After the second round of municipal elections in Georgia on October 2, thousands of people took to the streets of the biggest cities of the country. The opposition accuses the ruling Georgian Dream party of violations during the municipal elections and pressure exercised on the voters and candidates. According to the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) officials, the elections were technically well run. However, there were cases of vote-buying and pressure on the voters, which allowed the ruling party to enjoy an undue advantage. The opposition United National Movement Party’s (UNM) mayoral candidate, Nika Melia, who lost the elections to Georgian Dream candidate, Kakha Kaladze, claimed that “the elections were fraudulent and called to launch the battle against the ruling party”. The Georgian Dream Party, which won the elections, denies any accusation. According to the party’s political secretary Shalva Papuashvili, “the OSCE referred to concerns of intimidation and pressuring voters as allegations, not facts”.
The political crisis in Georgia started long before the above-described events. In 2020, several opposition parties, including the United National Movement which led the opposition alliance, didn’t recognize the results of the parliamentary elections and accused the ruling party, Georgian Dream, of numerous falsifications. In April 2020, the opposition and the ruling party concluded an agreement (so-called referendum) concerning the following municipal elections. According to its conditions, Georgian Dream should have got not less than 43% on municipal elections; in the opposite scenario the parliamentary elections should be organized again. However, after the municipal elections, Georgian Dream’s leader, Irakli Kobakhidze, announced that the party got 47% in the first round and 55% in the second and, therefore, the parliamentary elections will be held in 2024.
Political tension in Georgia aggravated due to the return on October 1 of the Georgian former president, Mikhail Saakashvili, who came to the country from exile in order to support his former party UNM in the municipal election. His further arrest fuelled the protests. Saakashvili, who was the leader of the Rose Revolution, the mass protests in Georgia after the disputed parliamentary elections which ended up with ousting of president Eduard Shevarnadze in 2003, served as president of the country in 2004-2013. After 2013, he left the country and joined Euromaidan, the mass demonstrations and protests in Ukraine which ended up in revolution, having shifted his political career to Ukraine. Later on, he became the governor of the Odessa region. Currently, Saakashvili holds Ukrainian citizenship: he lost Georgian citizenship in 2013. In Georgia, he was sentenced to six years in absentia due to the commission of two crimes: for pardoning the former Interior Ministry officials, who were serving time in the high-profile murder case of Sandro Girgvliani and for organizing an attack on opposition MP Valeri Gelashvili in 2005. After being imprisoned, Saakashvili went on a hunger strike and several Georgian members of parliament did the same as a sign of solidarity with him.
Saakashvili’s imprisonment was viewed internationally as politically motivated. “Saakashvili is a serious headache for the government” – one of the Georgian journalists says as his presidency is associated with mass anti-corruption campaigns and pro-Western course. The current ruling party, which occupies a pro-Russian position, bases a huge part of its identity on rejection of Saakashvili’s ideas. After having finished political career in Georgia, he remained popular among the Georgian citizens.
The situation in Georgia is becoming worrisome. The United States and the European Union expressed their concern on the protests in the country and Saakashvili’s politically motivated arrest. The embassy of the United States in Tbilisi claimed that, during the elections, violations were observed. The position of the EU corresponds with the position of the US. The European Union registered the concern about the cases of “misuse of administrative resources and violent rhetoric by Georgia’s political leaders” during and after the municipal elections. In addition, the Council of Europe’s European Court of Human Rights addressed the situation and claimed that Georgian authorities should provide safety for Mikheil Saakashvili since he started experiencing certain health problems due to the hunger strike.
Meanwhile, Russia hasn’t expressed any official position regarding the situation in Georgia. However, the official-leaning Russian media coverage of the events in Georgia remains generally critical towards the opposition and to Mikheil Saakashvili due to his general pro-Western position and attempts to reach NATO membership for Georgia. Currently, the ruling Georgian Dream party helds a pro-Russian position, taking Tbilisi into Moscow’s orbit and enjoying the Kremlin’s support.
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