A New Era of Georgian Politics After Opposition Victory

The opposition political party Georgian Dream, led by oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, has unexpectedly won the Georgian October parliamentary elections, getting more than half of all votes.

Reasons for the opposition party victory:

Opposition accusation of power usurpation by the Georgian president (Saakashvili’s political party controlled parliament and the government without a coalition partner and basically had no responsibility).

Generally, the reasons for the Ivanishvili victory have a social-economic character and are based on:

Ivanishvili’s social populism on the basis of criticized government social politics (for example effective, but expensive communal/municipal services).

High unemployment and low salaries –dissatisfaction among the protest electorate with the living standard lagging behind government reforms (Saakashvili’s reforms since 2003 did not accurately reflect the living standards of a huge portion of the people).

Dissatisfaction of social groups, who lost their positions and were removed from financial benefits after Saakashvili came to power (fired state officials and policemen, trade unions, Tbilisi intelligentsia, but also some criminal elements).

Current situation:

Soon after the election results were announced, the candidates for minister posts were agreed upon in the opposition structures. New suggested candidates are made up from:

a) Ivanishvili’s friends, who have got French educations and have collaborated with him for a long time (Ivanishvili himself has had French citizenship).

b) Saakashvili’s opposition, which positioned itself as an opposition to Saakashvili’s regime since, at least, 2008.

c) Contra-elite – politicians who were in power in the era of former Georgian president Eduard Shevarnadze (president of Georgia from 1995-2003).

Ivanishvili will keep the main government posts for himself (Prime-minister) and his closest friends. In Georgia, the most important resorts are the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior.

Tea Tsulukiani will be appointed to the post of Minister of Justice. Tsulukiani is a lawyer with a French university education and has got (according to many Georgian experts) the task of ridding his office of the Zurab Adeishvili’s (existing minister) clan.

Controversial Irakli Garibashvili (former president of Kartu fund) will be appointed to the position of Minister of the Interior. He is perceived as controversial thanks to his family ties, because his father-in-law is the former police general Tamaz Tamazashvili, who allegedly took part in a scandal involving prison torture videotapes. These videotapes, shown in public, helped to Ivanishvili in the elections. Besides, Tamazashvili has been prosecuted and it is believed (at least according to Georgian experts) that, in the Shevarnadze era he was a main drug trader in the country, but this information is not confirmed. Garibashvili is very close to Ivanishvili and his duty can be described as Minister of “purification” for the clan of the brothers Akhalaia (Bacho Akhalaia was the Interior Minister, and Data Akhalaia the deputy Minister of Defense – both of them have allegedly left the country already).

Other ministerial offices will be distributed to: Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure – Kakha Kaladze (also, he’ll be appointed to the deputy prime-minister’s office), Ministry of Re-Integration – Zakareishvili, Ministry of Defense – Irakliy Alasania (leader of Free Democrats party), Ministry of Agriculture – David Kirvalidze (the same post held in Shevarnadze presidency), Ministry of Health – Amiran Gamkrelidze, National bank chairman Nodar Dzhavakhishvili (earlier he led Ivanishivili bank Kartu), Ministry of Finance will probably be led by another minister from the Shevarnadze presidency David Onoprishvili.

Future development and consequences for Georgian politics and economy

After the elections, there are some fears about the rise of criminality. The elections sent positive signals to the criminal underground, which has been kept out of the game (either in jail or in abroad) almost 10 years. Power structure leadership and mid-ranking officers can be replaced, complicating both the economic and security situations.

Short-term negative consequences for the investment climate – investors in some cases closed their projects in Georgia. The investment climate was negatively influenced by a dirty election campaign and tense elections. This year we can expect a decline of investments and the freezing of some projects. The socialist program of the victorious Georgian Dream will worsen the business climate in the country – Georgia fell from 22nd to 45th place in the world for economic freedom. This position will very likely continue to get worse. If the new government doesn’t succeed in solving the problems of the old government, the country could undergo a period of socialist experiment. In the best case scenario, the country could even paradoxically get some benefits from that – for example, the establishment of a free trade regime with the EU (the lack of social guarantees presented a main obstacle to this regime).

Social populism of the winning political party can be an obstacle to the economic development of Georgia. There is too great an expectation of socialist promises made by Ivanishvili, meeting them would place the Georgian economy in a difficult situation.

We can almost certainly expect property redistribution. The question is: what methods will be used for this process? Many oppositionists would like to redistribute the property of current state officials in the same way these officials did after the Rose revolution (especially in the case of any illegal property of Shevarnadze officials). Political forces in Georgia have the unique opportunity to learn to live in democratic conditions – it depends on both a new opposition and a ruling coalition, although its responsibility is logically higher.

Authors: Martin Laryš and Gela Vasadze (Georgian political scientist)