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Monday, October 22, 2012

Georgia’s October 2012 Legislative Election: Outcome and Implications

Jim Nichol
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

Georgia’s continued sovereignty and independence and its development as a free market democracy have been significant concerns to successive Congresses and Administrations. The United States and Georgia signed a Charter on Strategic Partnership in early 2009 pledging U.S. support for these objectives, and the United States has been Georgia’s largest provider of foreign and security assistance. Most recently, elections for the 150-member Parliament of Georgia on October 1, 2012, have been viewed as substantially free and fair by most observers. Several Members of Congress and the Administration have called for a peaceful transition of political power in Georgia and have vowed continued support for Georgia’s development and independence.

In the run-up to the October 2012 election, Georgia’s Central Electoral Commission registered 16 parties and blocs and several thousand candidates to run in mixed party list and single-member constituency races. A new electoral coalition, Georgia Dream—set up by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili—posed the main opposition to President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement, which held the majority of legislative seats. A video tape of abuse in a prison released by Georgia Dream late in the campaign seemed to be a factor in the loss of voter support for the United National Movement and in the electoral victory of Georgia Dream. According to observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the election freely reflected the will of the people, although a few procedural and other problems were reported.

In the days after the election, Saakashvili, Ivanishvili, and other officials from Georgia Dream and the United National Movement have met to plan an orderly transition, including the appointment of a new cabinet. Ivanishvili has pledged that GD will continue to support Georgia’s democratization and anti-corruption efforts, and its European and Euro-Atlantic orientation.

The White House has described the election as “another milestone” in Georgia’s development as a democracy, and has called for Ivanishvili and Saakashvili to work together to ensure the country’s continued peaceful transition of power. The Administration also stated that it looked forward to strengthening the U.S.-Georgia partnership. Several Members of Congress observed the election, and several Members of the Senate issued a post-election statement commending President Saakashvili for his efforts to transform Georgia into a prosperous democracy, and pointing to the competitive and peaceful election as evidence of his success. At the same time, they raised concerns about some bickering and unrest in the wake of the election, and cautioned that the future of U.S.-Georgia relations depends on the country’s continued commitment to democratization.

Some observers have suggested that relations between the two parties in the legislature and between a Georgia Dream cabinet and the president may well be contentious in coming months, as both sides maneuver before a planned 2013 presidential election. Saakashvili is term-limited and cannot run, but the United National Movement plans to retain the presidency. Under constitutional changes, the legislature is slated to gain greater powers vis-à-vis the presidency, so a divided political situation could endure for some time. In such a case, statesmanship and a commitment to compromise and good governance are essential for Georgia’s continued democratization, these observers stress.

Date of Report: October 10, 2012
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: R42777
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