The messenger logo

Political agenda affected by the epidemic

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Tuesday, April 7
The coronavirus epidemic is entering a new, more difficult phase, with the next three weeks expected to be the most challenging. The government tightened the state of emergency on March 31st - introduced a universal quarantine and a curfew. The Coronavirus epidemic has completely changed the life of the country, including the political flow.

Prior to the Coronavirus epidemic, parliamentary elections were scheduled for late October 2020. The united opposition insisted on a transition to a proportional electoral system and planned to hold a large rally in front of the parliament on April 4th.

The Coronavirus created a completely different reality, with nobody talking about the planned rally. The state of emergency, activated on March 21st, halted the process of amending the constitution, the month-long process of public debate which began on March 17th. Initially, many believed that after the end of the state of emergency, changes would still be made, and that the parliamentary elections scheduled for the fall would be held under a new system (120 proportional, 30 majoritarian). As of today, the situation is unpredictable, but on April 21st, it will be announced whether the state of emergency requires prolonging or not. If prolonged, then not only the adoption of the new electoral system, but also the issue of holding the elections within the set timeframe will be questioned, but no one is discussing it now.

The government and the opposition say there is no time for the election campaign and that they must be united for the time being. However, this does not exclude sharp controversies. One of the issues that has caused a dispute between the government and the United National Movement was the problem of bringing Georgians back from abroad due to the pandemic. Mikheil Saakashvili, who is in Ukraine, has publicly proposed to finance the flights and buses together with his friends in order to bring those wishing to return to Georgia from several European countries and place them in quarantine free of charge. Saakashvili only needed the Georgian government to confirm that they would receive the planes. Prime Minister Gakharia rejected the proposal, taking the obviously unprofitable decision for the government as they cannot make the same offer to those willing to return to Georgia; tickets for official charter flights are unaffordable for many abroad and the problem of the return of migrants left without jobs remains acute.

The next three weeks, when the Coronavirus is predicted to reach its peak, Christian Orthodoxs celebrate religious holidays. The state of emergency prohibits the mass visits of believers in churches and the curfew forbids gatherings in churches at the night of easter. The Georgian Orthodox Church has not made any changes to the rituals, and some believers plan to go to church notwithstanding the rules. The government is trying to get the Church to agree with the safety rules, and it seems to be expecting the religious figures to make an appropriate call on the terms of the epidemic. If participation in ecclesiastical rituals increases the scale of the epidemic, the responsibility will fall on both the church and the government.

The issue of developing a crisis budget remains relevant. The opposition has long demanded concrete changes from the government to introduce specific changes in the budget and present a new version of the budget. On April 1st, the government presented some of its calculations regarding the budget update. The government will pay utility bills to about 1.2 million people with low incomes. It will also spend 351 million GEL in the fight against the epidemic, in addition to 2 billion GEL will be spent on both people without income and the affected business. However, it is not yet clear where this money will come from - what funding will be cut in the 2020 budget and what projects will continue.

The ruling team faced two scandals last week. One of them was about the fact that a person with the symptoms of the virus was released from the hospital without testing them. Doctors said they were following the protocol - if the patient did not have a history of traveling abroad and had no contact with an infected person, they would not be tested.

The second scandal occurred on March 26st in Akhalkalaki, when local majoritarian, Georgian Dream member Enzel Mkoyan and Patriot Alliance member Samvel Petrosian confronted each other, using guns. These two individuals, in addition to being involved in politics, are also local business clans. Petrosyan was arrested, and the opposition was accused of accusing the government of protecting Mkoyan.

With the epidemic and the tense socio-political situation, March 31st, 29 years since the referendum on Georgia's independence, was relatively unnoticed. We can wish that next year, on the 30th anniversary of the independence referendum, the problems created by the epidemic and the concerns over the elections will be left behind.
(Translated by Mariam Mchedlidze)