Georgia in anticipation of 2nd round of presidential vote

Georgia in anticipation of 2nd round of presidential vote

On October 28 there was the last time when the citizens of Georgia directly elected the country's president for the nest six-year term. None of the 25 candidates could not collect the necessary number of votes to win in the first round. Thus, 14 days after the publication of the CEC official results of the voting, a second round will take place, in which Salome Zurabishvili (38%) and Grigol Vashadze will face (37%). Vestnik Kavkaza offers to the readers a translation of the article 'Die letzte direkte Präsidentschaftswahl in Georgien', published by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

The constitutional amendments introduced in 2017 provide for a transition from a presidential to a parliamentary system of governance in Georgia. The 2024 presidential election will be indirect - the president will be elected the electoral college. Limiting the president's authority caused a lot of criticism - not the least from current president Giorgi Margvelashvili, who repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the alleged lack of a clear description of the head of state's functions in the new system.

At the same time, according to the Venice Commission and international experts on constitutional law, the reform of the first Constitution, adopted by Georgia after it gained independence in 1991, should be a step towards a more democratic political system with a clearer separation of the three branches of government, strengthening the parliament's role and responsibility. Both Shevardnadze and Saakashvili abused wide presidential powers in the past.

The significance of the last direct presidential election was repeatedly underestimated by the Georgian Dream ruling party, which pointed to the reduced presidential powers. It was also one of the reasons named by the Georgian Dream, according to which President Margvelashvili no longer wanted to run for this post after serving one term. Instead, another person dominated the media space: Salome Zurabishvili, who was an independent candidate later supported by the party of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. Born in Paris to a family of Georgian emigres arrived in Georgia in 2003 as the French ambassador. In 2004, Mikhail Saakashvili suggested that President Jacques Chirac relieve Zurabishvili from working for French diplomacy to appoint her Georgian Foreign Minister. But in 2005, there's been a rift between Saakashvili and Zurabishvili, as a result of which the latter was dismissed.

After that, Zurabishvili, as an ordinary parliamentarian, created a new party, the Georgian Way to lead it. In Georgian society, Zurabishvili has been criticized for controversial statements, including regarding the 2008 Russian-Georgian war and attacks on the Georgian clergy. These and other statements by Zurabishvili casued a strong polarization of Georgian society several weeks before the elections.

The society criticizes the Georgian Dream party's support for Zurabishvili, which initially did not want to nominate its own candidate "in the best traditions of European parliamentary republics." The alleged independence of Zurabishvili’s candidacy has declined due to the support of former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili's party.The imbalance in favor of Zurabishvili during the election race can be seen on Georgian streets with the naked eye - both in the capital and in the regions, the Georgian Dream's favorite candidate was presented everywhere, while only two other candidates of the remaining 24 had limited visual presence.

Under the leadership of the UNM opposition party, a coalition of 10 small opposition parties was formed, which nominated Grigol Vashadze as their candidate. Vashadze also served as Minister of Foreign Affairs under Saakashvili, and was considered as the main rival of Salome Zurabishvili even before the election.

The candidate from the European Georgia party, David Bakradze, who scored 11% in the October 28 vote, had a good chance. Under the previous government, Bakradze was speaker of parliament and deputy from European Georgia party.

Before the elections, through the mediation of the European People’s Party faction in the European Parliament, the UNM and European Georgia party concluded an agreement that if the second round of elections is held, the two parties will support a single candidate. And as a result of the October 28 vote, it happened.

Despite the fact that the current presidential election is less significant than the 2020  parliamentary election, it was a test for the relatively young 27-year-old Georgian democracy. Their correct conduct is an important factor for alleviating increasing tension in society and public discontent over economic regress. The UNM was able to gradually increase public support for its candidate, while Salome Zurabishvili, supported by the Georgian Dream and the government majority, could not win in the first round. But this is the only thing that can be regarded as the success of the UNM, which has been able to establish itself in the struggle against superior force. The level of support for Bakradze is fixed at 10%.

The end of these presidential election will be an important harbinger of the 2020 parliamentary elections, because it will show whether the country is able to change the government in accordance with democratic standards. For this reason, international observers urge all candidates to adhere to democratic principles and show respect for the will of the Georgian population. Immediately after the completion of the first round of voting, Grigol Vashadze caused a new public debate with his statements: if he becomes president, he will pardon ex-president Mikhail Saakashvili, whose arrest warrant was issued by the current Georgian government. Time will tell whether this statement was a good move for the second round of elections or vice versa.

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