Guram SHARIA – Independent analyst and researcher
The presidential elections have come to an end in Georgia. Less than half of all registered voters took part – around 47 percent – which when compared to previous elections indicates a fall in political activity. However, the president in Georgia is not the state’s chief executive, so the interest of the population in the presidential elections is traditionally not very high.
It seems that the official results of the elections were what Georgia’s political class wanted to see. Saakashvili’s United National Movement party (ENM), whose candidate Davit Bakradze came second, was more than happy with the results: United National Movement members immediately congratulated the candidate from the ruling coalition Georgian Dream, Georgy Margvelashvili, on his victory. According to official figures, the United National Movement received just over 20 percent of the votes, which in the current situation they could only dream of.
The former Chairperson of the Parliament and leader of the Democratic Movement – United Georgia party, Nino Burjanadze, did worse than expected. According to official figures, she took nearly 10 percent of the votes. During the pre-election campaign, somebody hastily referred to Burjanadze as the «pro-Russian» candidate in the heat of the moment and even a «puppet of the Kremlin» (she criticised the Georgian authorities for still not having started a serious dialogue with Russia, for example), but this mirage quickly faded away. Closer to election day, Burjanadze’s main slogan became «the restoration of justice» (by which was meant the trial of ENM leaders). At her party’s final conference, Burjanadze referred to relations with Russia only in passing, placing emphasis on «the withdrawal of Russian troops from the territory of Georgia», but saying nothing at all about the need to re-establish relations with Russia, Georgia’s return to the CIS and so on.
Burjanadze’s success was also hindered by a power struggle within the party and covert sabotage by individual leaders within her campaign office. All of this was coupled with attacks on the leader of the Democratic Movement – United Georgia party by Bidzina Ivanishvili, while instructions that Margvelashvili should receive no less than 60 percent of the votes and Bakradze should take second place demotivated a significant part of the protest vote that would have voted for Burjanadze.
Burjanadze’s future as a politician after these elections is unclear. On the one hand, she took third place and, although she received significantly fewer votes than was expected, she still cleared the threshold of 10 percent, enabling her to receive a reimbursement of her election campaign expenses from the government. For comparison, fourth place was taken by Shalva Natelashvili, who picked up only slightly more than 2 percent of the votes. On the other hand, Burjanadze was never really able to explain to voters what she was trying to achieve in this campaign. Her calls to «punish the Nationals» ultimately came to be regarded as personal revenge for events two years ago, when the authorities violently broke up a meeting being held by her supporters. The Nationals are now declaring that they defeated Burjanadze and so have become the country’s «main opposition force».
Opinions with regard to the future of the United National Movement are divided. On the one hand, the ratings of the United National Movement continue to fall. In comparison with the 2012 elections, the party received almost 2.5 times less votes. On the other hand, the Nationals are insisting they are a «respectable» party that has purged itself of past sins, been rebranded and is now on the way to transforming itself into a Western-style parliamentary party.
The elections showed that Bidzina Ivanishvili is still quite firmly in control of current processes within the country. It took him some effort to be in that position, however, including resorting to blackmailing voters: by stating that if Margvelashvili’s result proved to be less than 60 percent, then he, Ivanishvili, would think about reducing the scale of his activities in Georgia. Voters detected a whiff of instability, and this gave the Georgian Dream candidate additional votes.
For the most part, opposition-minded voters did not go to the polling stations because they could not see any reliable guarantee of the country’s stability in Burjanadze or any other opposition candidate. With her demand to «restore justice» (so prosecute Nationals, in other words), Burjanadze set herself against both Saakashvili’s party and the ruling coalition. In the process, she did not openly criticise Ivanishvili, which confused her potential voters even more.
As a result of Georgia’s presidential elections, the country’s power structure, which is almost entirely dominated by pro-Western parties, has become firmly established. Although approximately half of the country’s population is disappointed with the Georgian government’s pro-Western orientation, this «Eurasian segment» of the electorate, as it is sometimes called, still does not have its own influential representatives in parliament. The prospect of improving Russian-Georgian relations remains questionable… Besides Burjanadze, Georgia’s former Minister of State Security, Valeri Khaburzania, is also seeking the attention of the «Eurasian segment», claiming that he expects to receive up to 15 percent of the votes in the next elections, although this is so far looking to be problematic.
It is reasonable to expect a rise in the country’s political nihilism in the near future. In order to draw the attention of the population to themselves, Georgian politicians are having to either offer voters some kind of intrigue, or seriously improve the economic situation of broad sections of the population, which is how Bidzina Ivanishvili himself once attracted a large number of supporters.