What should Russia expect from parliamentary elections in Georgia
Parliamentary elections will be held in Georgia on October 31. Experts and political analysts are confident that their results will have an even greater impact on the political life of the country than the 2018 presidential race. Despite the fact that the President of Georgia remained de jure the head of state after the adoption of the latest constitutional amendments, most decisions are made by the parliament. This feature allows the legislature to exert a strong influence on the executive power, which has been repeatedly proven by a series of political scandals that have occurred in the country over the past two years.
The 2018 presidential race was largely seen as a dress rehearsal for the parliamentary elections. The struggle between Salome Zurabishvili and Grigol Vashadze was perceived by both experts and ordinary voters as a confrontation between the ruling Georgian Dream party and the opposition United National Movement (UNM), although officially Zurabishvili ran as an independent candidate, and Vashadze as a candidate from the united opposition. Even the parties decided on their candidates relatively late, this happened largely because neither Dream, nor the UNM believed that the outcome of the elections would affect the balance of political forces in the country. Zurabishvili's victory did not greatly strengthen the position of the Georgian Dream, and Vashadze's defeat did not become a collapse for the opposition.
Nevertheless, the 2018 presidential elections were important in the international context, in particular in terms of relations between Georgia and Russia. On the one hand, both Vashadze and Zurabishvili consistently defended the course of Georgia's European integration and joining NATO. On the other hand, both candidates in their electoral programs noted the need to establish a dialogue with Russia while preserving the territorial integrity of Georgia. Most often this issue was raised not as a constructive solution to the existing disagreements between Tbilisi and Moscow, but as a reason to criticize the opponent. However, during the election campaign, the topic of relations with the Russian Federation was raised regularly.
On the eve of the parliamentary elections, the situation has not changed much. This is partly due to the fact that the events of June 2019 related to the arrival of State Duma Deputy Sergei Gavrilov in Georgia to participate in the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy (MAP) are still strong in the memory of voters. The Russian then took the chair of the speaker of the Georgian parliament, which, in the context of tense relations between the countries, led to large-scale protests on the streets of Tbilisi. The opposition quickly took advantage of the rallies for its own purposes, Sergey Gavrilov was quickly forgotten, all the attention of the Georgian public turned to internal issues, in particular, Irakli Kobakhidze's departure from the post of speaker of parliament. The opposition, especially the UNM, perceived this as its own victory, while the Georgian Dream admitted it as a defeat. One way or another, the protests, which began as anti-Russian, resulted in an intensification of the internal political struggle.
The central topic of controversy ahead of the parliamentary elections is electoral reform and the gradual transition to voting on party lists. The opposition demanded to abandon the majoritarian electoral system, which was beneficial to the "Georgian Dream", almost immediately after the departure of Mikhail Saakashvili. Later, this issue was regularly raised, but it was finally resolved only in March of this year, when the authorities and the opposition reached a shaky compromise on this issue. Against the background of disputes about how many parliamentary deputies should be elected by majoritarian districts, and how many - according to party lists, the Russian issue faded into the background, but was not completely removed from the agenda.
The topic of Russia, especially in the context of the territorial integrity of Georgia, is regularly raised by both the ruling party and the opposition. However, at the same time, there is a curious similarity of positions with respect to the Russian Federation between the "Georgian Dream" and the UNM. Both parties are striving for European integration and joining NATO, but at the same time they constantly declare that they will be able to establish a dialogue with Moscow much more efficiently than their opponents will.
To date, the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia is considered the most pro-Russian-oriented party. The party was founded in 2012 and its program differs sharply from most political forces. The main difference between the Alliance of Patriots is its criticism of the policy of European integration and the desire for NATO membership. Following the 2016 parliamentary elections, the party gained exactly 5%, becoming the third parliamentary party after the Georgian Dream and UNM. Later, party members visited Russia several times to restore relations between the countries. For the Russian side, the victory of the Alliance of Patriots in the elections would be ideal if it were not for the differences over the issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In addition, the idea of refusal to European integration today in Georgia is extremely unpopular among voters.
Against the background of a difficult economic situation, this course is sometimes criticized by citizens, however, in general, the concept of Georgia's rapprochement with the EU and NATO today greatly influences the country's foreign and domestic policy.
Another party that cannot be characterized as anti-Russian is United Georgia - Democratic Movement, ex-chairman of parliament Nino Burjanadze. Burjanadze has repeatedly criticized the Georgian authorities for their inability to build a constructive dialogue with Russia. In particular, she is known for her critical statements about the Karasin-Abashidze format, within the framework of which relations between Moscow and Tbilisi are maintained today. However, as in the case of the Alliance of Patriots, the stumbling block was the issue of Georgia’s territorial integrity.
A little more than two months remain before the elections, the political struggle is gradually heating up, and the question of the need to build friendly relations with Russia is being raised by different parties. Some of them are considered "satellites" of the government, others are oppositions, and still others position themselves as an independent political force, but in general such bright statements are purely declarative and even populist. After the electoral reform and the reduction in the number of majority deputies, even Georgian Dream did not rule out the possibility of forming a coalition government, but whether the new parliament will become more pro-Russian is a big question, which is difficult to answer today.
Nevertheless, one should not discount the economic importance of Russia to Georgia. After the scandal with the arrival of Sergei Gavrilov, Russia temporarily suspended flights to Georgia, which dealt a serious blow to the country's economy, especially the tourism sector. The current coronavirus pandemic has become another blow to the Georgian economy, against this background, Tbilisi realizes the need to improve relations with Russia. In particular, this was recently announced by the head of the Georgian Ministry of Economic Development Natia Turnava. However, even if the economic factor forces the voter to vote for a party advocating the restoration of relations with the Russian Federation, he will face a problem - no one has a program to normalize relations with Moscow today.