Georgia’s elections: a win-win?

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.

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Dissidents, Spies, and Attack Cartoons — Life at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana

From 2002-2005, James Cason served as the Principal Officer – the de facto U.S. ambassador – at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Cason saw himself not “at a mission,” but rather, “on a mission” to promote democratic principles and support the people of Cuba. As the key representative of the “Yankee Imperialists,” Cason inevitably faced enormous backlash and pressures from the Cuban government, he tells ADST’s Charles Stuart Kennedy.

Every year the GOC [Government of Cuba] held country-wide exercises where the people and the army prepared for an American invasion. The international press would call and ask for my opinion. I said  “This is ridiculous. Our policy is one that calls for a rapid, peaceful change to a more democratic and free Cuba. We don’t advocate or support the overthrow of the regime. We hope it falls, but that depends on the Cuban people, not us. We will never support the revolution or take steps to prolong its life. And we’re not about to invade.”

And then Fidel started attacking me personally; it became an obsession. In a radio address he said General Powell said the U.S. had no plans to invade “for the moment,” therefore how can we believe a “mere corporal” like Cason. So from that moment on I became Corporal Cason. I’m probably the only diplomat in the history of the world where the host government ran attack cartoons on TV against him. The Cuban propagandists produced a series of nine cartoons, animated cartoons, ridiculing me that they aired for almost three years. I think they’re still shown. You can find them on YouTube (above).

I adopted the corporal as my symbol. The Cubans can’t stand humor and I refused to be cowed by the cartoons. I told people I liked them, they were funny. I began going to all the national day parties with corporal stripes on my guayabera shirt and put my cartoon persona on a flag which I flew on the front of my car to show that it didn’t bother. I’d turn the cartoons against them. People would wave and give the thumbs up when my car passed.

Soon everyone was talking about the Cabo. The Center for a Free Cuba sent me 2000 Cabo Cason dolls. If you pushed my belly button I would say, “Cachan, Cachan, días mejores pronto vendran.” [Cachan, Cachan, better days will come soon] We gave these out to dissidents and they were sent all over the island.

I was trying to say nothing you Cubans do or say against USINT personnel is going to stop us from doing what we think is right and that is supportive of a people who don’t have a say in their own future.


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A failed state’?: Libya starts from scratch

The apparently accelerating deterioration of security in Libya, underscored by the recent abduction of the country’s prime minister Ali Zeidan (left), has raised the prospect of even larger numbers of migrants and refugees arriving on European shores, The Financial Times reports.

“It’s a failed state,” a high-ranking EU diplomat says of Libya. “It’s not functioning. It’s basically an open door to the Mediterranean Sea.”

Duncan Pickard has spent the last year in Tripoli studying constitutional reform for a German NGO, writes The Washington Post’s David Ignatius:

He warned last December that the imperative was U.S. training of Libyan security forces to protect government institutions. Nearly a year later, we’re still waiting.

“We are seeing a defenseless government,” says Karim Mezran, a Libyan political scientist and senior fellow of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. Mezran says the situation in his country is so fragile now that NATO may have to send in its own security forces to keep order until the long-delayed training program is ready.

“The July 2012 elections were an impressive achievement, but the lingering effects of Qadhafi’s decades in power still work against stability and the consolidation of such democratic gains,” Pickard and Mieczysaw P. Boduszynski write in the latest issue of the Journal of Democracy:

Tensions between the country’s regions, made worse by Qadhafi’s long neglect, are  a defining feature of Libyan politics.  The need to balance east, west, and south pervades all decision making. The impulse toward inclusion has a positive side, but the three-part nature of every committee also bespeaks the divisive notion that regional ties must define all interests. Tribal and ethnic tensions further threaten the national unity that is critical to democratic development.  A new civil society and free media may yet prove allies of democratization, but they remain inexperienced, underdeveloped, and hampered by security concerns.

On top of that, Libya is undergoing a parallel transition from a quasisocialist economy with a weak private sector, and it is struggling to build a cohesive identity.

In the face of such challenges, Islamist populism may appear an attractive way to construct a new national identity and to promote unity, but the commitment of the protagonists of this worldview to democracy is unclear. The single-minded focus of Islamist groups and their militia allies on a harsh form of “political isolation” could sideline many individuals with the requisite experience and skills to reconstruct the state institutions vital to the legitimization of democracy. These are also the institutions upon which a new conception of Libyan citizenship must ultimately rest.


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