Detailed Freedom House ‘Nations in Transit’ Report on Georgia

Key Takeaways from the Georgia Narrative Report

U.S. based rights watchdog Freedom House released Nations in Transit 2020 narrative report for Georgia, which highlighted that “over the past several years, Georgia has failed to consolidate its democratic structures as key challenges have remained untouched or even intensified.”

According to the Nations in Transit 2020 scoring, published on May 6, Georgia’s overall democracy scored at 3.25, down from 3.29 recorded in 2019. The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the lowest and 7 the highest level of democratic progress.

An overall democracy score is an average of ratings for separate categories, including national governance; electoral process; civil society; independent media; local governance; judicial framework and independence; and corruption. According to the 2020 report, Georgia’s judicial framework and independence rating fell from 3.00 to 2.75, which constituted the 0.04 point decrease in overall democracy score.

The recently published narrative report details Georgia’s various political issues and key shortcomings throughout 2019.

According to the executive summary of the report, “polarization and radicalization of politics and the media space have become a new normal in Georgian political life. Citizens have grown increasingly frustrated with the government’s policies but, as of yet, have not found political shelter with the country’s opposition parties, who remain weak and unconsolidated.”

Freedom House assesses the dispersal of the June 2019 protests as the biggest blow to Georgia’s democratic development, while also noting that “the June 20-21 protests demonstrated the intimate connection between Georgia’s foreign policy and domestic political processes.” The watchdog argues that the ruling Georgian Dream party’s attempt at normalizing relations with Russia backfired in 2019, leading to the anti-Kremlin protests.

The watchdog assesses the failure to pass fully proportional electoral system, political polarization, the process for appointing new Supreme Court judges, several controversial court cases, including the money-laundering charges against Mamuka Khazaradze, former head of TBC Bank, as the key shortcomings of 2019.

“With the upcoming parliamentary elections in the fall, 2020 will be a decisive year for Georgia’s democracy. Should the country again fail to improve the quality of elections, the pattern of a stagnant hybrid regime will be more firmly established, with negative implications for Georgia’s European ambitions. The year will also be crucial for reshaping the political landscape,” – the report states.

Below are the key takeaways from the individual categories that make up the overall democracy score.

Judicial Framework and Independence score decreased from 3.00 to 2.75 during 2019. According to Freedom House, “in 2019, Georgian justice system was dominated by controversial court cases, the June police violence and the politically loaded process of recruiting new judges to the Supreme Court.” According to the report, money laundering charges against TBC Bank’s Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze and the father of the owner of TV Pirveli, Avtandil Tsereteli also “raised questions about the independence of the judiciary and apparent evidence of selective justice.” Freedom House argues that the issue of police violence during the June protests was not properly addressed and also cites Luka Siradze’s death after attempted suicide as another case of mistreatment by the police.

National Democratic Governance score remains unchanged, at 2.50 out of seven. The watchdog notes that Georgia’s political system “continued to be controlled by informal governance in 2019.” The report cites the June 20-21 protests, police crackdown and the following arrests and “administrative imprisonment of 121 persons who were prevented from exercising their right to a fair trial” as the main event of 2019. According to the watchdog, Georgia’s political opposition has remained “weak and appeared rather unattractive to the majority of protest voters.” Freedom House also argues that the “last bastion of political opposition fell” after Salome Zurabishvili’s election, which was also reflected by the sharp decline of the popularity of the president’s office.

Electoral Process score remained at 3.25 out of 7.00, with the Freedom House stating that “Georgian elections are marred by many shortcomings, including an uneven playing field, use of administrative resources by the ruling party, imbalances in donations, and a polarized media landscape.” The failure to pass fully proportional electoral system reform is assessed as the main issue regarding elections in 2019.

Civil Society score remained at 4.25, the highest out of the individual categories. The U.S. watchdog positively assesses the Georgian civic sector, stating that CSOs continued to be very active throughout the year. According to Freedom House, “both Georgian and international NGOs critical of the government became the subject of official criticism and verbal attacks. The report highlights Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili’s claims that NGOs are hated by Georgian society and that U.S. organizations such as IRI and NDI produced biased polls, accusing these groups of supporting the opposition.

Independent Media score remains at 3.75 out of 7. Freedom House assesses Georgia’s media landscape as “pluralistic and vibrant but also very polarized in 2019, with biased editorial policies at key media outlets.” Developments at Adjara Public Broadcaster, Rustavi 2 and TV Pirveli are highlighted as key concerns regarding the country’s media landscape. The report cites Georgian NGOs and watchdogs assessment of Natia Kapanadze’s dismissal by the Adjara TV’s advisory boards, stating that Kapanadze’s dismissal is a “continuation of the negative trend in the country, which is aimed at worsening the media environment and strengthens doubts about possible interference.” Freedom House also notes that ” the takeover of Rustavi 2, and the way in which it was accomplished, was indicative of the broader trend in Georgia of trying to sideline voices critical of the government. Another media-related issue highlighted in the report was the charges brought against the father of the owner of TV Pirveli, Avtandil Tsereteli, in relation with a money-laundering scandal, allegedly conducted 11 years ago. The watchdog notes that although there was no systematic violence against journalists, “many were injured during the clashes between police and protesters on June 20.”

Local Democratic Governance score has also remained unchanged, at 2.75. According to the watchdog, despite the many ups and downs of the decentralization reform in Georgia, “the GD-led government has initiated a number of decentralization reforms, which have introduced some positive aspects to the country’s otherwise centralized governance.”

Corruption score remains at 3.50, with the watchdog noting that although Georgia “remains a regional champion of fighting petty corruption, high-level corruption remains a serious challenge in the country.” Freedom House argues that the Georgian Dream “like its predecessor, failed to tackle systemic corruption.”

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