DILEMMA OF THE GEORGIAN ELECTIONS: POLITICAL TRANSFORMATIONS OR A SLIDE TOWARD NON-LIBERAL DEMOCRACY

Beka CHEDIA


Beka Chedia, Master of Political Science (Tbilisi, Georgia)


For a long time now elections in Georgia have been a source of political crises rather than a mechanism of democratic power change. In recent Georgian history, in fact during the entire period of its independence, the government in power has never been changed through elections. The only exception so far were the very first multiparty parliamentary elections of 28 October, 1990 when the national political force, The Round TableFree Georgia, headed by Zviad Gamsakhurdia replaced the ruling Communist Party. Later President Gamsakhurdia was overthrown. For some time after the regime change the ruling party led by Eduard Shevardnadze won all the successive elections until he, in turn, was removed from power by the revolution of 2003. After that the republics election tradition underwent certain changes predated by the political crisis of the fall of 2007, which reached its height on 7 November when the demonstration of the opposition forces was dissipated and a state of emergency declared. The West insisted on a pre-term presidential election being held on 5 January, 2008 followed by parliamentary elections on 21 May. The elections did not replace the leadership, however they prompted those in power to bring new people into the upper echelons and carry out partial election reform. On the other hand, these elections revealed with unprecedented clarity the degree to which the republics political system had been transformed and its trend toward non-liberal democracy.

New Political Reality and End of Revolution

The Georgian expert community has long agreed that the revolution of 2003 has been going on far too long. For some time the political system continued functioning on the revolutionary fuel; today it has been exhausted. The country is facing new political challenges. Only elections could have defused the tension; on the other hand, they could have served as a catalyst for a new revolution, which both society and the political elite were expecting. In the years of independence Georgia acquired a political tradition: non-constitutional regime change by the forces dissatisfied with the election results. It was for this reason and in the absence of a fully developed democratic election system that would lead to a legal power change that on 7 November, 2007 the opposition insisted on the parliamentary elections being shifted from the date scheduled for the fall of 2007 to the summer 2008. Its leaders hoped that by the summer they would be prepared to overthrow the government with the help of the crowd. The opposition went even further: when the date of the presidential election was announced its leaders threatened to stir up a massive uprising if the results were falsified. Significantly, having agreed to a pre-term presidential election Mikhail Saakashvili, as the incumbent, cut down his term by six months. The election was special in many respects: for the first time in the history of independence there were several real political contenders (even though the election system itself was not liberalized). Before that both Gamsakhurdia and Shevardnadze ran against people with no real political clout, some of them could be described as


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