Georgia after Parliamentary elections: which road to take?

By Aivaras Bagdonas

During the parliamentary polls in October the opposition coalition block Georgian Dream with its leader billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili defeated the United National Movement of Mikhail Saakashvili. After the elections public space of the country was full of various forecasts, including the fears on possible Georgia‘s return to Russia‘s influence.


These fears seem to be quite realistic. Part of his life Bidzina Ivanishvili spent in Russia and managed to make a fortune estimated at USD 6,4 billion - he doesn’t hide his political loyalty to Russia. On 1 November, 7 days after the approval of a new Georgian Government, Prime Minister Ivanishvili has appointed diplomat Zurab Abashidze a Special Envoy for Interrelations with Russia. According to Abashidze this position demonstrates that Georgia is ready „to open a new channel of independent relations with Russia“.  


Situation in Georgia has become complicated also due to Constitutional changes initiated by Mikhail Saakashvili on giving part of presidential powers to Prime Minister from 2013; whereas Bidzina Ivanishvili is a serious candidate to seek victory in the presidential elections which will take place in October 2013. The current leader of the country finishes his second term and will not be able to run for presidency for the third term, and so far United National Movement does not have a candidate to replace Mikhail Saakashvili.



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However, it is hardly yet possible to speak about rapid changes in pro-Western Georgian foreign policy. Mikhail Saakashvili with his pro-Western attitudes will stay president of the country until 2013. Despite Russia‘s pressure he has several times demonstrated the determination to pursue Western foreign policy. President is and will be an important figure in Georgia‘s political life, whereas Ivanishvili demonstrates diarchy which has been recently established in Georgia. In such a situation a new Prime Minister is likely to avoid principle changes in the domestic and foreign policy.


Moreover that Mikhail Saakashvili’s United National Movement which has been eliminated from dominating positions is not going to give up. For instance, after a prison abuse scandal which was escalated by Ivanishvili during the election campaign, at the beginning of October Georgian Ministry of Interior released a video footage where one could see a person giving EUR 25 thousand to a policeman for taking a video on inhuman and degrading treatment of a detained man. President and his allies are determined to further publicize Ivanishvili‘s mistakes, and in such an atmosphere development of a dialogue with Russia would be a wrong step.  


Ability of Georgian Dream to build mutual work relationships would also affect the domestic and foreign policy of the country. The coalition block consists of six separate parties which have already expressed very controversial views. Besides, after elections Saakashvili‘s United National Movement won 67 seats in the Parliament out of 150, thus it is not clear how a new majority will manage to realize its policy in the presence of strong opposition.


One of the reasons why Georgian people lost faith in Mikhail Saakashvili and his movement are inadequate political and economic decisions hindering national economic development; besides, some Georgians accuse Saakashvili of provoking the 2008 war with Russia. In view of this, Ivanishvili’s victory could be treated as a response of the society to this and other Saakashvili’s mistakes.  At the same time this victory is a product of a well prepared election campaign. Therefore the support of Georgian population to the elected majority of the Parliament might change depending on their ability not to repeat former ruling party’s mistakes, whereas radical decisions could be very risky to a new majority.


Thus, it is too early to forecast Ivanishvili‘s foreign policy trends toward Russia. Here Ukraine could serve as good example. When Vladimir Yanukovich was elected President in February 2010, many experts said that Ukraine might return to the pro-Russian foreign policy, but the country has chosen a policy of balancing between West and Russia, and integration to the EU at least formally remains one of its foreign policy priorities. Georgia might also take the same road.


So far Bidzina Ivanishvili declares his reluctance to terminate relations with Euro-Atlantic structures. When presenting a new Government’s programme during the parliamentary meeting in Kutaisi, the politician highlighted that membership in the EU and integration to NATO will remain one of the major priorities of Georgian foreign policy, and that „relations with the United States – main Georgia‘s ally – will be based on the Strategic Partnership Charter signed in January 2009“.


Victory of Bidzina Ivanishvili coalition block in the elections underlines the change in the political will in Georgia. Yet, it is hardly likely that these changes will radically change the priorities of Georgian foreign policy. There might be more political statements declaring warming in the Kremlin-Tbilisi relations but major changes in Georgia‘s foreign policy could be expected only after presidential elections in October 2013, and only if the elections are won by Ivanishvili or somebody pursuing his policy.