Voters in the small Caucasian nation must choose their parliament at a time of economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. For observers, the country’s future hangs between Europe and Russia. Exiled former President Saakashvili is trying to make a comeback. Opposition groups are seeking unity but opinion polls favour the ruling party.
Tbilisi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Georgians go to the polls tomorrow to elect the country’s parliament amid political uncertainty, economic crisis and the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Outside observers are closely monitoring the election to see whether the small nation of 3.7 million will turn towards Europe or Russia.
In recent years, the incumbent government has tried to play both sides, being pro-Western whilst acting in Russia’s interest.
For exiled former President Mikhei Saakashvili, who is the main opposition leader and head of the United National Movement, the last few hours before the vote provided an opportunity for a virtual rally, with supporters waving the country’s red and white flag.
Gathered in the capital’s main square, where Lenin’s statute once stood, Saakashvili’s supporters tried to give a final shove to the ruling Georgian Dream government led by billionaire Boris “Bidzina” Ivanishvili, who already served as prime minister in 2012.
The latest public opinion polls put the ruling coalition in the lead, thanks to the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, a sudden spike in cases at the start of autumn (35,000 and 273 deaths) and the economic crisis, plus widespread corruption and hostility from Brussels and Washington, have changed the situation and the outcome is now more uncertain.
According to political analyst Gia Nodia, the ruling party "controls all levers of power and justice" and will use its position of strength "to strike at the opposition". If it is defeated, it would be a first for the country.
One of the novelties in this election is the attempt by opposition forces to close ranks and create a single alliance after years of quarrels and divisions that have favoured the ruling party.
Ordinary Georgians have been critical of the current government for its failure to fulfil its promises, like improving wages and pensions.
For one anonymous protester, those in power have done nothing. “Things were better under the Soviet Union,” she said. “We can't take it anymore and we don't trust the police or even the justice system.”
Nodar Kharchiladze, a political scientist at the Georgian Strategic Analysis Center (GSAC) in Tbilisi, the ruling party claims it is not pro-Russia, but facts tell a different story. For example, the decision to put on hold the deep-sea port project in Anaklia is a case in point. Had it been built it would have boosted the country’s autonomy.
The pro-government reply comes from Thea Tsulukiani, long-time supporter of Ivanishvili and former Minister of Justice. “We have guaranteed stability,” she explained. “And, for the first time, we have managed to make the nation live in peace.”