By Shu Uchida, PhD student at the University of Coimbra
Saakashvili was the democratic champion in Georgia and even for the region right after the rose revolution in 2003, eradicating corruption at the level of the police force and conducting numerous reforms. However, he gained exceptional political power in Georgia as president, and he gradually began to operate in a corrupt manner. Eventually, he decided to wage war with South Ossetia in order to incorporate it into the Tbilisi Administrative Territories (TAT) by force, which incited Russian intervention. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” as John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton once said; this was exactly what occurred in Georgia. The Georgian people even became fearful of the despotism of the Saakashvili administration. Nonetheless, we cannot attribute solely to Saakashvili as an individual, responsibility for the 2008 war. Russia also played a role. More importantly, the volatility and vulnerability of Georgian institutions and political systems at that time must also be blamed since the President of Georgia was able to wage war hastily because of exceptionally strong political power based on the constitution of Georgia.
Because of internal pressure, demarche from the international community, and release of video footage of inhuman treatment of prison inmates, the Saakashvili administration lost the parliamentary election in October, 2012, and Ivanishvili became prime minister with substantial political power because of Saakashvili’s constitutional amendments. While not Saakashvili’s intention, decentralization and dispersion of power was achieved, and a political balance of power between the president and prime minister was also accomplished to some degree in Georgia. It came about unintentionally for Saakashvili based on his constitutional amendments, however, the most important thing is the fact that it was achieved by the Georgians themselves who succeeded in conducting free and fair elections three times in 2012, 2013, and 2016.
The U.S. National Democratic Institute (NDI) polls (2016), conducted in Georgia from February 23 to May 24, 2016 showed the results as follows: when they were asked “what are the most important national issues (name up to three),” 57%: employment, 35%: inflation, 30%: poverty, 26%: pensions, 23%: territorial integrity, 18%: wages, 18%: affordable healthcare, 13%: education, 12%: relations with Russia, 11%: human rights, 9%: restoration of justice, 6%: NATO membership, 6%: fair elections, 5%: freedom of speech, 4%: crime, and 3%: EU membership. Interestingly, territorial integrity was the second biggest issue with 36% voting by interviewees according to the same poll conducted in February 2012, and fair election was seventh biggest issue with 16% voting conducted in June 2012. The variation from 16% in 2012, to 5% in 2016 regarding fair elections is proof of the fact that the free and fair election objective has achieved to date, been achieved; and it is not the big issue for Georgians as it once was. Also, people are concerned with their daily life more than current political or security issues. It means now that Georgia is in a solid phase of development, not the fragile post-conflict situation. Hence, economic stability and creating more job opportunities must be top priority for the government now, and people expect improvements in these spheres to be delivered by the government. Economic development is crucial for achieving sustainable peace in Georgia. Political and security issues, however, are also important because they are interrelated, one influencing the other. If armed conflict resurges, the economic foundation of the country will be devastated. Thus, conflict prevention and consolidation of peace must be also prioritized based on defense cooperation, democratization and multi-bilateral diplomacy, as well as societal, human, and economic development including protection of ethnic minorities and vulnerable groups e.g., IDPs. Addressing the issues of IDPs, which consist of approximately six per cent of the total population of Georgia, has a positive impact on the stability of Georgian society which leads to consolidation of peace in Georgia. Moreover, it would contribute to advancing the discussions of the humanitarian working group at the Geneva International Discussions. Euro-Atlantic integration is also important for the country’s interest because it would have certain positive influences on security as well as the economy in Georgia. Therefore, the European Union can still play a significant role for achieving sustainable peace in Georgia.
The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) on this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of CASPIAN or the universities affiliated to the project.