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. His successor Mamuka Bakhtadze, a former Minister of Finance, and a new cabinet were approved by the parliament shortly after. Bakhtadze is the fourth Prime Minister of the ruling pro-European Georgian Dream party since it came to power in 2012. Since the presidential elections of 2013, Georgian Dream 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 Georgian Dream and Democratic Georgia gained total victory for the second time. Georgian Dream's eight-year rule was extended once more, after the 2020 elections proved them to be the biggest faction again. 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. Support of a pro-European policy and integration into the West are popular among parliamentarians and civic society. Top goals of Georgia are memberships in NATO and the EU. 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.
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- 3,989,743 (2020)
- Governmental Type:
- semi-presidential republic
- Ruling Coalition:
- Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia coalition
- Last Elections:
- October 2020 (Parliamentary elections)
- Next Elections:
- 2024 (Parliamentary and Presidential elections)
- Sister Parties:
- Social-Democrats for Development of Georgia (SDD)
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 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 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. There are also some concerns surrounding the role of Georgian Dream founder and former PM 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, but without being very successful.
Gender and minority political participation
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. Women remain underrepresented in politics, although there have been some improvements. Currently, there are 23 female MPs, as opposed to the 17 female representatives who were in parliament before. On a local level, politics are 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.
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.
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.
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|
|UNM-led Strength is in Unity-United Opposition||27.18%||36|
|Lelo for Georgia||3.15%||4|
|Alliance of Patriots of Georgia||3.14%||4|
|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.
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.
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.
Votes % first round
Votes % second round
Independent – backed by Georgian Dream
Strength in Unity Movement
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.
Social Democratic Parties
Leader (in exile) of the United National Movement party (UNM)Read biography
Leader of Georgian Dream partyRead biography
Presidential candidate UNM for Georgian presidential electionRead biography
Leader Movement for Liberty-European GeorgiaRead biography
Elections and political situation
- Alfred Mozer Stichting: Report Assessment visit to Georgia
- BBC News Laywer claims Georgia Presidency
- Country Profile Georgia
- Eurasia.net: Georgia prepares for new parliamentary election
- ICG: Georgia: What now? 3 December 2003
- OSCE Election Reports
- RFE/RL Georgia: Saakashvili Raising Hopes That Corruption May Be Tackled In Earnest
- Transnational Crime and Corruption Centre
- Transparency International Corruption Index
Georgia’s separatist regions
- BBC: South Ossetia
- ICG: Saakashvili’s Ajara success: Repeatable elsewhere in Georgia?
- ICG Crisiswatch September 2004
- Institute for War and Peace reporting
- Transitions Online (March-August 2004)
- BBC Russia warns Georgia after threat
- CSIS: Iraq and the Caucasus
- European Commission: EU’s relations with Georgia
- European Neighborhood Policy
- IIAS Newsletter, article M.P. Amineh: Rethinking Geopolitics in Post-Soviet Central Eurasia
- Transitions Online (March – August 2004)
Economic situation and poverty
- Edie news centre BTC pipeline construction suspended
- Friends of the Earth
- Goldman Prize recipient
- Independent.co.uk Exposed: BP, its pipeline, and an environmental time bomb
Political Parties and Blocs