Presidential election – another key moment for Georgia’s future

The October 27 presidential election will represent a test that will reveal whether Georgia’s electorate will give priority to a personality or a party, thinks Kornely Kakachia, Associate Professor at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University and Director of the Georgian Institute of Politics, a local think tank. According to him, the true foreign policy priorities of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream Coalition (GDC) will become fully visible only following the elections.

Georgia Today sat down with Kakachia to ask why he thinks so and what his views and predictions are regarding the future political developments in the country.

Q: Having former Education Minister Giorgi Margvelashvili as the presidential candidate of the Georgian Dream Coalition (GDC), former-Parliamentary Speaker Davit Bakradze as the candidate of the United National Movement (UNM) and former Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze as the key rivals in the forthcoming parliamentary elections, how would you estimate their chances given their current ratings (45%, 48% and 5% respectively)? Do you think there will be a need for a second round?

A: In general I think that the presidential election will be a serious test for the public. It’s really interesting that we still can’t predict who will be elected, I mean we have to see what’s more important for our society – a personality or a party. If people decide to give preference to a person, then Bakradze has a real chance. He has more experience in politics than Margvelashvili and will win the campaign battle I think. It’s very interesting that Bakradze’s only negative feature is his affiliation with the UNM, but since he has not been directly associated with the team blamed for the alleged crime, he has an opportunity to become the frontrunner.

However, if the public decides to vote for a party, then Margvelashvili will have a real chance to become the president. For me, the best solution would be Bakradze’s victory since he would play a balancing role in the political developments and control Ivanishvili’s government.

By the way, I think that this election and the aftermath will be the very important period for our future. The election’s outcome will provide answers to some important questions, such as what kind of political forces will enter into political game – will we continue our pro-Western course? Another important issue is the future plans of Saakashvili and Ivanishvili. Saakashvili announced that he will not quit politics, while Ivanishvili has said that he will resign soon after the election.

It’s also important that Ivanishvili frequently notes that he wants to see a third political party enter Georgian politics. This should happen naturally. To make this happen artificially would not work because in such a situation, this party would just play the government’s games. So, what kind of political forces Ivanishvili plans to support, to which party he will give a chance to, we will see this fall. And of course, I am curious to know where he wants to go and when. The worst scenario would be if he resigned, but maintained his influence.

Q: The leaders of the UNM stated that the party will be rebranded, while Georgian Dream leaders announce their desire to see this party fall apart. Do you think that Saakashvili’s party has a chance to survive?

A: I think that the UNM as it is now doesn’t have a future, even the rebranding will not help. They need to select new faces, fresh politicians and create a new party within the UNM base, even with a new name. In this process, Saakashvili will also play a crucial role. What he will do after the election as a citizen is very important and will decide the future of his party. If he continues to stay in politics, his party will end up divided. So I think that the best way for him to approach this situation is by observing political silence for about four years. In such a situation his party has a future.

Q: You have mentioned Ivanishvili’s plans to quit politics. What are the consequences of such a scenario?

A: If Ivanishvili resigns, the coalition will be dismissed. The radical part of Ivanishvili’s coalition, which politically sympathizes with Nino Burjanadze, doesn’t like the Republican Party. And now Ivanishvili is trying not to lose this part. The Republican Party members have more experience in politics, have good command of foreign languages, ambitions and all these things have annoyed the other part of the coalition. So, frequently, GDC supporters say that they voted for Ivanishvili and not for the Republican Party. But so long as they have a common enemy – the United National Movement, they will stay undivided. The UNM is actually what unites them.

If the Georgian Dream ends up fractioned, we will see pro-Russian forces coming into the political fold. This is why I would not approve of when the UNM, Free Democrats and The Republican Party confront each other. If Bakradze takes the second place in the election, it may keep them as a party. But Burjanadze is also striving for the second place. Her idea is to make people see how high the pro-Russian mood is in the country.

Q: The biggest doubts about Bidzina Ivanishvili and his team have been related to foreign policy priorities. So given what we have witnessed after his coming to power, what is your assessment – is he pro-Western or pro-Russian?

A: Ivanishvili himself has no experience in politics. But his team is balanced: there are pro-Russian and pro-Western members. Actually, the real foreign policy priorities will become more visible only after the presidential elections. We can judge by his choice of whom to support. Drawing comparisons with Ukraine is not relevant so far, as the government also includes pro-Western forces.

Q: There is criticism that Ivanishvili’s communication with the West is weak. His team blames Saakashvili for ‘black’ PR and lobbyism against him. But Ivanishvili is a billionaire himself… So where is the problem in your view?

A: The UNM had a very good platform. Over the past nine years they established very good networks. They have good communication with the EU and the top politicians in the US. They also speak foreign languages. Yes, Ivanishvili has cash but he would need around three years to make it work.

Q: Over this past year, has Georgia got any closer or further in terms of NATO membership?

A: I don’t expect any serious success in terms of getting closer with NATO membership, including the Membership Action Plan. At least, it would be a big surprise. I think at the next NATO summit they will encourage us, offer to participate in peacekeeping missions. Skeptical member countries within NATO have very strong positions. Ivanishvili’s effort to mend ties with Russia is very important to them.

The West is watching us. They have not made a final diagnosis. Some foreign politicians don’t like the Ivanishvili government, some of them observe the situation, and there are some who like his team. So the EU and the US are now processing the information they receive from Georgia.

Q: You’ve just said that many observers would like Ivanishvili successful in restoring relations with Russia. The PM’s team has already made some steps to thaw ties, but almost simultaneously we see quite hostile maneuvers across the conditional border in the South Ossetian conflict zone. Do you think that the response is adequate? How would you estimate the negotiation process?

A: Russia’s position is very natural: they want to restore relations with Georgia in this new reality, compromising anything. In addition, Georgia must say no to NATO and join the Eurasian Union instead. This is a political and economic union comprised of Belarus Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan Russia, Tajikistan and other post-Soviet states. If we join the union, there is a theoretical chance to return our territories in the form of a confederation. But once again, it’s only a theoretical chance.

Q: After eight months in power, what’s the main success of the Ivanishvili government? And what are their biggest mistakes so far?

A: Highlighting his mistakes, I have to say that the government has not worked out a comprehensive economic strategy, as well as their views on international politics. They have also failed to establish communication with the West. They do not seem to have a plan how to push through the reforms. The economic situation is not good. The authorities have strained relations with the business community. The criminal situation is getting worse.

Concerning the success, I can’t see it as such. But we can observe some positive steps in terms of social programs. Also, the government has become accessible and open to the media, and many questions are being asked. There are good signs with regard to political pluralism too.

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