Although the presidency of Georgia became representative, the struggle for him developed fierce. The victory of the opposition candidate may mark the beginning of the end of the reign of Georgian Dream by billionaire Ivanishvili.
Presidential elections are held in Georgia on Sunday, October 28, the last general and direct election of the head of state in this Caucasian republic.
According to the constitutional amendments that the Georgian parliament adopted in October 2017, already in the next election of 2024, a special electoral college will elect the head of Georgia.
The country is moving to a parliamentary form of government – a new constitution, which will enter into force after the inauguration of the elected president, significantly limits presidential powers, reducing them to representative ones.
The President of Georgia will not continue to implement the country’s foreign policy, the National Security Council will not work under him,
and he will be able to use the powers of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief only in case of war. At the same time, his term of office is increased from five years to six.
Although the role of the head of state has greatly diminished, the struggle for this post has erupted in earnest.
The reason for this, experts see, is that now, in fact, preparations have begun for the much more important parliamentary elections to be held in 2020.
It depends on their outcome whether the current ruling Georgian Dream party (GM), created and led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, will remain in power, or whether the power will pass to the opposition – supporters of ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili.
From French diplomats – to the President of Georgia?
To participate in the current presidential election in Georgia, the CEC registered 25 candidates, however, according to observers, no more than three can really count on victory.
Firstly, it is a member of parliament and former foreign minister Salome Zurabishvili. Formally, she is an independent candidate, but the ruling party, Georgian Dream, said it supports Zurabishvili’s candidacy, as in the 2016 parliamentary elections.
Salome Zurabishvili – a native of France, comes from a family of Georgian emigrants of the 1920s. For 20 years, Zurabishvili worked in the system of the French Foreign Ministry, in 2003 she arrived in Georgia as the Ambassador of France and in March 2004, at the invitation of the then President Mikheil Saakashvili, she headed the Foreign Ministry in Tbilisi. However, after a year and a half she was dismissed from the post of minister and became an opponent of Saakashvili.
At the beginning of the election race, Zurabishvili fell into the center of scandal: answering a journalist’s question about the August 2008 war , she said that it was “Georgia that provoked a new round of conflict by engaging in Russian provocation.
” Speaking about the bombing of Tskhinvali on August 8, 2008, she stated that Saakashvili “bombed his own population.” These words caused a storm of indignation, they were considered pro-Russian.
Zurabishvili considers reaching agreement on the withdrawal of Russian bases from the territory of Georgia as one of his main merits as Foreign Minister. Her signature is on this document.
Two more former Foreign Ministers under Saakashvili
A serious rival to Salome Zurabishvili is another ex-foreign minister, Grigol Vashadze, a candidate from the former United National Movement (UNM) party of power, Mikhail Saakashvili, who created the Strength in Unity campaign block with ten other small parties.
A graduate of MGIMO, who worked in the Soviet Foreign Ministry in the 1980s, Vashadze moved from Moscow to Georgia in the mid-2000s.
At the beginning of 2008, he headed the department for Russia created in the Georgian Foreign Ministry, and since December 2008, for almost four years, he led the entire ministry.
Grigol Vashadze is an ardent supporter of Saakashvili. During the election campaign, he promised that if he takes the presidency, he will first return Georgian citizenship to the former president. At the same time, he accuses the ruling party “Georgian Dream” of corruption, calling it the “Thieves’ Dream”.
A breakaway party less than two years ago from the URI, the European Georgia party nominated former parliament speaker David Bakradze. By the way, under Saakashvili, he also headed the Georgian Foreign Ministry for some time. In the presidential election in 2013, he won 21.73 percent of the vote.
Among other things, Bakradze promises to release from prison former Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili, a close associate of Saakashvili, who after the change of power was sentenced to imprisonment on charges of bribing voters, embezzlement and embezzlement of state funds, abuse of power.
The current Georgian president, George Margvelashvili, refused to run for a second term.
The candidate of the party in power has a chance to lose
It’s extremely difficult to make predictions about the results of the current elections , according to the senior researcher of the Rondeli Foundation, Kakha Gogolashvili: “The environment itself is unpredictable – any new information that not even the candidate himself, but some party made mistakes or violated laws, any incriminating evidence may affect the outcome of the election at any time. “
According to Gogolashvili, despite the party’s administrative resources, many voters are not going to vote for Zurabishvili.
Therefore, the political scientist does not exclude the victory of one of the opposition candidates – Vashadze or Bakradze, which, “will undoubtedly change the domestic political situation inside Georgia and hit the Georgian Dream.”
Director of the International School of Caucasian Studies at Ilya Gia Nodia State University agrees with Kakha Gogolashvili.
“In the spring, it was believed that these elections are unlikely to be of great importance (due to the limited powers of the president. – Ed .) And any candidate from the ruling party will win. And, it seems, the ruling party itself played to lower the value of these elections,” says he. “But now the situation has changed, in any case, the politically active part of the population is actively preparing for them. So for both Dream and the opposition, the stakes were much higher than originally expected.”
According to the professor of political science, if the candidate of the party in power loses, this will be the beginning of the end of the reign of the Georgian Dream, Bidzina Ivanishvili.
One of the dirtiest campaigns
The beginning of preparations for the 2020 parliamentary elections or for protests after the elections, Gia Nodia explains that the current election campaign has become one of the most dirty in the history of Georgia.
At the same time, Kakha Gogolashvili draws attention to the fact that the powerful stream of incriminating evidence that falls out by the warring parties does not come from specific candidates, but from their parties: “As if the candidates themselves were not running for the presidency, but the whole parties standing behind them.”
So, for example, compromising materials against GM and the current authorities in general include audio recordings secretly made in prison, on which the former prosecutor Mirza Subeliani.
In particular, confesses to the abduction and torture of witnesses in high-profile cases and talks about the existence of a paramilitary group subordinate to him, which talks about the existence of so-called informal government.
The authorities, in turn, began to attack Saakashvili’s supporters, accusing himself: the prosecutor’s office, relying on recordings of conversations of former officials,
said the ex-president was involved in the preparation of the murder in 2007 of businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili, who died in England a year later.
The interim report of the observation mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), published in mid-October, refers to numerous recorded cases of negative campaigns, “black PR”, and the dissemination of false information.
Political observers are inclined to believe that not one of the candidates for the presidency will win in the first round.
Gogolashvili believes that the ruling party would have organized the second round in any situation, even if the candidate Salome Zurabishvili, supported by her, won: “So that she does not have ambitions, as was the case with the election of the current president, Georgi Margvelashvili, who won with the support of the Georgian Dream” but after the election became independent. ” If Zurabishvili wins, she will become the first woman – the president