A constitutional majority in parliament for the Georgian Dream party is in the interests of both Russia and the West. Here’s why.
Supporters of ruling Georgian Dream party take part in rally in Tbilisi, Georgia, October 8, 2016. Photo: AP
On Oct. 8, parliamentary elections took place in Georgia. The final results have not yet been officially announced. However, according to the preliminary data, three parties are likely to get seats in the parliament — the Georgian Dream, the United National Movement and the Alliance of Georgian Patriots, with the latter initially reaching the 5 percent threshold and then falling below it after counting the voting bulletins. As a result, the future of the Alliance of Georgian Patriots is in limbo.
Besides those candidates from the party lists, the parliament is expected to include single-mandate candidates. To be elected, they needed to receive more than 50 percent of the votes in their electoral districts. However, during the elections, they failed to overcome this threshold in 50 out of 73 districts. It means that there will be run-offs and more intrigue.
Nevertheless, one can make certain conclusions about the Georgian parliamentary elections. The Georgian Dream saved its leading position. By party lists, it won almost 49 percent of the seats. As a result of the run-off, single-mandate candidates from this party are expected to garner more votes, so that the party will increase its clout in the parliament. If they garner 113 seats out of 150, they will win the constitutional majority.
But, even if the Georgian Dream fails to reach an absolute majority, as it was in 2012-2016, its heft and resources will remain significant. After all, this party will determine the composition of the new government as well as the country’s key political priorities.
The United National Movement remains the major opposition party. However, hopes for the return of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili didn’t come true. On Oct. 1, he announced his plans to return to Georgia to foster honest and fair parliamentary elections and, three days later, promised that he would be met with applause at the Georgian border.
However, one day before the elections, Saakashvili said he was not going to leave Ukraine. Therefore, his attempts to orchestrate protests in Tbilisi and revive the spirit of Maidan or the Rose Revolution failed. The demonstration of the United National Movement activists was not widely supported.
Georgian voters preferred stability to the pledges for “revolutionary reforms”. However, it doesn’t mean that the winners will enjoy a trouble-free life, given the fact that Georgia is faced with serious economic and social challenges, which cannot be frozen, but require taking effective decisions. Yet, the Georgian Dream has preferred to put off this inconvenient agenda for four years now.
Regarding the Alliance of the Georgian Patriots, this party will have to introduce itself in a positive light. In a best-case scenario, the party identifying itself as the defender of Georgian national and cultural values could get just six seats in the parliament. Even though it might get a political platform for voicing new ideas, it will still lack the necessary resources to implement political and economic initiatives. The 2016 elections are just a preparatory stage to compete in future political campaigns.
At the same time, the Georgian parliamentary elections have implications for the country’s foreign policy. Four years ago, the Transcaucasian political vocabulary was updated with the word “normalization.” The Georgian Dream, which defeated Saakashvili’s United National Movement, announced its intentions to improve relations with Russia.
Moscow and Tbilisi resumed their multifaceted dialogue, known as the Karasin-Abashidze format, initiated by the Georgian Dream in 2013, which called for regular meetings between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and Georgia's special envoy for Russian relations, Zurab Abashidze.
It reinvigorated bilateral economic ties, with Georgian goods returning to the Russian market. Most importantly, even the Russia-West differences over Ukraine and Syria stopped being a key factor in Russian-Georgian relations. However, this is the only significant achievement of Moscow and Tbilisi.
After all, the countries failed to resume diplomatic relations after the Five-Day War in August 2008. They are still struggling to come up with a compromise on the status of two breakaway republics — Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Moscow recognized as independent as a result of the Five-Day War with Tbilisi. Their differences over Georgia’s NATO aspirations are still relevant.
Nevertheless, the success of the Georgian Dream is rather beneficial for Russia. The Kremlin is aware that there are no powerful pro-Russian forces within Georgia. According to Andrei Makarychev, a visiting professor at the University of Tartu, “Russian soft power in Georgia cannot counterbalance European projects, which are far wider in scope and more professional in implementation. Russia mainly works with a Georgian clientele that is already ‘tacitly’ pro-Russian.”
Moreover, those forces, which identify themselves as the advocates of improving relations with Russia, seem to be intransigent about the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which they see as Georgian territory. However, politics is the art of creating possibilities. Russia can choose between “normalizing” relations without “crossing redlines” and Georgia escalating anti-Russian rhetoric, such as when Tbilisi tried to present its differences with Moscow as a proxy war between Russia and the West.
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But the Georgian Dream has chosen a different path. It does not deviate from the United National Movement’s general strategic course for establishing closer ties with the EU, the U.S. and NATO. However, at the same time, the Georgian Dream is using different, more pragmatic tactics. In fact, it has been straddling between its aspirations for membership in NATO and the EU and attempts to improve relations with Russia.
“The pro-Western course doesn’t mean that we won’t respect our neighbors and take into account their interests,” Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of the Georgian Dream, said in an open letter in May 2016.
Paradoxically, the victory of this party and the fact that it increased its heft in Georgia are beneficial not only for Russia, but also for the West. The U.S. and the EU do appreciate the tactics of the Georgian Dream, which adequately assesses its opportunities and potential clout in the international arena and doesn’t seek to accelerate the process of Euro-Atlantic integration. This, of course, is in contrast with Saakashvili, who sought to speed up this process.
“We should understand that Georgia’s accession to the EU is not included in our current agenda,” said Ivanishvili. “Likewise, we will have to wait a certain period of time until we become members of NATO, because it is a part of a very complicated geopolitical process, and it does not only depend on our aspirations and readiness.”
Tbilisi’s American and European partners appear to be ready to agree with this statement.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.