Georgia, 2021 - Another Bipolar

Year (Chief Analyst Review)

The year 2021 is over and it is possible to summarize some of the results of what is happening on the Georgian political map. As in previous years, the main topic on last year's political agenda was the confrontation between the "National Movement" and the "Georgian Dream":

Suicide of the National Movement:

After 2012, the support of the National Movement and Mikheil Saakashvili was steadily 20-25%. Support did not decrease, but neither did it increase, due to the sharply negative attitude of the rest of the society towards Mikheil Saakashvili and his former government team. The first attempt to emerge from this swamp was in 2018, when the presidential candidate - Grigol Vashadze - was nominated not by the National Movement, but (even formally) by a coalition that included Saakashvili's former opponents too. At the same time, Vashadze himself was not part of Saakashvili's criminal team (law enforcement agencies) and even modestly distanced himself from the Saakashvili regime's actions, such as raid against peaceful demonstration November 7, 2007. Result: Almost 40% in the first round of elections. This result could not be increased in the second round, for a number of reasons, including: because in the end it was not possible to distance itself from Saakashvili, which was very conveniently used by the ruling team and they even built their strategy on it.

Nika Melia, the next chairman of UNM and Vashadze's "successor", tried to continue the same strategy with a new force in the 2020 elections. He further distanced himself from the criminal past of Saakashvili and the United National Movement (for example, he blocked former Interior Minister Merabishvili even to enter the party office, said he had taken part in rallies against Saakashvili in 2007 and 2008, etc.). As a result, Melia was the only one who managed to win the first round in Gldani constituency according even to official data. After the election, Melia's course brought even more results - a boycott of Ivanishvili's one-party parliament, international isolation of the regime (several US senators and MEPs also spoke out about international sanctions).

Suddenly, Melia's course took a hit from within: Saakashvili felt that in the face of international pressure, the government could soon change and Nika Melia, who not only became the leader of the United National Movement but also gained the support of other opposition parties, could become prime minister. The internal "coup" was supported by the so-called The "old team", the same "Mishists", among whom the most prominent figure is Gvaramia, the head of the TV company "Mtavari", Eka Kherkheulidze, Nugzar Tsiklauri, Gia Baramidze and others.

In the first round of the 2021 local elections, Melia was unable to fully realize his visions: for example, he wanted to be an independent candidate for Tbilisi mayor without N5, but he categorically refused to do so from Saakashvili. He did not manage to form a broad coalition, but in the end in the first round he still improved the result of the party - more than 30%.

The problems started on the evening of the first round of voting: Saakashvili returned to Georgia and from that moment on he attracted all the attention. He forced his party to replace the main message "Change Ivanishvili's regime" with the new message "Free Misha" before the second round, which significantly reduced Melia's supporters. Melia tried to imitate a multi-party coalition before the second round and stressed that he would be the candidate of the coalition and not the National Movement, but this process lost all meaning: the so-called Coalition's election campaign was held amid huge portraits of Saakashvili and shouts of "Free Misha." The anti-Misha electorate was lost for Melia: in the second round they either stayed at home or supported the ruling party candidates.

After that, the "Melia line" was completed and the process was fully carried out at the behest of Saakashvili, which traditionally took the form of a grotesque: a 50-day hunger strike accompanied by honey, puree and porridge, which of course was intensively covered by state television. Opposition TV stations, for their part, claimed that the government was "torturing" Saakashvili because he needed urgent treatment. After Saakashvili was transferred to a medical facility, some of his supporters claimed that he was being irradiated at a Gori hospital, Nika Gvaramia said, adding that he could be abducted by Ossetians to Tskhinvali. The "personal doctor" said that in order to rehabilitate him, it was necessary to send Saakashvili to rest in Austria. These statements became so grotesque that even alternative council created by the Public Defender distanced themself from these statements. It is noteworthy that neither Melia nor the other leaders of the coalition could or did not oppose Saakashvili's plan (Saakashvili-controlled TV stations called any attempt to criticize his own tactics a betrayal). Grotesque strategy "worked": The number of people at the rallies has dropped from tens of thousands to several hundred. The grotesque finale became the so-called "Permanent" hunger strike in the office of the National Movement, which officially ended on January 1.

Throughout this process, in addition to the National Movement, Saakashvili's plan actively involved 3-4 opposition channels, even those who previously held relatively moderate and centrist positions (eg Formulaand TV Pirveli). Saakashvili is the founder and builder of the Georgian state, and his arrest is "ordered by Putin." – they claimed. Sources close to the UNM claim that the media's position is largely due to their direct financing by Saakashvili.

Bankruptcy of Liberalism:

One of the decisive factors in the collapse of the UNM and its satellites in 2021 was the ideological factor: the UNM openly supported the LGBT Pride scheduled for July 5, and the Georgian Dream said that the Pride did not conform to Georgian national traditions.

National Movement hoped to gain the unconditional support of the West. As a result, the West has virtually no or failed to notice July 5, but much of Georgian society, critical of Ivanishvili's regime and seeking a political alternative, has ruled out the National Movement from the short list of possible alternatives. To use the paraphrase of the famous expression, the action of the National Movement on July 5 is "more than a mistake", the point is that the LGBT pride is unacceptable not only for the majority of Georgian society, but also for a very important part of the UNM electorate. As a result, the attempt to hold a protest rally against the violence organized or allowed by the government on July 5 ended with a gathering of 700-800 people.

Instead, the Georgian Dream responded to the topic from a tactical point of view: "Moderately" distanced itself from Pride, "moderately" punished the perpetrators, and left the public feeling that they opposed "Western perversion".

Exactly similar processes developed in connection with the forced vaccination campaign. The UNM supported the forced vaccination of an urgent 2/3 of the population, while Prime Minister Gharibashvili advocated relatively lenient measures.

Georgian Dream: Clay-footed Godol

The ruling party already exists on the verge of legitimacy today. According to official data, his support in the second round in the big cities amounted to slightly more than 50%, and if we take as a given the axiom of post-Soviet Georgia, that in this number 20-25% of the so-calledAdministrative resource (public officials, socially vulnerable and criminal world), it can be said that the regime exists only at the expense of the fact that there is no (yet) political alternative to the government.

The ruling team has left all the slightly more serious figures: starting with the Prime Minister Gakharia and ending with the Speaker of the Parliament - Kuchava. In practice, only Ivanishvili's wordless obedient dolls remained in the ruling team (the only exception can be considered the mayor of the capital).

The situation is very similar to the 2000s or early 2010s, when the current regime (Shevardnadze - 2000, Saakashvili - 2010) went completely bankrupt, although the existing alternative is even more unacceptable to the public (Abashidze, Gachechiladze), but as soon as a real alternative is created Falls quickly (Saakashvili - 2003, Ivanishvili - 2012).

The statistics of the last elections show that there are 2.2 million real voters in Georgia, although no more than 1.9 million people participate in all the recent elections. Consequently, there is a reserve of more than 300,000 people who do not support any of the current political forces and who are likely to play a crucial role in shaping the future government.

The West leaves the Caucasus:

Georgia has been a junior partner of the West since 1992, and all governments have heeded all Western "recommendations" regarding Georgia's domestic or foreign policy. Changes of government in Georgia (usually in agreement with Russia) took place at the behest of the West. In return, the West provided legitimacy and financial support for corrupt and often unpopular regimes.

Dramatic changes in this regard began in the second half of 2021. In the first half of the year, an agreement was signed between the government and the relatively loyal opposition through the mediation of the President of the EU Council - Charles Michel, which provided for minor restrictions on absolute power (eg increase the opposition component in the election administration, increase the role of the opposition in appointing judges). In the second half of the year, the ruling team unilaterally refused to implement this agreement, which was an unprecedented event in modern Georgian politics, but the EU left the move virtually unresponsive. The only action taken by Brussels was to suspend € 80 million in aid, although the ruling party said Georgia no longer needed it. Criticism from some (mostly close to the UNM) MEPs was followed by harsh responses from Prime Minister Gharibashvili. A similar tone was chosen for American diplomats. Nevertheless, it is clear that Washington did not make high-level statements Nor about Saakashvili's arrest and hunger strike. It can be considered that Washington has no decision and strategy regarding Georgia.

It is noteworthy that the joint diplomatic attack of Brussels and Washington a few months ago was followed by an unprecedented reaction from Moscow: a public statement by Russian foreign intelligence about the inadmissibility of interference in the internal affairs of Georgia by the west.

This should not be construed as replacing a uniquely pro-Western foreign course with pro-Russian. It is important for Ivanishvili that foreign actors do not interfere in the internal affairs of his authoritarian and corrupt regime. On the other hand it has no geopolitical or value conflicts with the West. Russia is not a geopolitical choice for him, but a spare aerodrome in case Western pressure intensifies. Georgia is not yet Belarus, but Ivanishvili has made it clear to the West that if they interfere in his internal affairs, this option is in fact debatable. It was within the framework of this balancing policy that Georgia did not attend the 3 + 3 (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkey, Iran) meeting, although ambiguous statements were made, including From Ankara that Georgia is expected in the next meetings. "It all depends on how much the West bothers us with its recommendations," Ivanishvili thinks.

Other political players:

Other political players in Georgia still play a minor role. The so-called Expectations for a "third force" have risen sharply since the resignation of Prime Minister Gakharia in the spring, but those expectations have plummeted since his first appearance: the platform "Bidzina is good, but Kobakhidze is bad", significantly narrowed his electorate. Gakharia's rating is rapidly declining even after the elections, mainly not at the expense of any dramatic mistake, but at the expense of inaction. If early parliamentary elections are not held in 2022, it is likely that his political party will join the ranks of those whose main political task is to cross the threshold.

Even more bleak is the perspective of other parties that are constantly faced with the dilemma: either to act independently and lose sponsors and media support, or to act at the behest of sponsors and the media and thus move either in the orbit of Ivanishvili or Saakashvili. This dilemma has already cost the once very promising political teams: Strategy Builder, Girchi, Elisashvili's team, and in 2022 is likely to sacrifice: the prospects of Ana Dolidze, Alt Info and Elene Khoshtaria as well.

Finally, as for the initiative of President Salome Zurabishvili, the so-called On National Reconciliation. We think this is as grotesque as Saakashvili's hunger strike. In fact, Zurabishvili can not offer anything to the opposing parties (except champagne), as he has no mandate from the people, nor from Ivanishvili, and in principle, from the opposition. So his only function (as in the case of pardoning Rurua and Ugulava) will be to pardon Saakashvili if Ivanishvili makes that decision (if Saakashvili refuses to participate in Georgian politics in the future).

Based on all the above, what can we expect in 2022?

• The collapse of Saakashvili's strategy has already fueled skepticism in and around the UNM. Giga Bokeria has openly opposed Saakashvili's team, Nika Melia, Elene Khoshtaria, Girchi, as well as some members of parliament who are formally in the bloc with the National Movement, but are not actually participating in the political process;

• For the same reason, financial difficulties and temporary suspension of Mtavari TV are expected;

• Ivanishvili will continue to form new parties in addition to the existing satellite parties: in the first half of the year, one of such parties will be founded by his lawyer, Viktor Kipiani. Real or nominal distance of Kakhi Kaladze from the ruling team is not ruled out.

• The pressure on Ivanishvili's regime is likely to be intensified not by the West, but by Russia: what Georgia is asking for is to participate in the 3 + 3 format and renounce NATO. Any false start in this direction can lead to the same processes that led to Gavrilov's visit in 2019 and give a kind of impetus to the "reset" of Georgian politics.