Georgia

Last update: 1 month ago

In 2018, Prime Minister Georgi Kvirikashvili resigned from his post after waves of protests in the country and was succeeded by Mamuka Bakhtadze. He 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 October 2020 elections. However, the outcome was denounced by the opposition parties, which accused them of rigging the elections and abusing their power. As a result, the opposition refused to enter parliament.

According to several international observers, Georgian elections become more transparent and usually mark a regular transition of power. The 2020 general elections had a few shortcomings according to international observers, but were generally competitive and respected the rights of Georgian citizens. Nonetheless, the opposition continued to boycott the 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 stability, after which Melia was released. However, the political crisis which took hold of the country has not immediately been resolved. To date, the Georgian political landscape is marked by polarisation.

Support of a pro-European policy and integration into the West remain popular among parliamentarians and civic society. This perspective finds an overall consensus, as over 80% of Georgians are in favour of EU membership. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Georgia submitted its membership application in March 2022, ahead of the original planning. The European Commission decided that Georgia is eligible to become an EU member, but deferred granting Georgia the candidate status. Another top goal of most of Georgia's political parties is NATO membership, although this is complicated due to Russian military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia . Furthermore, 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.

Download Country Update

Want to get notified by mail when Georgia gets updated?

Map of Georgia

Short facts

Population:
3,708,610 (World Bank 2021)
Governmental Type:
Semi-presidential republic
Ruling Coalition:
Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia coalition
Last Elections:
October 2021 (Local elections)
Next Elections:
2024 (parliamentary 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

Read biography

Political Situation

Russia-Georgia relations

Relations between Georgia and Russia are characterised by tensions between the two countries, which have regularly erupted into violence. The 2008 Russia-Georgia war, which lasted 12 days, is the most prominent example. A priority spelt out by then-president Mikhail Saakashvili after his election in 2004, was to try and bring back the renegade regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia under Georgian authority. After, Saakashvili quickly established authority in Adjara, he shifted attention towards both separatist regions. This increased tensions with Russia. These tensions were already present with the pro-Western change of power in Georgia as part of the 2003 Rose Revolution. Russia, has spoken out against Georgian NATO and EU accession in the future 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. At the end of this war in which Russia was an aggressor, Kremlin-supported puppet regimes claimed territorial control over parts of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and were consequently recognised by the Kremlin. However, according to international law, both regions remain part of Georgian sovereign territory.

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 putsthe blame on both sides.

After the war, both Georgia and Russia attempted to normalise relationships between both countries. The Georgian-Russian deal allowed Russia to proceed with its World Trade Organization application. In 2012, Georgia introduced visa-free entrance for Russian passport holders. From the Russian side, a 7-year embargo on Georgian wine, one of the countries primary export products, was lifted in 2013. In October 2014, Russia eased visa procedures for Georgian citizens. However, the normalisation of relations between both countries failed to bring an end to the dispute over the breakaway regions, and support among the Georgian population for dialogue with Russia depleted over time.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 raised concerns in Georgia. The war raises the question of whether Russia will further neglect Georgia's territorial integrity. It resulted in Georgia's accelerated application for EU membership, the process for which had already begun before the war. At an earlier stage, Georgia had already condemned the Russian annexation of Crimea as illegitimate. Georgia has also condemned Russia's incursion into Ukraine and continues to support Kyiv politically and diplomatically. Yet Georgia has not participated applying sanctions against Russia. As a result, Georgia is not on the Kremlin's list of unfriendly countries. After Putin announced a partial mobilisation of military reserves in September 2022, long queues formed at the Georgian border. As one of the few neighbouring countries to which Russians can travel visa-free, Georgia has already hosted thousands of Russians fleeing conscription.

Domestic politics

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. One area of concern is media freedom in Georgia with an unprecedented number of physical assaults on journalists in 2021. Moreover, there is still a lack of accountability for abuse among law enforcement. Georgia also has a disproportionately strict drug policy and a long history of discrimination against the LGBTI community.

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 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. Ivanishvili's wealth has given him a distinct position of power in Georgian politics - his personal wealth is the same as one-third of Georgia's GDP. 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 since the Rose Revolution.

Georgia's EU bid

Georgia has aspired EU candidacy status since the Russian invasion of its northern provinces Abkhazia and Northern Ossetia. It’s pathway to become candidate in 2024 had been accelerated due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, subsequently handing in its EU bids alongside Moldova and Ukraine in March 2022. In June 2022, Ukraine and Moldova acquired a positive EU endorsement, however Georgia remained empty-handed. The European Commission established Georgia’s eligibility to become a member of the EU in the future. However, the commission also said that Georgia still has to fulfil key conditions on political polarization, media freedom, judicial reform, and "de-oligarchization", before granting a positive recommendation towards EU candidacy. The Commission will review the case of Georgia again at the end of 2022 to “assess how Georgia meets the number of conditions before granting its candidate status."

The "de-oligarchization" of Georgian society will be presumably be the key condition for Georgia to acquire EU candidacy. The current government, led by the Georgian Dream party is under major influence of oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili – whose capital equivalates one-third of Georgia’s GDP. Earlier in June, the European Parliament passed a nonbinding resolution that called for sanctions on Ivanishvili for his “destructive role” in Georgian politics. Furthermore, the Georgian Dream-led administration has cracked down on media freedom, civil society and judicial independence. This all has been a major shake-up of Georgia being a frontrunning candidate for EU aspirations in Eastern Europe. The deferral of the European Commission led tens of thousands of Georgians to rally on June 20 in the capital Tbilisi.

National minorities in Georgia

Georgia is a multilingual and multi-ethnic country. National minorities enjoy full (political) rights under the constitution and make up of 13%  of Georgia’s population according to a 2014 census. The two largest national minority groups in the country are the Azeri (6%) and the Armenians (5%). Although Azeri and Armenians minority groups hold Georgian passports, the often consider themselves to be citizens of Azerbaijan and Armenia. Besides these groups, a variety of smaller groups live within the state borders. Nonetheless, studies commissioned by Carnegie showed in September 2020 that minorities consider themselves to be loyal towards the Georgian state. Only 16% considered their ethnicity more important than their Georgian citizenship.  Because minorities do not often speak Georgian, their level of political participation is relatively low. Language barriers between speakers of Georgian and minority languages are considered to reinforce alienation of ethnic minorities. 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. To enhance integration of minorities in Georgia, the government established the Civil Integration and Tolerance Council. To further improve the  integration of ethnic minorities in civic-nation building in Georgia, practical steps need to be taken to create a strategy which oversees equal and complete involvement of minorities in Georgian politics and society.

Gender participation and women's rights

While there are no legal obstacles for women, Georgian politics remain dominated by men. Previously, Nino Burjanadze was the woman to hold the highest political function, but she left the then-ruling UNM shortly before the parliamentary elections of 2008. However, in recent years there have been some improvements regards to gender inclusion in Georgian politics. Salome Zourabichvili was elected as Georgia's first female president in December 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 one’s sexual orientation or gender identity aggravates the prosecution. Same-sex marriage remains prohibited though, and in 2018 was even constitutionally banned. Previously, the constitution described 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 Georgia became more influenced by highly traditional Orthodox 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. She was elected in December 2018 for a term of six years.The Georgian electoral system includes a single-chamber parliament with 150 seats. The parliament is elected for a term of four years through parliamentary elections. Georgia initiated constitutional changes to the electoral law in 2017, which included a one-time term of six years for the presidential position during the transitional period. The 2020 parliamentary elections were the first to take place after the electoral changes.

As said, 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 3%. In previous years, this used to be 5%. The 5% threshold was planned to remain intact for the parliamentary elections of 2024. 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. 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 received will become the president.


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 3%.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.

In future parliamentary elections, the parliament will transfer to fully proportional representation. It was also planned to keep the 5% intact, although a majority of the Georgian parliamentary parties support a 2% threshold for the 2024 parliamentary elections to encourage more political pluralism. Decreasing the threshold is also part of the Charles Michel agreement, which is important for Georgia’s democratisation and European integration processes. From the 2024 parliamentary elections onwards, it is also forbidden to form an electoral bloc to meet the threshold requirement. Votes of parties that fail to cross the threshold will be entirely awarded to the winner.

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

From 2024 onwards, the President of Georgia is elected through open ballot without prior debate on the Parliament floor. The presidency term will be for five years, with the transitional period (2018-2024) after several electoral changes were made being an exception with six years. The 2018 presidential elections were the last one to be held through direct ballot, in which the mandate was transferred to the college of electors (300 members). This college included MPs, local and regional government representatives. A president can only serve two terms and is eligible from the age of 40. The president must also have lived in Georgia for at least 15 years, although the previous requirement of living in Georgia for the last 3 years before the elections was removed after the electoral changes in the constitution.  

 

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%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

The 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 born 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

Read more

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/

Read more

Other Parties

Logo of Georgian Dream

Georgian Dream (GD)

Party Leader: Giorgi Gakharia

Number of seats: 84

http://41.ge/

Read more

UNM-led Strength is in Unity–United Opposition

Party Leader: Mikheil Saakashvili, Grigol Vashadze

Number of seats: 36

Read more

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

Read more

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

Read more

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/

Read more

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/

Read more

Citizens

Party Leader: Aleko Elisashvili

Number of seats: 2

Read more

Biographies

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

Read biography
Image of Mikheil Saakashvili

Mikheil Saakashvili

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

Read biography
Image of Bidzina Ivanishvili

Bidzina Ivanishvili

Leader of Georgian Dream party

Read biography
Image of Grigol Vashadze

Grigol Vashadze

Presidential candidate UNM for Georgian presidential election

Read biography
Image of Davit Bakradze

Davit Bakradze

Leader Movement for Liberty-European Georgia

Read biography

Sources

Elections and political situation

Corruption

Georgia’s separatist regions

Geopolitical situation

Economic situation and poverty

Baku-Ceyhan Pipeline

Political Parties and Blocs

Biographies