As a country, Georgia is characterized by the intense division in how its standard day-to-day politics are conducted and its contentions over societal values and practices. This article will review the key Georgian events from 2021, and the bearing (if any) they will have in 2022.
- The Tbilisi Central Court ordered Nika Melia, the chairman of the opposition party – United National Movement (UNM) – to pre-trial detention after he refused to post bail. This activity occurred on February 17. His charges concerned the alleged organization and coordination of violent rally groups during political protests against the ruling party back in 2019.
- Then, Prime Minister, Giorgi Gakhariam, officially resigned, noting a dispute with his party colleagues over implementing the arrest order for Nika Melia. Gakharia stated that this action would only further destabilize the political landscape in the country.
- Parliament approves the appointment of Irakli Gharibashvili as the new Prime Minister on the 22nd of February.
Interestingly, the ideological and political differences between the Georgian Dream (the ruling party) and the UNM (main political rival) are not so diverse. Post-polling results from late 2021 showed that the profile of voters for these two main parties was not considerably different in terms of age, gender, education, or interest in political policies.
- Several opposition parties – including the Georgian Dream – signed an official agreement, brokered by the European Commission with backing by the United States. The EU and the U.S. intervened with mediation due to the Georgian political crisis concerning the 2020 parliamentary elections.
- This international intervention ended the months-long political deadlock arising from the opposition’s rejection of the 2020 results, and their refusal to take up their seats in parliament.
Pride March against Homophobic Violence
- Tbilisi Gay Pride organizers were forced to cancel their planned march on the 5th of July after aggressive far-right groups forcefully breached their headquarters and attacked countless media journalists. The attackers broke Tbilisi Pride headquarters windows, pulled down their rainbow flag, and plundered the offices.
- Instead of guaranteeing safety and freedom of community gathering for the Tbilisi Pride participants, the authorities seemed to place the blame for the disturbance upon them.
- New Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili officially stated that it was ‘unreasonable’ to hold the demonstration in a public location that might lead to a ‘civil confrontation.’
- This view was backed by the Interior Ministry, who also warned against organizing further rallies in a public area.
Pre-and post-events to the Municipal Elections held in October 2021
- Former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia created a new political party to run during the October Municipal Elections for office. The Georgian Dream and the UNM saw this new political adversary as a genuine threat, which came under constant criticism from both political parties during the 2021 municipal election campaign.
- Both parties deployed their monetary and news-outlet resources to discredit Giorgi Gakharia and his newly formed party.
- Prior to the municipal elections being held, the Defense Ministry filed a lawsuit against the founder and director of rival Formula TV channel, David Kezerashvili. David Kezerashvili is a former Georgian Defense Minister serving from 2006 to 2008.
- Tellingly, Formula TV had earlier published a news polling survey declaring the ruling party would not reach the required 43 percent of all votes threshold to maintain office.
- The lawsuit served to direct immediate political pressure upon the TV media channel. Leading opposition and pivotal non-governmental commentators supported this assertion, stating that publishing the survey results was one of the key reasons for the legal action served against Kezerashvili.
Municipal Elections – October
- In early October, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili returned to Georgia after an eight year self-imposed exile. Saakashvili was previously convicted (in absentia) on parliamentary abuse of office charges back in 2018 – he was sentenced to six years in prison.
- Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili announced in a press conference that Saakashvili had been subsequently arrested.
- The local elections were held on October 2nd, with the Georgian Dream party scoring forty-seven percent in the first-round proportional vote. In a somewhat tense runoff, the ruling Georgian Dream party wins nineteen out of twenty mayoral race positions.
- Saakashvili considered himself a political prisoner and began a hunger strike to protest his incarceration. Thousands of Georgians gathered in the center of Tbilisi square demanding his release.
- Independent spectators of the 2021 municipal elections stated that the whole process was generally well-administered but controlled against the backdrop of a prolonged political crisis, characterized by deep-set division.
- Saakashvili finally ended his hunger strike as a compromise with the authorities, and he was transferred to a Military Hospital for treatment.
- Parliament successfully votes to rescind the State Inspector Service’s powers, and instead, separate agencies will be formally established. Their portfolio will be to investigate any abuse of power by law enforcement agencies and the protection of personal citizen data.
So, What’s in store for Georgia in 2022?
The political concerns that arose in 2021 are detrimental for various reasons. First, the angry political standoff that was exacerbated by the arrest of Saakashvili might turn into a violent confrontation between opposing supporters. The current administration, which believes that political survival trumps all other considerations, might only intensify the eventual brutality.
Georgian political polarization typifies the culture wars between those who see themselves as traditional value defenders and those who favor social and religious diversity and progression. Unfortunately, there are worrying signs that this identity clash is becoming instrumentalized by politicians from both sides.