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Georgian politics from the European perspective

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wednesday, February 17
The European Commission's annual report on Georgia's implementation of the Association Agreement identifies key issues in Georgian politics - a flawed electoral and justice system, as well as sharp polarization - both in politics and in the media. Western friends have long called on Georgia to take vigorous steps to overcome these problems, but it hasnít been managed so far.

The Georgian government has recently stated that it wants to apply for EU membership in 2024. Thus, it is interesting how they assess the situation in Georgia in the European Union. The report, published by the European Commission, highlights Georgia's progress in meeting its obligations under the Association Agreement, but notes serious setbacks in holding free elections, judicial reform and a consolidated democratic system. The report also provides a way to solve problems - overcoming polarization in the media and politics, an agreement between the government and the opposition, which will enable significant reforms in parliament to ensure electoral legislation and the independence of the judiciary.

The European Commission report has become the subject of political debate in Georgia. The government focused on the successes discussed in the report, while the opposition focused on the named shortcomings. Unfortunately, there are no signs that polarization in Georgian politics will decrease any time soon.The main part of the opposition continues to boycott the parliament and wants to reach an agreement on holding new parliamentary elections. The Georgian Dream claims the allegations of rigged elections are groundless and is trying to make the opposition enter Parliament in order to get rid of the image of a "one-party parliament."

Its target is small opposition parties and it has also achieved some success in this direction. "Citizens" entered the parliament after the "European Socialists". The motive for their entry is the perfection of the election legislation. It has already been announced that a three-member part of the party "Girchi" is going to enter the parliament as well. They like the government's promise of a zero threshold in the upcoming elections and will try to include other opposition parties as well.

The Georgian Dream says it is ready to discuss with the opposition the issue of reducing the electoral threshold from 0 to 3%, instead of the current 5% threshold in the constitution. Clearly, this requires constitutional changes and the presence of 113 deputies in Parliament (instead of the current 96). It must be said that the promise of free proportional elections is very attractive for small parties, because in the next parliamentary elections there is a chance to withdraw at least one MP. The Georgian Dream party also claims that in order to reduce the disagreement in the opposition, the major opposition parties, most of all the "National Movement", do not want to reduce the threshold and even more so to abolish it, as it keeps the small opposition parties around its orbit with it having a high threshold.

The idea of a free electoral system also attracted the Republican Party, which is in the bloc with the United National Movement and has won two parliamentary seats on the National Movement list. Republicans are ready that if the Georgian Dream registers a bill, they will enter parliament to vote on the bill. However, as already mentioned, the constitutional amendments do not include the votes of the Republicans. Most importantly, the Republicans made this statement without the consent of the other boycotting opposition parties.

The Georgian Dream should have already met the boycott of the opposition in parliament, but it did not do so. This ostensibly left the door open for an agreement, but negotiations have not been going on for a long time already. As a result, there is no official single-party parliament and there are still opportunities for behind-the-scenes negotiations and open pressure-threats with individual members of the opposition. Opposition MPs who demand the termination of their mandates have not only retained their mandates, but as MPs, have been asked to fill out declarations, otherwise they will be fined first and then will be held criminally liable. The court asks Nika Melia, the new leader of the largest opposition party, the National Movement, to pay additional bail, which he refuses, and threatens to arrest him. The question now is whether the Georgian Dream will resort to repression against the "disobedient" opposition.

The unrest started in one of the leading opposition parties, European Georgia, whose chairman, Davit Bakradze, announced his sudden departure. In general, the party, which is an active supporter of the boycott, is dissatisfied with the results of the elections and may be planning on rebranding, which was recently launched by the National Movement.

To sum up the recent developments, the Georgian Dream has managed to split up the opposition, creating small opposition factions in the one-party parliament, the number of which may increase. For the opposition on strike, the only hope is launching mass protests. There have been no calls for such rallies so far, and the government has said in advance that the radical opposition will not be able to organize such rallies.

However, it is not to say that everything is in order in the government. There have been talks about a dissension in the government team after Ivanishvili's moving behind the scenes, about Gakharia's potential resignation from the post of Prime Minister for him to be replaced by the current Chairman of the Georgian Dream Irakli Kobakhidze. They say the change is scheduled for March but the government categorically denies it.
(Translated from Georgian by Mariam Mchedlidze)