‘partly free’. It further has a lively and vocal civil society, an active opposition and political plurality, which often results in harsh political confrontations and a high level of polarisation. Since 2012, the Georgian Dream (GD) coalition is in power with, currently, a constitutional majority in parliament. While doing relatively well in the areas of democratisation and human rights, there are still some concerns, especially regarding the status of the opposition.

Opposition party United National Movement (UNM) has claimed that its prominent members are subjected to politically motivated investigations and trials, with its founder Mikhail Saakashvili unable to formally lead the party having lost his Georgian citizenship in 2015, after gaining the Ukrainian citizenship, and unable to return to Georgia as he is wanted by Georgian authorities. In a similar manner, in February of 2021 the UNM's leader Nika Melia was was convicted of organizing “mass violence” during a 2019 opposition protest. The party claims the following arrest was purely politically motivated. Even though Melia was granted amnesty for the 2019 protests, the struggle between the UNM and GD continues on this issue. 

There are also some concerns surrounding the role of GD founder and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili: there are allegations that he still wields quite some power behind the scenes while not having any formal (political) position. Informal actors having a big influence on political choices continues to be a challenge for Georgia. Additionally, critics say the judicial branch does not work independently from the government and the parliament, whose interests often affect the judges’ decisions.  Georgia is eager to continue improving its ties with the West by joining the EU and NATO. It has signed and ratified the EU Association Agreement (which includes the long-expected visa-free travel possibilities to most EU member states) and has strived for NATO membership for some time.

National minorities in Georgia
National minorities enjoy full (political) rights under the constitution and make up of 16.2 per cent of Georgia’s population. The two largest national minorities in the country are the Azeri and the Armenians. Besides that, a variety of smaller groups live within the state borders. Because minorities do not often speak Georgian, their level of political participation is relatively low. However, especially in the run-up to the latest presidential election, more information in Armenian, Azeri, Ossetian and Russian was provided. There are no ethnic political parties, although several parties have included members of national minorities in lists and as majoritarian candidates, nominating them in districts where minorities form a substantial part of the population. 

On 8 August 2008, Georgian troops entered South Ossetia as, what the Georgian authorities would later claim, a response to Russian provocation. However, the Russian military response was swift. As a result, the Georgian military was thrown back out of South Ossetia, after which the Russian side proceeded to enter Georgia proper. The international community demanded that Russia withdraw its forces from Georgian territory. In a unilateral action, the Russian Federation recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states and started diplomatic relations with the two as early as October 2008.

Gender participation and women's rights
While there are no legal obstacles for women, Georgian politics remain dominated by men. Former parliamentary speaker Previously, Nino Burjanadze was the woman to hold the highest political function, but she left the then-ruling National Movement shortly before the parliamentary elections of 2008. However, in recent years there have been some improvements in this regard. Salome Zourabichvili was elected as Georgia's first female president in December of 2018. In 2020 there have also been several electoral changes that guarantee participation of women in politics. Political parties require at least a quarter of their elected representatives to be female. This had led to at least 30 women out of a total of 150 MPs being elected. 

On a local level, politics remains more male-dominated. Parties hold the opinion that they would like to nominate more female candidates, but the problem is rather that there are not enough women who want to take part. A career in politics is often seen as something ‘unfeminine’ in Georgian society, mainly because the political scene is often described as “rough-edged” and influenced by a “macho culture”. Moreover, many women quit university when they marry or get pregnant and exchange their education for the family. Georgia has made much progress when it comes to adopting anti-discrimination legislation. However, gender stereotypes remain deeply rooted and a significant gap continues to exist with regards to economic participation and opportunities.

LGBTI rights
Georgia's LGBTI community face discrimination and challenges that non-LGBTI people do not have to face. Abuse and physical violence towards LGBTI people remains common as well. However, the country has been doing its best to gets its human rights record somewhat in line with Western countries. In 2014 a big step was taken, when the discrimination against LGBTI people became prohibited by law. Committing a crime based on ones sexual orientation or gender identity aggrevates the prosecution. Same-sex marriage remains prohibbited though, and in 2018 was even consitutionally banned. Previously, the consitution desribed marriage in a gender neutral way. That changed when President Zourabichvili was elected President in 2018. Several human rights organizations called on Georgia to legalize same-sex marriage.

As Georiga became more influenced by highly traditional Ortohdox Christian values after the fall of communism, public opinion towards LGBTI people remained negative. A Pew Research Centre poll in 2016 still found that 93% of Georgians believed homosexuality should not be accepted by society. Yet, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) polls showed that the percentage of Georgians who think that LGBTI rights were important is increasing. In 2019 this accounted to 27%, with 38% among the age group of 18-35. This has much to do with football players like Guram Kashia expressing support for LGBTI rights, as well as Nino Bolkvadz running as the first openly gay politician in the 2017 local elections. 

Elections

Electoral system
Georgia is a democratic republic headed by President Salome Zourabichvili. Zourabichvili was elected in December 2018 for a term of six year. Presidential candidates must obtain at least 50% of the votes and if this threshold is not met, a second round takes place in which the number one and two run against each other. The candidate with the most votes, becomes president. 

The 2020 parliamentary elections were the first after recent electoral changes. The Members of Parliament (MPs) are still chosen in two stages, but the ratio and thresholds are different. 120 of the 150 MPs are elected through proportional representation, in which they have to reach an electoral threshold of 1%. In previous years, this used to be 5%. The remaining 30 MPs are chosen through single-member constituencies in a second round. This means that parties choose candidates who will run on a district level to be elected. The participants have to obtain at least 50% of the votes in order to become part of parliament. If this threshold is not reached, the winner and the runner up will participate in another round to determine who gets the seat. The MPs are elected for a four-year term. Due to this new electoral system, the Georgian parliament became more diverse with an increased number of mainly smaller parties. 


Parliamentary elections

On 31 October 2020, the first round of the Georgian parliamentary elections took place. Quickly after the voting was completed, it became clear that the biggest party, Georgian Dream (GD), had obtained the vast majority of seats again. This meant that GD would continue their eight-year rule, because it would not have been possible for the opposition to obtain a majority during the upcoming constituency round. However, the opposition parties did not accept the outcome and even rejected to enter parliament. They called for civilian protests, leading to mass-demonstrations in front of the parliament building. After the second round was completed on 21 November, GD had a total of 90 seats. The largest opposition bloc Strength is in Unity-United Opposition obtained 36 seats, European Georgia got five seats and Lelo for Georgia, Strategy Aghmashenebli and Girchi each received four. The smallest parties are Citizens with two seats and the Georgian Labour Party with one seat. Georgian parliament has a total of 150 seats, of which 120 are allocated through proportional representation and the remaining 30 via single member constituencies.

Election results 2020

Party % votes proportional lists Total seats
Georgian Dream 48.22% 90
UNM-led Strength is in Unity-United Opposition 27.18% 36
European Georgia 3.79% 5
Lelo for Georgia 3.15% 4
Strategy Aghmashenebli 3.15% 4
Alliance of Patriots of Georgia 3.14% 4
Girchi 2.89% 4
Citizens 1.33% 2
Georgian Labour Party 1% 1

 

The 2020 elections were the first since a constitutional change lowered the electoral threshold from 5% to 1%. This led to more smaller parties being able to actually enter parliament, making the political landscape more diverse. In June of 2019, United Unity Movement, European Georgia, the Labour Party and New Georgia formed a pre-electoral alliance. However, due to conflict within the coalition Aleko Elishasvili left and formed his own faction Citizens, because he thought that the members were too pro-Russian and were only acting out of self-interest. Still, regardless of the problems within the movement, more than 30 small parties united under the name Strength is in Unity-United Opposition. 

Election observers
International observers from the OSCE have said that the 2020 parliamentary elections were competitive and that the political rights were overall respected. However, they did also mention that there had been some shortcomings, which led to a lower public confidence in the electoral process. The lines between Georgian Dream as a ruling party and the state were blurred during campaign time and there had been pressure on voters. Furthermore, the National Democratic Institute pointed out that there were cases of voter intimidation in and around multiple ballot stations and alleged pre-elections abuse of power. The European Union stated that it expects and hopes that all political parties would set aside their differences and enter parliament. In addition, United States (US) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Georgia during election time, while thousands of people were protesting against the results of the first round. He did not make a statement regarding the outcomes, but he did say that the US would continue to support the country in building strong institutions and ensuring free and fair elections.


Presidential elections

On 28 October 2018, national presidential elections were held in Georgia to choose a successor for outgoing president Giorgi Margvelashvili. This round of elections ended neck and neck for the two top candidates for the position of president: Salome Zurabishvili, an independent candidate backed by Georgian Dream, and Grigol Vashadze, running on behalf of the Strength in Unity movement, an opposition alliance led by the United National Movement (UNM). Davit Bakradze (European Georgia) and Shalva Natelashvili (Labour Party) came in third and fourth respectively. The other 21 candidates garnered less than 3 per cent of the votes each. Since no candidate garnered the majority of votes needed to secure immediate victory, a second-round was held between Zurabishvili and Vashadze on 2 December 2018. It was the first time in Georgia’s history a second round was needed in a presidential election

That second round was held on 28 November 2018. With 59.52 per cent of the votes Georgian Dream supported candidate, Salome Zurabishvili, won the presidential elections in a runoff against the United National Movement opposition candidate, Grigol Vashadze. The Central Election Commission confirmed the result and said that the turnout was 56 per cent,  which is 9 per cent higher than in the first round. Zurabishvili became the first female president of Georgia. She is also the first president with a migration background, having been borne in France.

Candidate

Candidate

Votes % first round

Votes % second round

Salome Zurabishvili

Independent – backed by Georgian Dream

38.63 %

59.52%

Grigol Vashadze

Strength in Unity Movement

37.74 %

40.48%

Davit Bakradze

European Georgia

10.97 %

-

Shalva Natelashvili

Labour Party

3.75 %

-

 

Election observers
International watchdogs who closely monitored the elections on the ground in Georgia have been predominantly positive about the way they were conducted. The OSCE has stated that overall, the elections were calm and voters had a free and genuine choice, though some violations of electoral laws have taken place. The European External Action Service (EEAS) has stated that it agrees with these conclusions. Other watchdogs, like the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Transparency International (TI) have all noted that violations did take place, but that they have not significantly altered the elections or their outcome. All of these organisations noted the practice of several political parties trying to influence, or even bribe, voters, and have filed complaints against these misconducts.

Political parties

Social Democratic Parties

Social-Democrats for Development of Georgia (SDD)

Party Leader: Ghia Jorjoliani

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Logo of Georgian Dream

Georgian Dream (GD)

Party Leader: Giorgi Gakharia

Number of seats: 90

http://41.ge/

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Logo of Georgian Labour Party (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgian_Labour_Party#/media/File:Georgian_Labour_Party_logo.png)

Georgian Labour Party (SLP)

Party Leader: Shalva Natelashvili

Number of seats: 1

https://www.labour.ge/en/

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Other Parties

UNM-led Strength is in Unity–United Opposition

Party Leader: Mikheil Saakashvili, Grigol Vashadze

Number of seats: 36

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Logo of European Georgia (Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:EuropeanGeorgialogo.png)

European Georgia

Party Leader: Davit Bakradze

Number of seats: 5

https://www.europeangeorgia.ge

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Logo of Lelo for Georgia (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lelo_for_Georgia#/media/File:Lelo_for_Georgia_Logo.png)

Lelo for Georgia (Lelo)

Party Leader: Mamuka Khazaradze

Number of seats: 4

https://lelo2020.ge

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Logo of Strategy Aghmashenebeli (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategy_Aghmashenebeli#/media/File:Strategy_Aghmashenebeli_logo.png)

Strategy Aghmashenebeli (NG)

Party Leader: Giorgi Vashadze

Number of seats: 4

https://ng.ge/

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Logo of Girchi (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Political_Center_%E2%80%94_Girchi#/media/File:Girchi_logo.svg)

Girchi

Party Leader: Iago Khvichia

Number of seats: 4

https://girchi.com/

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Citizens

Party Leader: Aleko Elisashvili

Number of seats: 2

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Logo of Alliance of Patriots of Georgia

Alliance of Patriots of Georgia (APG)

Party Leader: Irma Inashvili

Number of seats: 4

http://patriots.ge/

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Biographies

Image of Salome Zurabishvili (Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Salome_Zurabishvili_cropped.jpg)

Salome Zurabishvili

President

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Image of Irakli Garibasjvili (Source: Wikimedia )

Irakli Garibasjvili

Prime Minister

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Image of Giorgi Gakharia

Giorgi Gakharia

Former Prime Minister

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Image of Mikheil Saakashvili

Mikheil Saakashvili

Leader (in exile) of the United National Movement party (UNM)

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Image of Bidzina Ivanishvili

Bidzina Ivanishvili

Leader of Georgian Dream party

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Image of Grigol Vashadze

Grigol Vashadze

Presidential candidate UNM for Georgian presidential election

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Image of Davit Bakradze

Davit Bakradze

Leader Movement for Liberty-European Georgia

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Sources

Elections and political situation

Corruption

Georgia’s separatist regions

Geopolitical situation

Economic situation and poverty

Baku-Ceyhan Pipeline

Political Parties and Blocs

Biographies