The October 27th presidential elections in
Georgia were, in The Economist’s words, both momentous and unexciting. Unexciting, as Election
Day passed without major disturbances or unrest.
The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had sent an observation mission which came to the conclusions that: “the 27 October presidential election was administered efficiently, transparent, and took place in an amicable and constructive environment. Fundamental freedoms of expression, movement, and assembly were respected and candidates were able to campaign without restriction […] On Election Day, voters were able to express their choice freely”.
But the lack of excitement should not overshadow the true historical dimension behind the apparent calmness. October 27th was the day in which Georgia decided to end the reign of Mikheil “Misha” Saakashvili, after almost a decade in power. Saakashvili became the ruler of the former Soviet republic after leading the Rose Revolution in 2003 and ousting the corrupt government of his previous mentor Edouard Chevardnadzé, who was deemed to be too close to Moscow.
Elected by more than 96% of the votes in 2004, Saakashvili astounded the international community. The youngest European leader at the time, this former lawyer trained in France and the United States, fluent in both English and French, managed to steer Georgia away from its Eastern course and made every effort to build closer ties with the Western world, in particular with NATO and the European Union. Euronews called him a “page-turner”.
“Every revolution evaporates” (Kafka)
However, as duly noted by Thomas Hammarberg, the EU Special Adviser on Constitutional and Legal Reform and Human Rights in Georgia, in a report circulated in September 2013, “all was not perfect”. Despite Saakashvili´s commitment to fight corruption, introduce a liberal market economy and improve the rule of law, he turned out to be an authoritarian leader, eager to retain power in a few hands.
The International Crisis Group, an anti-conflict think-thank based in Brussels had already noticed these undesirable developments in an information note of December 2007, fairly entitled “Georgia: Sliding Towards Authoritariasm?” The NGO denoted, among other things, that “the concentration of power in a small, like-minded elite, and the unwillingness to countenance criticism have undermined the government’s democratic standing. Cronyism is increasingly evident within the senior level of the administration. Checks and balances have been stripped back, justice arbitrarily applied, human rights too often violated and freedom of expression curtailed”.
“Misha´s” grip on power began to erode in 2008 as the Georgia-Russia relations drastically worsened. Thomas de Wall, from the Carnegie Endowment, in his article “So Long, Saakashvili”, relates how, as Russian and Georgian troops were gathering at the borders, he decided to assault the South Ossetian town of Tskhinvali, desperately hoping for Western backing, although the United States had warned him not to trigger a war.
In fact, Saakashvili´s impulsive, autocratic style won him a wide range of enemies, not least among the Georgian population. Thousands of demonstrators ended up taking the streets at several occasions in order to demand his resignation, as in May 2011.
As a result, the parliamentary elections of October 2012 saw his anticipated defeat since a coalition of opposition parties called “Georgian Dream” gathered about 55,1% of the votes against UNM, Saakashvili´s formation. The philanthropist Bidzina Ivanishvili was installed as the new PM, while Saakashvili remained president for a further year.
A new face for Georgia?
Ivanishvili´s year in power was marked by several waves of arrest of former UNM officials, as stated by the Internet magazine EurAsia.org. Nevertheless, the presidential election of October 27th achieved to drive UNM out from power, given that Ivanishvili´s ally, Georgi Margvelashvili, secured a landslide victory with approximately 62% of the vote .
Georgia is likely to find itself at the eve of a revolution, again, a “Revolution 2.0” – quiet but notwithstanding as fierce as the previous one. Mr. Ivanishvili promised to step down from the PM’s office after the presidential inauguration on November 17th and has already announced his successor: the former interior minister Irakli Garibashvili. The future of Saakashvili remains still incredibly uncertain, as he is likely to face prosecution over alleged abuses committed during his decade in power.
All of this happening while Russia is arbitrarily securitising its border with Georgia, erecting fences, wires and installing security cameras.
Political instability might be a feature marking the start of this new “revolution”. So far, the EU´s response to the developments in Georgia has consisted of various statements and declarations by Mrs Ashton: one on the dangers of selective justice in Georgia (22 May), another on the Russian “borderization” (1 October) and one more to welcome the results of the elections (28 October).
The EU seems to be keeping its political binoculars on Georgia. And this might be a very wise idea.