Member and neighbour States

A highly sensitive election

On October 1st, Georgia will elect its new Parliament in a very strained and harsh internal context. Mikheil Saakashvili, the incumbent president, is clearly contested and the opposition wants to take advantage of this to make the election a pro- or anti-Saakashvili referendum. Nonetheless, behind this tension, there is a country still divided between its big Russian neighbour and a European Union it desires and which is going to analyse the results with attention. Point of view. 

This Monday, Georgians are going to polls to elect their national Parliament in a very strained national and political context.

A former Soviet republic and taking advantage of the dismantlement of the Eastern Bloc and the USSR in 1991 to recover its independence, Georgia has still been looking for a certain geopolitical and internal stability, even more since 2008 and the war with Russia who left the country exhausted. This war had important aftermath at the political level, in particular for the President, Mikheil Saakashvili, as some people wondered about the legitimacy of his policy of getting closer to the European Union and NATO as he wants to join them.

If currently, the United National Movement (the Head of State’s party) is still ahead in the opinion polls, the atmosphere seems to be more and more strained and the distrust towards the power stronger and stronger. Indeed, Mikheil Saakashvili is facing to a heteroclite opposition – led by the very rich business man, Bidzina Ivanishvili, reputed to be close to Russia – who questions his authoritarian power. On the contrary, the presidential movement accuses Georgian Dream (the Ivanishvili coalition gathering nationalistic parties and former supporters of Saakashvili) of sowing confusion in the population’s mind and of wanting to link the country closer to Russia.

The outgoing president’s personality is one of the main stakes of the campaign insofar as he polarizes tensions. This ambivalent person is put forward by the opposition who wants to transform this election in a referendum pro- or anti-Saakashvili. The man, symbol of the 2003 Rose Revolution and President since 2004, disappointed a lot of Georgians who now question his personal way of governing but also the omnipotence of his party who has nearly 80% of the seats in the Parliament. Opposite to him, Georgian Dream wishes to federate all the disappointed of the current president and to capitalize on the current dissatisfaction to get the power and force Saakashvili to step down. This hypothesis does not seem to scare the President’s party though it nonetheless warns Georgians against a probable victory of the opposition, which would be an impact on the fragile equilibrium of the country and its pro-occidental policy.

In fact, it must be reminded – and this is the other point of the current campaign – that the country attracts the attention of Russia, the United States and the European Union because of its geographical position. Located in the heart of Caucasus, Georgia is a strategic State that, during a while, hesitated between Russia and the West even if Saakashvili has been leading, since he is at power, a blatant pro-Western policy. Such a position sparks off a lot of ambitions and important stakes on an internal level as well as on an external one, and heavily weighs on this very electric electoral campaign. Thus, a probable rapprochement with Russia, advocated by Ivanschvili, is clearly rejected by those who fear a loose of independence for Georgia, a lot of Georgians keeping in mind the war of 2008.

It is a very sensitive ballot for the incumbent Georgian President who stakes his all to keep the power, accusing the opposition to prepare unrest just after the first known results. Twenty one years after recovering its independence, Georgia is still experiencing important jolts and seems to hesitate between a pro-Western and a pro-Russian path, like other ex-USSR Republics. The polarization of the Georgian political life and election on President Saakaschvili is a good indicator and it seems to be obvious that the electoral results will be studied in detail by the EU, in the framework of its Neighbourhood Policy.

Gilles Johnson

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