[Fit to Print] The President of Georgia

28Sep12

With an ongoing project based in Tbilisi, I am nervously watching Georgians brace for the parliamentary elections to be held on October 1. The elections are important because a new constitution will go into effect next year (transferring many of the current presidential powers over to the prime minister), but it is interesting because of the unique evolution that Georgian presidential politics have taken since the Rose Revolution in 2003.

In 2003, Georgian protesters ousted their Soviet holdover of a president, Eduard Shevernadze, who was regarded as corrupt and nepotistic. The elections were marred by vote rigging and opposition members, led by Mikheil Saakashvili and Zurab Zhvania of the United National Movement (UNM), spent two weeks fomenting a revolution. Saakashvili was elected president and immediately started steering the ship in a new direction. Year by year, “Misha” eroded freedom of the press, relentlessly championed American initiatives, privatized the healthcare sector [download article], and held tightly to a hardline against Russia and territorial integrity erupting in a war in 2008.

Enter Bidzina Ivanishvili, a wealthy businessman who is challenging Saakashvili’s presidency. He heads the Georgian Dream coalition, which includes Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream Party, the Republican Party of Georgia, and other minor parties. As it goes with many political parties in Eastern Europe (including the UNM to a certain extent), the Georgian Dream Party lacks ideology and is mostly formed around Ivanishvili as the leader. They are pro-Russian, pro-NATO, and anti-centralization from what I can tell. Ivanishvili and the coalition are bracing for the aftermath of the election and ready to protest results.

Which means that Misha is likely to find himself in the same place as Shevernadze in 2003. An “authoritarian” leader challenged by widespread discontent at the results of the elections and ready to change the direction of the country. Personally, I can’t believe he is still in office since I haven’t talked to a Georgian yet who supports him anymore.

So what will change if Misha isn’t president anymore? Domestically, freedom of the press will probably improve. But I doubt that their foreign relations will alter course. Georgians are very supportive of integration with Europe and the United States. Soldiers are probably not going to be withdrawn from Afghanistan. Georgia won’t stop grasping for membership in NATO.

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