Charting the Course for Georgia’s Internal Stability


Georgia is experiencing internal unrest. As a result of recent parliamentary elections, opposition parties that passed the 1% threshold are protesting the results, refusing to take their places in Parliament and are calling for snap parliamentary elections and nationwide protests.

The international community, an important gauge of the credibility of elections for Georgian political parties and the NGO sector, overall supported the election process and results, portraying them as competitive, though they did detect a number of irregularities, such as the use of administrative resources by the ruling party. The OSCE said that “overall, fundamental freedoms were respected," although “pervasive allegations of pressure on voters and blurring of the line between the ruling party and the state reduced public confidence in some aspects of the process".

On the local level though, various monitoring groups produced cases of alleged fraud, which so far remain unaddressed by the government.

Managing the mounting pressure

The protests, though unlikely to threaten the government, are nevertheless creating a breeding ground for larger protests. The economic situation in the country has been worsening continuously with the Lari depreciating against the Dollar, and the level of foreign direct investments declining further.

The worsening pandemic is adding to the tensions. Up to 3500 cases of infections per day and the concomitant rising death toll questions the efficacy of the government, biting at its popularity even among its diehard supporters. As the daily number of infections is likely to rise further, so will the level of public outburst against Georgian Dream (GD).

Moreover, the general boycotting of the election results by all the opposition parties also indicates at the growing alignment of otherwise politically diverse forces. The parties signed an agreement on refusing to enter Parliament, cooperating with GD and generally pledging to cooperate on future political actions. The alignment was long in gestation, the initial signs of which were visible from earlier this year.

Another development which does not augur well for the ruling party and internal stability of the country is the sheer number of protesters which took to the streets. For instance, On Sunday, 45,000 protesters rallied outside the parliament building in central Tbilisi. Such numbers come in striking contrast to the generally meagre numbers amassed by opposition parties in past years.

General boycotting could also mean that protests will become more commonplace. Coupled with the worsening economic situation and dire pandemic situation, the crisis could deepen.

Georgia’s western partners too, though they generally hailed the results, expressed hopes that irregularities would be corrected. Their support for the government is firm, but a shift might be taking place, which will underline the need to prepare a peaceful power transition in the next parliamentary elections in 2024.

The mounting pressure on the ruling party would also mean that municipal elections to be held next year will be hard fought, and GD might face fundamental challenges.

Despite mounting pressure though, the ruling party is unlikely to collapse. It still enjoys support among security and business elites. Large parts of the population still support it. The divisive figure of the former Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, limits the prospects for a major opposition success. Moreover, these elections also showed the electorate is still firmly divided between the two parties GD and the UNM, which makes many, though not diehard supporters of GD, still vote for the ruling party for fear of the return of the highly controversial Saakashvili.

The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent visit to Georgia also underlined the support for the ruling party and the need for the opposition, much to their chagrin, to accept the election results and work within legal boundaries.

Maintaining this advantage in the coming years will, nevertheless, be increasingly difficult for the ruling party, as a shift is already taking place among the younger population (those who did not witness Saakashvili’s presidency) who are now more willing to cast votes for opposition parties instead of GD. The opposition parties too, despite the troubles, are likely to show more consistency in their political actions. Winning the elections in the 2024 parliamentary elections for the fourth consecutive time could prove an insurmountable challenge for the ruling party. Pulling it off will require some major economic breakthroughs and a definitive rise in the standard of living among ordinary Georgian citizens.

By Solomon Alvares

Image by Katie Ruth Davies/GT

19 November 2020 17:04