Elections in Georgia used to be everything but boring: clashes, contestations and conflicts were as natural part of the election process as khachapuri on the tables of Tbilisi restaurants, note Balazs Jarabik and Jana Kobzova.
For now this has changed: Sunday’s presidential election and the election campaign that preceded it were notably calmer, according to both domestic and international observers, they write for the European Council on Foreign Relations.
But the months ahead will show just how long this calm will last: the announced departure of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and a possible prosecution of outgoing president Mikheil Saakashvili might still rock Georgia’s politics.
Preliminary results could be summed up in one sentence: the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) coalition is very popular; the opposition United National Movement (UNM) remains relevant and Nino Burjanadze’s yet another attempt at staging a political comeback was a failure.
Giorgi Margvelashvili, candidate of the Georgian Dream is set to become Georgia’s fourth president since the country’s independence, with exit polls giving him 67% of the vote.
The recently established Georgian private equity fund worth $6 billion – where Ivanishvili already committed $1billion of his own money – could play a significant role in Georgia’s economy and allow the current prime minister to retain informal economic control. His announced return to civil society would provide another venue for holding the government accountable. Therefore, while he is clearly willing to leave his high office, Bidzina Ivanishvili is likely to retain political influence from his high-perched home situated right next to the castle that housed Georgia’s past rulers.
That unknown political figures might hold the most important public offices in a country where political stage is usually taken by well-known and even eccentric personalities is an important step. However, without stronger institutions – governmental, political parties, businesses and civil society – that would have the ability to both serve and educate citizens, Georgian politics will remain under patronage.
Balazs Jarabik is associate fellow at FRIDE and senior fellow at Central European Policy Institute. Jana Kobzova is an associate policy fellow at ECFR.