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The End, and The Beginning

Thursday, October 31
With the October 27 presidential election, yet another political cycle has come to an end in Georgia. A bona fide takeaway of this day will to the furthest extent be assessed in the historic dimension. Even now, however, we can gain some measure of its impact through remarkable changes in Georgia having occurred (and yet to occur) during the transition of political power.

A Higher Bar for Georgian Democracy

October 27, 2013 Presidential Elections of Georgia
Preliminary Results

Georgia’s Presidential Election of 2013, as well as the entire pre-election period and the voting process itself, has evidenced the notable advancement of Georgia’s political landscape to a higher plane.

International and local monitoring missions have, in their interim and preliminary reports, referred to improvements in various important aspects, among them: respected fundamental freedoms of expression, movement and assembly; campaigning without restrictions; and balanced media coverage. Overall, October 27 election is evaluated as democratic, free and fair, conducted in full compliance with international standards. Although final reports by the international community and local civil sector are yet to come, significant discrepancies between the preliminary and the final assessments are not expected. However favorable, such judgments do not signify the conclusion to Georgia’s route to democratization, but that is certainly a huge step forward to normalcy for Georgia. This latest election has clearly set a new standard for Georgia’s democracy – a standard that will need to be furthered by future governments to affirm and reaffirm the genuine advancement of democratization. Now that the bar for democracy has been raised to an unprecedented height, it can be considered as the most crucial achievement of the 2013 presidential elections.

A New Political Era

The recent election was the second and final phase of the first-ever peaceful transition of power in the contemporary history of Georgia. The political cycle started after the “Rose Revolution” in 2003, launching the period of authority of a new political leader. Mikheil Saakashvili, the outgoing President of Georgia, has dominated the political processes in Georgia, both in its internal and external affairs. Such an overriding role of the president was attributable to Saakashvili’s personal leadership skills and underpinned by the Constitution of Georgia. From the outset, the charismatic leader of the “Rose Revolution” had significantly increased presidential powers by implementing changes to the Constitution and transforming Georgia into a super presidential republic. Moreover, enormous public support of Saakashvili as a principal of these changes and reforms in the country after a long period of socio-economic stagnation made him a prominent and unchallenged leader. Even though the second term of his presidency was both controversial and full of political turbulence, Saakashvili remained as a key figure in Georgia’s political scene.

A landslide victory of Giorgi Margvelashvili of the ruling Georgian Dream party in this election marks not only the end of Saakashvili’s era and his “messiah”-type of political behavior, but it also signifies the changing character of Georgia’s political environment by ending the period of single and omnipotent leaders in Georgian politics.

Bio Data of Georgia’s President-elect Giorgi Margvelashvili
The newly elected president of Georgia, 44-year-old Giorgi Margvelashvili, is to be inaugurated on November 17. A 1992 graduate of the Tbilisi Ivane Javakhishvili State University, Faculty of Philosophy and Psychology, Margvelashvili studied sociology in the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary (1994) and holds a PhD from Tbilisi State University.
Having travelled to different European, American and African countries as part of business trips, he participated in mountain expeditions to the North Caucasus, the Pamir, and Central Asia. In 1990, Margvelashvili, together with his fellows, organized and participated in expeditions to Pakistan, India, Nepal, China and province Tibet. From 1992-1995, he worked as a guide in the mountains and assistant manager in a publishing house. In 1995-2000 he was an interpreter in the U.S. National Democratic Institute (NDI), later held a post of the assistant and head of one of the programs at NDI. Rector of the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA) from 2000 - 2002, he headed the research department in 2006 -2010, and returned to the GIPA Rector’s post from 2010-2012.
Margvelashvili first appeared in politics in 2003 when he was presented by a tandem of Burjanadze and former Prime Minister of Georgia Zurab Zhvania as a member of their political coalition called “Burjanadze – Democrats”. Margvelashvili was among the top 10 candidates proposed by the Coalition. After the “Rose Revolution”, the election results were annulled and the “Burjanadze – Democrats” did not participate in the repeated elections as a separate political group but joined a bigger coalition of the United National Movement, chaired by Mikheil Saakashvili. Margvelashvili was not on the Coalition’s parliamentary list. The second time he joined the political process as a member of Advisory Board of Nino Burjanadze’s think tank - “Foundation for Democracy and Development” established after Burjanadze’s split from Saakashvili in 2008. Margvelashvili made his third entry into politics by supporting the Georgian Dream political coalition. After the victory of GD in 2012 parliamentary elections, Margvelashvili was appointed as a Minister of Education and Science of Georgia. As he started his presidential campaign, Margvelashvili stepped down from the post of the Education Minister in order to demonstrate the importance of equal opportunities for all candidates, even though the legislation did not require this.
The future President of Georgia lives with a partner, Ms. Maka Chichua, and has a daughter from the first marriage.

Although Georgia’s new President-elect Giorgi Margvelashvili received a sweeping majority of votes (almost 62 percent of total votes), it seems unfeasible that his political role can reach the level of any of his predecessors given the limited power of presidential institute under the new model of the Constitution, which will enter into force upon his inauguration on November 17. In addition, the central characteristic of the President-Elect is not his personal charisma, but the team that he represents, particularly the factor of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the Prime Minister. Third, the current political context also limits Margvelashvili’s power. What we mean here is that, on the one hand, there exists a strong, well-organized and experienced opposition, represented in the Georgian Parliament with 52 parliamentarians. On the other hand, there is the multiparty nature and internal competition within the Georgian Dream coalition, supporting Margvelashvili and constituting the Government, which will not allow the President to exceed the democratic framework and override his political powers.

This indeed represents a new reality for Georgia’s political landscape. Critics might question our assessment of the new political cycle, perhaps arguing that Prime Minister Ivanishvili himself could be sculpted as a new “messiah,” and that Saakashvili’s era would merely be replaced by Ivanishvili’s era. However, the Prime Minister’s anticipated resignation, expected by the end of November, will serve to end speculations about new super-hero leaders, and the political scene in Georgia will assume an entirely different shape and form.

The future structure of the political leadership looks much more pluralistic, with a number of strong and popular political leaders, first and foremost within the Georgian Dream coalition, but also among a powerful and very well mobilized opposition. None of the three top leaders of the country will have a decisive political power in Georgia, however, the president, the speaker of the parliament and the prime minister will have almost equal political weight that will define the balance of political authority between these institutions and limit their individual powers.

Changes in Political Configuration

This just-past election will have an indelible impact on Georgia’s political structure. Given the fact that the Georgian Dream Coalition has been reinforcing and becoming more powerful, the results of the presidential election demonstrated that the changes are likely to happen on the oppositional front as well. A slightly above 20 percent of total votes that the UNM presidential candidate David Bakradze received during the election reaffirmed yet again that the United National Movement is the major opposition force, sustaining a strong presence in the Parliament as well as maintaining control over a significant part of local councils in the regions. Regardless of robust political organization and experience in political scuffling, however, the UNM political party confronts serious challenges. The UNM is constricted as a governmental political organization, and its leadership will clearly need to rethink the party’s political role and structure. Leadership skills and ambitions of its re-elected leader, Saakashvili, no longer correlates with his popularity in Georgian society. Thus, the engine and the key element of UNM’s strength may become a principal obstacle for party’s reorganization – something that the UNM leadership must deal with in the forthcoming political cycle.

Undeniably, there are new opportunities emerging for Nino Burjanadze and her political party – the Democratic Movement-United Georgia (DMUG). Little above 10 percent of total votes received by Burjanadze in the recent presidential rally could serve as a strong foundation for renewing DMUG’s political strategy. For to set the new goals and objectives, Burjanadze and her colleagues will have to reorient their political fight and start their preparations for the upcoming local government election in 2014. This, however, looks to be a difficult task, as the party and its leader are among those political defeated who still question the fairness and transparency of the recent presidential election regardless of the widespread and positive international affirmations that it has received.

The only parliamentary opposition from Saakashvili’s time, are the Christian Democrats and its leader Giorgi Targamandze, who receiving less than two percent in the recent voting, were dropped from the political scene. Bearing the image of collaborationists with the regime of Saakashvili, the Christian Democrats were neither able to find a place among Saakashvili’s challengers, nor find supporters among opponents of the current Georgian Dream government. This election was a vigorous confirmation that the Christian Democrats party has lost its political niche.

The leader of the Labor Party, Shalva Natelashvili, who received slightly less than three percent of votes, made him and his party a non-qualified political subject, which means the availability of much-limited resources in the coming period. This, clearly can be decisive for the future of the Labor Party.

Remaining political actors who received a de minimis percentage of votes, demonstrated no prospect for political survival.

Under these circumstances and the given reality, Georgia should expect a three-actor political process for the upcoming local government elections, to be comprised of the ruling Georgian Dream Coalition, which is expected to remain unified, the United National Movement (UNM), and the Democratic Movement-United Georgia (DMUG) party. The local government elections will be a clear demonstration of the extent of lessons learned by each of these political subjects during the parliamentary (2012) and presidential (2013) elections, and what is the political perspective they each have in the long run.

Note: From September 24 through October 31, as part of its Weekly Report on Georgia/Caucasus published on Tuesdays, CGS Group offered the independent analysis on the presidential election in Georgia held on Sunday, October 27, 2013. We reviewed local and international media, and provided in-depth analysis of political stands and policy programs of the candidates, as well as included official statements, campaign speeches and information distributed by campaign teams of the candidates. This analytical report was also regularly reprinted every Tuesday in Georgia’s English daily - The Messenger. This article is the last analytical piece on the October 27, 2013, presidential election. To recap the 6-week analysis on the topic, please, visit our website and download reports from here