Georgia – The 2018 presidential election: Political Parties and Candidates 

Presidential elections will be held in Georgia in October 2018. This will be the last election when the president will be directly elected and for 6 years. From 2020, the country is moving to a parliamentary system. the presidential election is a rehearsal for the 2020 parliamentary elections. Although the power of the president is significantly weakened as a result of constitutional reform, the president will still play an important role in the country’s politics. This was confirmed by President Margvelashvili’s activities. Margvelashvili with the right of the veto, public speeches, appointments, cooperation with opposition parties, civil sector and other mechanisms was able to influence the ruling Georgian Dream party, which provoked serious criticism from them. For the 2018 elections, the ruling majority will try to field a presidential candidate who will be loyal to the ruling party and will be able to fully manage the country’s move to the parliamentary system by 2024.

The presidential election is important for opposition political parties. The opposition, which has lost several elections since the change of government in 2012, will try to win the presidential election in 2018. If we look at the political landscape, the Georgian opposition is weak. Political parties can be divided mainly into two camps. The first are the pro-Western parties that support Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. The second are Pro-Russian parties that openly support cooperation with Russia. Political parties are very fragmented on both sides, but these divisions also reflect the public attitudes.[1] There are also other small political groups. The vast majority of the population supports Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. In general, though, trust in political parties is very low in Georgia.

Significant changes were made to political parties after the 2016 parliamentary elections. The ruling Georgian Dream coalition has been dissolved. There was a split in the United National Movement, which ruled the country until 2012. One part of this party supports former president, Mikheil Saakashvili, and the other created a new party, the “European Democrats”. In addition, one of the other pro-Western parties, the Free Democrats” also disintegrated when many leaders left the party, some of them moving to Georgian Dream, while others left politics altogether. In addition, another pro-Western party, the Republican Party, which is the oldest party, also disintegrated when the party leader and former parliamentary speaker, Davit Usupashvili, and his supporters left. They later formed a new party called the Development Movement.  The National Forum was also divided, with some leaders moving to Usupashvili’s movement and others joining Nino Burjanadze’s United Democratic Movement. After the 2016 parliamentary elections, Paata Burchuladze, another leader of the Movement for the People, which won 3rd place in the 2016 elections, also left the politics. Later a criminal case was started against Burchuladze in connection with financial violations regarding charitable activity. At the same time, new parties have been formed by the former members of the National Movement: there is New Georgia under the leadership of Giorgi Vashadze and Zurab Japaridze’s political union “Girchy”. The Labor Party of Georgia is also represented in the pro-Western wing under leadership of Shalva Natelashvili. The Labor Party often participates independently as a single party in the parliamentary elections. The party leader contested the presidential election twice and received  6,49% in 2008 and 2,88% in 2013. The Labor Party received 3.45% of local self-government elections in 2014. [2]

The most aggressive defender of cooperation with Russia is the United Democratic Movement led by former parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze. Burjanadze has twice carried out the duties of the President of Georgia. Once in 2003 during the Rose Revolution and again in 2008 when early presidential elections were held. He also participated in the 2013 presidential election and received 10.18% of the votes. In the same political space, there is also the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia. This party won 5,01% of the votes in the 2016 parliamentary elections just over the election threshold. The Alliance of Georgian Patriots is support by the ruling party in many aspects of domestic and foreign policy of the country.

The 2018 presidential election is interesting in many ways. First, how will the opposition will take part in the election? Theoretically, the opposition is in a competitive position. If we look at recent surveys, distrust to the government is increasing in society. According to the NDI survey, only 13% of respondents consider the government to be performing well. According to the survey, 27% will vote for the Georgian Dream, 10% for the UNM, and 3% for European Georgia. 24% said that they would not vote for any party, 15% did not know, and 13% refused to answer. [3]

The opposition has some well-known candidates. Labor Party leader, Shalva Natelashvili, first officially expressed his desire to participate in the elections in December 2017. According to the survey, Shalva Natelashvili’s rating is 39%. The leader of the Development Movement, Davit Usupashvili, has also not ruled out standing in the presidential election. According to the survey, his rating is 50%.[4]

Former president Mikheil Saakashvili, who currently does not have Georgian citizenship, called supporters from Amsterdam to prepare for the presidential campaign and the opposition parties have jointly selected one candidate for the primary election.[5]  It is also widely believed that Mikheil Saakashvili’s wife, Sandra Roelofs, who lives in Georgia, is running for the election from the National Movement, but her candidacy has been excluded from the party at this stage.[6]

The ruling party has not officially nominated a presidential candidate. However, some names have been widely discussed. Including former Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili. He was personally welcomed in 2016 by Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of the Georgian Dream. The current Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili was also mentioned in the press, but he has not confirmed his participation in the election. Given the low rating of the government, Bidzina Ivanishvili himself may be the only successful candidate for Georgian Dream. For example, the Chairman of the Parliament said that Ivanishvili would be the best candidate for the election. [7] It should also be noted that after the amendment of the constitution there has been a lot of talk about a non-partisan president and it is possible that a well-known person in Georgian society may be nominated. The media have also covers talked about the nomination of a female candidate from the Georgian Dream, including the Minister of Justice, Tea Tsulukiani, and the independent MP Salome Zourabichvili.

Whether or not the current president, Giorgi Margvelashvili, decides to run again is also important. According to the survey, President Giorgi Margvelashvili is in top place with 65% trusting him. During his presidency, Margvelashvili has actively cooperated with the opposition parties on various issues and he may be jointly nominated by the opposition.

Apart from the political parties, there is discussion of other non-partisan candidates. In this regard, former Tbilisi mayoral candidate Aleko Elisashvili said that he might participate in the presidential election. Elisashvili received 17.48% in the local self-government elections in 2017 as an independent candidate, which was the best result after the ruling party. However, Elisashvili will not be able to win a presidential election without the support of a political team. It is true that he has promised to create a political movement, but it has not yet been established.

To sum up, the best way to defeat any candidate of the government is the unification of the opposition parties and the nomination of a joint candidate. This is not a simple task when the opposition is very fragmented. However, there is a 14-member council of leaders who say that they are discussing a common candidate. That said, the UNM thinks that the candidate must be chosen by primaries, and the European Democrats consider that parties should participate individually in the first round of the election and then all must unite around the common candidate in the second round. It is difficult to se how the opposition will be able to unite, and who will be able to defeat the ruling party, which is equipped with government resources and backed by a billionaire.

Notes

[1] Public attitudes in Georgia Results of December 2017 survey carried out for NDI by CRRC Georgia, https://www.ndi.org/sites/default/files/NDI%20poll_December%202017_ISSUES_ENG_vf.pdf

[2] Results of the local self-government election 2017, Central Election Commission, https://results20171021.cec.gov.ge

[3] Public attitudes in Georgia Results of December 2017 survey carried out for NDI by CRRC Georgia, https://www.ndi.org/sites/default/files/NDI%20poll_December_2017_POLITICAL_ENG_final.pdf

[4] Survey of Public Opinion in Georgia, Center for Insights in Survey Research, February 22 – March 8, 2017, http://www.iri.org/sites/default/files/iri_poll_presentation_georgia_2017.03-general.pdf

[5] Mikheil Saakashvili – We should win presidential elections and dismantle Ivanishvili’s government, https://1tv.ge/news/mikheil-saakashvili-chven-unda-movigot-saprezidento-archevnebi-da-chamovshalot-ivanishvilis-mtavroba/

[6] By this time, I will rule out Sandra Roelof’s presidential candidate – Nika Melia, http://fortuna.ge/am-droistvis-sandra-rulovsis-saprezidento-kandidatobas-gamovrickhav-nika-melia/

[7] Kobakhidze at the presidential election: Bidzina Ivanishvili would be the best candidate for us, http://netgazeti.ge/news/259921/

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