By Ann Tsurtsumia-Zurabashvili (@TsurtsumiaA )
The Georgian Dream Coalition, which has ruled the country and held a majority in parliament since the elections of 2012, has dissolved just months before the next parliamentary elections.
Although the major opposition and the former ruling party, the United National Movement, began to speculate about the possible break-up of the ruling coalition much earlier, the dissolution has occurred in the run up to the next elections.
The Georgian Dream – Democratic Party emerged only in 2012 when its billionaire founder, Bidzina Ivanishvili, stepped onto the Georgian political stage. At that time, Ivanishvili established a coalition for the parliamentary elections, uniting the Republicans, Free Democrats, Conservatives, Industrialists, the National Forum, and a few independent politicians under the umbrella of the Georgian Dream.
The Georgian Dream party (GD) itself has always held a leading role in the coalition and, accordingly, GD party candidates dominated the electoral list and, later, cabinet of ministers in the government.
The first signs of discord in the coalition came in November 2014, when the Free Democrats, led by the former Defense minister, Irakli Albania, split from the coalition. With this move, the Free Democrats (FD) also lost all their leading positions in Parliament and government. FD still has a group (10 lawmakers) in the current parliament, but is in opposition to the current government.
The Republican Party, which was founded in 1978 and is based on liberal values, has always been viewed as the number two of the coalition. The Republicans strengthened their position inside the coalition, especially after the Free Democrats left: they have the chairman of the parliament, a parliamentary group, and three ministers in the cabinet (one of them being the Defense ministry).
Former PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, who founded GD party and the coalition, spoke about the need for a reshuffle in October 2015, when he noted that at least half of the current lawmakers from the ruling coalition may not appear on the party list of candidates for 2016 parliamentary elections.
Ivanishvili, although he holds no official position, is regarded as the informal ruler of the coalition and the government. Thus, his statement carried a clear message that the future of the parties inside the coalition was uncertain.
Beginning in March 2016, the Republicans announced about the “strategic partnership” deal with the Georgian Dream party. However, the essence of the particular partnership was never explained to the public as it became apparent that the Republicans were simply fighting for extra places on the electoral list.
The possible bilateral deal with the Republicans was confirmed by the Prime Minister, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who stated that the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG), was considering a partnership agreement with the Republican Party and that others within the coalition would have to join if GD was to remain a multi-party entity for the October 2016 parliamentary elections.
However, PM Kvirikashvili also added: “GD Party will of course be renewed to a significant extent and there will be a consolidation over joint goals. Overall, if we run in the elections as a coalition, the team will unite over very clear goals, which are based on our best values and traditions and of course on a consensus over Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic future.”
Interestingly, the Georgian Dream coalition has united parties of different values and visions and for that reason was often referred as an eclectic creation, bringing together left, right, socialists and conservatives.
By mid-March, divisions between the ruling majority parties became evident. In particular, two of them – the Industrialists and Republicans – were engaged in a public confrontation for weeks. Furthermore, one of the leaders of the Industrialist Party, MP Gogi Topadze, accused Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli of the Republican Party of manipulating Sagarejo MP by-election results in October 2015.
By the end of March 2016, the Republicans announced that they had decided what they were going to do at the upcoming elections. However, the public waited for the statement for three days, suspecting that the Republicans were taking final attempts to agree on their terms for the elections.
On March 31, the Chairperson of the Republican Party, Khatuna Samnidze, stated that, the party had taken its decision to run independently at a meeting on March 27 but had delayed the announcement due to the PM Kvirikashvili’s request.
Later, the Chair of the Parliament and the Republican, David Usupashvili, clarified the party’s decision. “It was clear for us that the priority of the Georgian Dream party is to run separately in the upcoming elections. We accept this reality and challenge, which is normal for a multi-party political system … To some extent, this is also a novelty in Georgian political life. Many ask how we can manage to be partners and competitors at the same time – that’s how it works; European democracy is unimaginable otherwise,” stated Usupashvili.
It is worth nothing that the break up of the Republicans from the coalition did not result in resignation of party ministers from the ruling cabinet. Furthermore, Republicans confirmed that they would continue working as a team in the government, until the PM decides to dismiss them.
Even after the Republicans left, the Georgian Dream did not confirm the dissolution of the coalition. Only later did formal statements come from the Conservatives and the National Forum confirming their decision to run independently in the elections. Only the Industrialists abstained from a formal divorce.
The Georgian Dream party is expected to hold its party convention next month and promises to present its electoral list for the next elections.
On April 13, 2016 the National Democratic Institute (NDI) published the recent nationwide opinion polls. According to the survey, 61% of Georgians are undecided about their vote in the parliamentary elections. The polls demonstrated 16% support for Georgian Dream and 15% for the major opposition party, the United National Movement.
In October 2016, Georgia’s political parties need to overcome a 5% threshold in order to qualify for parliament. With the current political setting, it will be necessary to create coalitions within the parliament only after the election, something which will itself be unprecedented in the history of independent Georgia.