The COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated and strained the Georgian politics. The opposition thought it could easily defeat the ruling party in the face of a pandemic crisis. On the other hand, due to the successes achieved in the early spring, the government hoped to retain power easily.
The election was held in anticipation of the second wave of the pandemic and it seemed that the population was quite supportive to the government that took the responsibility in the critical time. Billionaire Ivanishvili’s party the Georgian Dream received more votes than any other party, but the total number of votes of the opposition exceeded this.
None of the opposition parties recognized the victory of the ruling party. They presented several thousands of irregularities that the election administration did not address, thus preventing opponents from suing in court. The opposition did not believe either, appealing to the court would change anything because the judges considered it politicized. The most pressing and numerous violations were the incompletely counted and corrected numbers in the election protocols.
The opposition protested the election results and boycotted the parliament when the protest was not followed by any tangible changes. Out of the 60 seats won by the opposition – by the official count but recognized by the opposition as rigged, – only 4 were used.
The boycott was supported by almost all opposition parties, regardless of their affiliation or political platforms. This fact is important in many ways, including the fact that it partially refutes the notion that former President Saakashvili is manipulating the opposition alone.
For months, despite numerous attempts by Ambassadors of partner countries, the opposition demanded a re-election and the release of political prisoner Giorgi Rurua. The government, for its part, argued that Rurua was a criminal and not a political prisoner, while the so-called radical opposition either had to prove election fraud or had to enter the parliament.
In parallel with the elections, the situation in the region escalated and turned into the Armenian-Azerbaijani full scale war in September, as a result of which they got hundreds of killed, Karabakh was returned to Azerbaijan, Armenia kept its narrow path to Stepanakert, but Armenia opened the way connecting Turkey to Azerbaijan.
These significant changes in the Southern Caucasus were subsequently reflected in new initiatives. The big countries in the region, Iran, Turkey and Russia, have offered the three smaller ones a six-party agreement that could lead to significant transformations in the region and beyond.
For these and other reasons, Georgia’s Western friends felt the need to get involved in the current political crisis. The efforts of the ambassadors did not yield results.
On the contrary, in late February, Nika Melia, the leader of the largest opposition party, was arrested on suspicion of street riots in 2019 and a call for a peaceful attack on parliament. This arrest and its forms aggravated the situation, the friends of Georgia found themselves in an even more difficult situation.
Council of Europe President Charles Michel visited Tbilisi in March. He presented a plan for a six-point agreement and offered the parties to sign and implement that agreement. The draft agreement included the release of political prisoners, re-election issues, and electoral and judicial reforms.
Negotiations failed and Charles Michel returned to Brussels, after which he sent Swedish diplomat Danielson to Tbilisi to continue the talks. Mr. Danielson visited Tbilisi twice, but no agreement was reached.
Georgia’s first successes in the fight against COVID-19 were scattered in the air at the end of the fall. Georgia, unfortunately, became one of the most unsuccessful in terms of the number of infected and dead. The government again announced Lockdown, which again reduced business activity.
The first quarter of 2021 the economy shrank the most in the last 20 years, the Georgian lari continued to depreciate and prices rose sharply. For the first time in Georgia’s history, public debt has exceeded 60 percent, even though it is prohibited by Georgia’s Law on Economic Freedom.
The government failed to respond to the economic challenges rather only using the budgetary subsidies to some of the sectors of the economy and small scale individual or family subsidies. To save lari from falling quicker the National Bank of Georgia sold more than USD 1 bn – exceeding 1/4 of the hard currency reserves. Only relief to the economy was the 10% increase in the volume of remittances reaching almost USD 2 bn.
It can be said that there are three crises in the country at the same time: health, economic and political. It is very difficult to reach a political agreement – the ruling party has no desire to leave power. Although Mr. Ivanishvili has announced that he will no longer be involved in politics, it is well known that the cabinet is staffed by his former aides.
The ruling party, the Georgian Dream, will not be able to win votes without Ivanishvili’s support. The party’s problem has been exacerbated since its relatively popular prime minister, Gakharia, resigned. On the other side of the political market the opposition that is still in boycott state, consists of several small or supported by a small number of voters parties.
So most of them think about a future within a coalition government with unknown outcomes. What is though understandable is that there is a need for very effective measures to satisfy and calm down the country’s politics.
For now, it seems impossible to to bring the sides to an agreement, one side totally rejects the claims about political prisoners and and selection fraud but the other side simply does not want to talk about any other topics before releasing the two political prisoners and announcing new general elections. The claims are strengthened by the facts that that the most popular leaders of the ruling party (Ivanishvili, Gakharia), at least officially announced their divorce from
The protest in Georgia was not stopped for a single day due to election fraud. This was happening mostly in Tbilisi, Batumi and Kutaisi. At the same time, protests against pandemic restrictions have emerged and increased, as well as strong protests in western Georgia, where locals are resisting the construction of a new hydropower plant. Police everywhere are on the verge of overpowering, often arresting peaceful activists for no apparent reason.
It is in such conditions that the country is waiting for the third wave of the pandemic. Vaccination is going at a very low rate, not only because of the agitation of vaccine opponents, but also because of a shortage of vaccines. There are only hopes that the warm weather can again help the people to avoid the virus.
It is difficult to say which crisis is causing the most damage to the population of Georgia, the political crisis will end sooner or later with elections, repeat parliamentary or local one, – the main thing is for the region to calm down and the Georgian economy to work. And there are hopes that the pandemic will be ended before the government finds ways to get normal vaccines and accelerate the fight against the virus.