Illiberal Oligarchy Lurks Behind Georgia’s Democratic Façade
Georgia’s façade democracy is having an emotionally charged Fall. Spooked by spontaneous protests that erupted in the Georgian capital in June, the ruling Georgian Dream made a major concession to the public, by pledging fully proportional elections in 2020. But at the decisive moment, the Georgian Dream and its leader, Bidzina Ivanishvili backtracked.
Georgia’s foreign partners approved of the chance to once and for all let Georgia’s political divisions be decided within the Parliament, rather than on the streets. Georgians agreed too: the proportional system had, according to pollsters, 85% of public support.
Yet, the same polls suggested, that while remaining the largest party, Georgian Dream was likely to lose power in fully proportional elections. By binning the bill he himself initiated, Bidzina Ivanishvili tried to protect his oligarchic hold on power. But in doing so, he delivered a major blow to Georgia’s already crumbling democratic façade.
Much like during the seven decades of Soviet Occupation, Georgia is now governed by an unelected party chairman.
One does not emerge from Moscow of 1990s as a billionaire, like Mr. Ivanishvili did, by bowing to the public mood – or by sticking to the principles. This is not the first promise that GD had reneged on. Yet, hardly any of its political about-turns had been so blatant and so crude.
Most observers expected Ivanishvili and his party to try and cheat the proportional poll – for instance, by using his considerable financial prowess to buy the loyalty (and boost media support) of a sufficiently large number of smaller parties to narrowly cling to power. That could have been feasible, since GD has recently nurtured a cohort of “pundits” that eat from Ivanishvili’s hand, the army of social media trolls and GONGOs.
By going for the hard exit instead, GD lost its “liberal façade” when its top fresh-faced and English-speaking MPs quit in furor. But their services seem no longer needed. The oligarch has an adulterated copy of the political system ready to substitute the real one, replete with fake opposition and manipulated debate.
For years already, the pro-governmental media, its aligned plethora of online outlets, social media trolls and bots have been pushing illiberal message akin to those that gained currency in the West both on the far left and far right. Pro-governmental televisions have been carefully crafting anti-Western message wrapped in a Western-inspired shell.
If the public and western partners accept the oligarch’s faked reality, Georgian Dream victory in 2020 elections will seal the transition towards illiberal, oligarchic system.
The winter is here. And it is the winter of many a discontent.