Thursday, 25 October 2012 18:49

Elections in the Eastern Neighbourhood

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Georgia has just chosen its new parliament. The elections in this Caucasus State were the second of three held in Eastern Partnership (EaP) States this autumn. Besides Belarus, which was given (as opposed to choosing democratically) a new assembly in September, Ukraine is also going to vote in a few days. Each election is different. How will they shape the EU's closest neighbourhood?

All quiet in Belarus

I guess the best summary of the Belarusian elections came from one of my Belarusian friends, who is currently living in the US and posted on her Facebook wall that she's curious as to whether anyone voted in her name (and for whom). Partly funny, partly scary - entirely true, unfortunately. There was no need to wait for OSCE reports or EU statements. Even before the election campaign it was obvious that the opposition was too weak (after its demolition following the last presidential election) and that Lukashenko was unwilling to share his power with anyone (or even give the opposition a chance to promote their ideas during the campaign). As a result, the Belarusian parliament is a pro-government monolith - the more insignificant due to the presidential system of government in the country.

Georgian dreams and reality

Georgia's case is a completely different story. Even though some violations of democratic rules were also recorded - both before and during the voting process - the Georgian elections may serve as a good example for the whole post-Soviet area. At least for one reason: it seems that they will lead to a constitutional transfer of power. There were no "anointings," which we observed in the case of colonel Putin (both in 1999 and recently), no man-hunting as in Belarus nor politically inspired litigations as in Yulia Tymoshenko's case. As Akhmed Zakayev, Prime-Minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, stated: "The results of the elections are a real victory for the Georgian people." This is true - as long the Georgians' choice was not forged. The quick acceptance of electoral defeat by President Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM) is nothing less than the triumph of democratic principles in the country.

But are there any other victories? As we all know, the elections are not only about voting but also about forming a government. Just after Bidzina Ivanishvili, the leader of the winning "Georgian Dream" coalition, received the mission to form a new government from President Saakashvili, he presented his candidates for the most important posts and affirmed that he will continue the Euro-Atlantic foreign policy of Georgia. This might be true. If we look through the CVs of the key figures of the new government, such as the Minister of Foreign Affairs or the Minister of Defence and Deputy Prime Minister, there shouldn't be any twists in the state's "pro-Western" course. Both of them are former associates of Saakashvili (worth mentioning - Ivanishvili himself was also for some time considered a Saakashvili-supporting philanthropist).

Nevertheless, there are also concerns that Ivanishvili, a former Russian citizen (nowadays he's de jure only a French citizen applying for the Georgian passport), who declared "a normalisation" in relations with the Kremlin, might move his country into the arms of the aggressive northern neighbour - as the Jagiellonian Club analyst Petros Tovmasyan tweeted: "Ivanishvili is glued to Russia." In fact, there is evidence to justify such an opinion. Be it the fortune Ivanishvili made in Putin's Russia or unclear political affiliations with the "anti-Caucasus" general Lebed.

Whatever Ivanishvili might want to do, a few restricting factors already tell us in which direction his government might be moving and which difficulties they might face. First of all, the "Georgian Dream" coalition consists of six incohesive parties, ranging from the liberal Free Democrats to the rightist National Forum, it includes some cronies of the previous infamous President Eduard Shevardnadze (dethroned by Saakashvili during the Rose Revolution in 2003) as well as the former AC Milan defence pillar Kakha Kaladze. It is difficult to imagine that these different fractions could form a stable parliamentary background for the government as long as their only common-ground is some rather blurred anti-Saakashvilism. What is more, most of the regional administration and local governments are still in the hands of Saakashvili's camp. Hence any reforms proposed by Ivanishvili might actually remain only a Georgian dream without becoming a reality. Thirdly, according to the current Georgian constitution, President Saakashvili is still the most important player on the political stage of the state. As Adam Eberhardt from the Centre for Eastern Studies argues, we will be seeing a very difficult year of cohabitation in Georgia that will result in a worse level of governance. This implies another obstacle for Ivanishvili during the upcoming 12 months preceding the presidential election and a major constitutional change in the state.

All in all, these limitations seem to suggest that the future of Georgia will be decided in October 2013 when Georgians choose the new president - who will not be Saakashvili and who will have to fit into the new parliamentary system, in which the prime-minister will play a key role. And I’d venture to hint that we still have no idea who will be holding that post next year; just a brief remark from seemingly stable Poland - an average government's life under the current constitution is 14 months...

So what are the hopes for Georgians? As "Homo Georgicus" Zurab Gvelesiani, a Georgian lawyer who "personally doesn't have great expectations towards any candidate," told me: a more balanced Georgian parliament may come with three main benefits. First of all, it will become a more pluralist and controlling "organ, doing more than notary office." Secondly, it could serve as an incentive to put into practice a clear separation of power and a system of "checks and balances" in the state as long there will not be an "absolute leader" in Georgian politics. Finally, Zurab Gvelesiani hopes it could "free the judicial system from political claws," which is crucial not only because of the recent prison scandals that laid the blame on the whole judiciary. He claims that in general the judicial system remains "one of the weakest points of Georgian democracy" and "a strong tool in the government's hands to protect its (often illegal) interests." Therefore it badly needs reform.

Ukraine's luckily unclear future

What will happen in Ukraine on and after the 28th of October? We do not know yet and that is very good news in the post-Soviet zone. What is known is that due to a consolidated presidential system, parliamentary elections are not very important because of "the power vertical" in Ukraine. Looking through the opinion polls, it seems that the governing President Yanukovych's Party of Regions could remain the largest party in the parliament. However, the Georgian example also shows that the polls do not usually match later election results. On the other hand, the united opposition "Fatherland" and two new parties, UDAR (in Ukrainian this means a strike or a blow) headed by heavyweight champion Vitaliy Klychko and "Ukraine - Forward!" with the famous "goleador" Andriy Shevchenko on board, may together form a strong alternative (however, this is a hardly imaginable scenario, I'd say). We'll wait and see… - and read about the results in "Under Eastern Eyes."

Last modified on Friday, 26 October 2012 05:34
Ziemowit Jóźwik

Ziemowit Jóźwik is 23. Coming from Bieliny, a small village in the Holy Cross Mountains (Poland), he is now based in the more well known city of Krakow. Having written for Europe & Me since Issue 5 he will now take on the challenge of expanding our knowledge of the eastern borders of the European landscape. His blog will explore how European issues are understood 'under Eastern eyes.'

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