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The probable collapse of authoritarianism in Belarus and the Georgian elections

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wednesday, August 26 Georgia has a little more than two months left before the parliamentary elections. Its consequences will depend not only on the domestic situation but also on the foreign policy background. It is important for countries in transition to democracy, what trends dominate in the near or distant neighborhood. Of particular note in this regard are the developments in Belarus since the August 9th presidential election. What is happening in Belarus was a complete surprise to many.

Lukashenko has ruled the country for 26 years and believed victory in the next presidential election would be easy - the opposition was weak and a large part of the people was making peace with his rule. Lukashenko has presented himself as a guarantor of stability and some prosperity. He was planning on ruling the country for an infinitely long time and was said to be preparing his son as his successor. He was called “the last dictator of Europe,” and such an epithet did not bother him much. The announcement of the results of the August 9th presidential election changed Belarus at once. Lukashenko has been accused of falsifying election results, and a powerful wave of protests has swept the country. The repression failed to quell protests, and the West declared the election results illegitimate and imposed sanctions on the Lukashenko regime. The events in Belarus are a stern warning to anyone thinking of rigging the election results and extending their own rule.

Lukashenko's Belarus is a loyal ally of Putin. The end of his rule will be a double blow to Putin - first of all, his plans for ‘post-Soviet integration’ Putin's eternal presidency will be brought into question. That is why Moscow is likely to do everything in its power to keep Lukashenko at bay and view Belarus in a "geopolitical context" as a Western attempt to undermine Russia's position in the post-Soviet space. In any case, a "new front" is being created for Putin's Russia in the form of Belarus.

The Georgian government does not comment on the developments in Belarus. The election results were neither ignored nor condemned. The statement was issued by the President of Georgia. "We avoid all forms of violence. We believe that Belarus and its people will be able to find a democratic solution to their future," Salome Zurabashvili said. The democratic opposition in Georgia demands that the government condemn Lukashenko. Pro-government analysts say that official Tbilisi's restraint over the events in Belarus is completely logical and correct. They believe if Lukashenko remains a president, the support of the Belarus opposition by the Georgian government may pose a threat to our country.

An angry Lukashenko may comply with Moscow's old demand and recognize the ‘independence’ of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali. However, Lukashenko recently admitted that his non-recognition of the ‘independence’ of the two territories was due to fears of Western sanctions and nothing else. The Georgian media and the opposition reacted strongly to the August 16th flight between Tbilisi and Minsk. As the government explained, Georgian Ambassador Valeri Kvaratskhelia, who had left Minsk on August 6th, returned there. Ukraine, on the contrary, summoned its ambassador from Minsk, while the Georgian ambassador to Ukraine has not been in Kyiv for a long time.

The main conclusion that the Georgian government should draw from the events in Belarus is simple - the democracy of the upcoming parliamentary elections should not be questioned. This will be followed by protests from the opposition and a strong reaction from the West. On August 19th, an NDI survey was published that showed high expectations of citizens about the democratic conduct of the upcoming elections. However, many problems remain in the pre-election period, which further strengthens the polarization and undermines public confidence in the electoral process. These include the abuse of administrative resources and the judiciary, hate speech, intimidation and harassment of voters, and restrictions on the freedom of media. The NDI report sets out 30 recommendations for improving Georgia's electoral system.

However, the opposition does not believe the government’s promises about holding transparent elections. On the contrary, they say that a large part of the NDI named recommendations will remain unfulfilled. On August 19th, 30 opposition parties adopted a declaration. According to the declaration, Ivanishvili's oligarchic rule is the biggest challenge for the democratic development of the country. The signatory parties pledge to work together to “end the harmful custom of electoral manipulation in Georgia.”
(Translated from Georgian by Mariam Mchedlidze)