By Eka Janashia (03/19/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On March 7, the Georgian parliament adopted amendments to the election code defining the rules for local elections, scheduled for June 15. Mayors of twelve cities, heads (gamgebeli) of all municipalities and members of municipal councils (sakrebulos) will be elected. The package of bills aims to harmonize the electoral system with a new local self-governance law foreseeing direct election of mayors and gamgebelis across the country.

Innovatively, it introduces a minimal threshold for electing mayors and gamgebelis at 50 percent. Only Tbilisi’s mayor has previously been directly elected and the threshold in the capital was set at 30 percent, implying that a candidate gathering a plurality of votes, but not less than 30 percent, would have been declared an outright winner. The minimal threshold for electing mayors and gamgebelis was the most contested issue ahead of the bill’s approval.

Initially, the Georgian Dream (GD) ruling coalition advocated a threshold at 40 and 33 percent for Tbilisi's and the other eleven cities’ mayoral candidates respectively, and 33 percent for gamgebelis. Although the non-parliamentary opposition parties and most non-governmental organizations resisted the proposal demanding to set a higher threshold, the GD claimed that this would increase the likelihood of a second round, causing additional costs for taxpayers. The GD proposal had already been included in the draft amendments, when Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili announced the coalition’s consent to a 50 percent threshold for electing both mayors and gamgebelis on February 17.

In parallel with increasing the threshold for the heads of cities and municipalities, the amendment has lowered the threshold for the city/municipal council’s party list candidates, meaning that the party garnering at least 4 percent (instead of 5 percent) will be able to secure council (sakrebulo) mandates.

Additionally, sakrebulo seats allocated for the party list contest have been raised from 10 to 15 while the number of majoritarian seats vary according to the amount of constituencies in municipalities. It is believed that the shift will ease the penetration of small parties into sakrebulos, which should ideally strengthen democratic processes at local level.

Despite the fact that after the 2010 local elections, the OSCE/ODIHR international election observation mission recommended Georgia to permit independent candidates to compete in local elections, the new amendments do not allow them to run for the mayor or gamgebeli posts. Only candidates nominated by either political parties or election blocs will be able to compete for these positions. Independent candidates nominated by so called "community initiative groups" could run only for majoritarian seats in sakrebulos. In addition, according to the amendments, a person contesting for mayor or gamgebeli posts cannot simultaneously compete for a sakrebulo mandate.

The parliamentary as well as non-parliamentary opposition parties lamented that given the scarcity of cadres locally, the rules will prevent them from nominating candidates in many constituencies.

Another set of changes refers to increased funding for parties. Election blocs or parties garnering at least 3 percent of the votes in local elections will get GEL 500,000 (US$ 289,000) from the state budget to cover campaign expenses. The bill also envisages higher funding for party representatives in election administrations.

To avoid duplications, the newly adopted amendments involves digitalization of voters’ photos, meaning that the election commission officials at each precinct will be able to verify the identity of a voter through digital photos attached to the voter list in their data base. In case of mismatch, various procedures including the submission of information to the police will be enforced.

The United National Movement (UNM) prepared an alternative draft intended to oppose the regulations set by the new amendments, enabling independent candidates to run for mayor as well as gamgebeli posts. According to the bill, a person running for mayor could concurrently compete for a sakrebulo seat as well. Nevertheless, the UNM initiative was watered down by the GD parliamentary majority on March 7.

So far, only two major political forces, the ruling GD coalition and UNM, have nominated their mayoral candidates.

Before the presidential election in October, then Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili said that he already had “in mind” who might run for Tbilisi mayor. At the coalition leaders’ meeting in November, GD nominated the minister for infrastructure and regional development, Davit Narmania for the post. Narmania, 34, insisted that he will be a technocrat rather than a political figure. He acknowledged that the 50 percent threshold is a serious challenge for the coalition but hoped to achieve outright victory in the first round.

Initially, UNM planned to appoint its mayoral candidate through primaries and named the former deputy Justice Minister, MP Giorgi Vashadze, and Tbilisi municipal official Nikoloz Melia as primary contenders. However, Vashadze shortly thereafter withdrew from the race. The move may suggest that UNM preferred to nominate a person who is less associated with the party but has a good reputation among Tbilisi citizens. Further, Melia is originally from Tbilisi, which increases his chances against Narmania who is not from the capital city and whose rating much depends on that of GD. 

Published in Field Reports

By Valeriy Dzutsev (03/19/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Russia’s support for the secession of Ukrainian Crimea is likely to affect Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Russia unilaterally recognized after the brief Russian-Georgian war of 2008. Following the open confrontation with the West over Ukraine's territorial integrity, Moscow is now ramping up its control over Georgia's breakaway territories. Russia's entrenchment in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is linked to the Russian government's general sense of entitlement to the post-Soviet space and the perceived threat of retreating from it. While there are many parallels between how the situation in Crimea evolves and that in the South Caucasian semi-recognized territories, there are also some important differences.

Article 2

Published in Analytical Articles

By Eka Janashia (the 03/05/2014 of the CACI Analyst)

Georgia's Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili met with U.S. President Barack Obama during his negotiations with Vice President Joe Biden at the White House on February 24. President Obama joined the meeting for about 20 minutes. The parties discussed the U.S.-Georgia strategic partnership, the prospects for Georgia’s integration with the EU and NATO, the necessity of continuing reforms in Georgia, as well as the perspective of closer U.S.-Georgia trade relations.

Georgia's Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze said that the PM’s meeting with President Obama was pre-planned but not announced upon the request of White House. After the meeting, Gharibashvili said that “Georgia is moving actually to a new stage of relations with the United States.” 

Both Obama’s readiness to meet with the Georgian PM and Garibashvili’s statements that the US is Georgia's “number one ally” can be taken to reflect recent developments in Ukraine.

President Obama and Vice President Biden praised Georgia for conducting its first peaceful, democratic transition of power, but also urged PM to cooperate with all of Georgia’s leaders and civil society to enhance the rule of law and consolidate Georgia’s democratic accomplishments. 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made the same points in a meeting with Gharibashvili on February 26: “We urge all Georgians to unite in looking forward and to leave the past in the past,” he said at the fourth plenary session of the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission.

Kerry stated that the bilateral “strategic partnership is stronger than ever” and proclaimed a plan to provide Georgia with "additional assistance" to help its European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations - specifically through visa-free travel with the EU - and to mitigate the heavy outcomes caused by the process of "borderization" in the occupied territories (see the 02/10/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst).

On February 25, at an event hosted by the Washington-based think-tank Atlantic Council, PM Gharibashvili said that six years ago at the NATO Summit in Bucharest, Georgia obtained the outstanding promise that it would become a member of the alliance. The pledge was reiterated at the 2012 Chicago summit when NATO underlined the importance of conducting free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections in Georgia. At the upcoming Summit in the UK in September, NATO should grant Georgia a Membership Action Plan (MAP) as a reward for fulfilling this task properly, Gharibashvili stressed.

He also called on the EU to open a membership perspective for the successful Eastern Partnership’s countries. “It is obvious that unless the European Union gives a clear promise of membership to the successful countries of the Eastern Partnership, crises similar to Ukraine will happen again and again,” he said. Gharibashvili then recalled that February 25 was the 93rd anniversary of the Bolshevik occupation of Tbilisi and urged that all efforts should be made to eschew such a tragedy in the 21st century.

The Georgian Dream ruling coalition as well as the opposition United National Movement party assessed the PM’s U.S. trip positively.

There are several reasons to assess Gharibashvili's U.S. visit positively, as it reflects a deepening institutionalization of the U.S. - Georgia Strategic Partnership. At the same time, U.S. statements make clear that reconciliation between Georgia's political forces and looking forward rather than dwelling on the past is essential to augment more political support from the U.S.

The U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership draws upon the charter signed by the two countries in January, 2009, to deal with the priority areas of democracy; defense and security; trade and economy; people-to-people and cultural exchanges. In 2012, then Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili requested a U.S.-Georgia free trade agreement (FTA) and President Obama promised to explore the possibilities for such an agreement. At the recent meeting with the Georgian PM, the U.S. president suggested that the two countries should boost trade and deepen economic cooperation. In this context, the Georgian PM met with the U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to discuss the issue in detail.

However, the most important issue raised during the tour was that, given Ukraine’s’ ongoing tensions with Moscow, Washington might become more motivated to again raise the issue with other NATO members of granting Georgia a MAP. Meanwhile, the declaration of "additional assistance" for Georgia to smooth the progress of European integration also represents a tangible outcome of the visit.

On the other hand, the course of events in Ukraine may push Tbilisi to revise its normalization policy with Russia. Georgia's new government has never previously made such clear and principled statements on this issue as it did during the U.S. trip. In addition, Tbilisi was quick to welcome the formation of a new government in Ukraine and strongly condemned the developments taking place in Crimea. “The distribution of [Russian] passports, reinforcing military infrastructure and units by Russia on the territory of another state, as well as the decision to protect with armed forces the ‘interests of compatriots’ living in Ukraine, represent flagrant interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state,” president Giorgi Margvelashvili’s statement reads.

Meanwhile, parliamentary speaker David Usuphashvili called on the international community not to allow a new conflict in Europe and apply all measures to avert a possible aggression.

On March 3, Georgia's Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze had a telephone conversation with her acting Ukrainian counterpart, Andriy Deschytsya. They discussed the Crimean crises and agreed on the necessity of providing Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova an explicit perspective of EU membership.

Published in Field Reports

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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