Georgians Gear Up for ‘Unprecedented’ Election Mobilization

On the evening of May 28, after the ruling Georgian Dream party overrode the president’s veto of the ‘foreign agents’ law, the mood on Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Avenue was not of confrontation that many expected.

Police left early, and anti-riot squads hung around their buses in nearby Freedom Square with little to do. Crowds of demonstrators had gathered around the parliament as planned, but the energy could hardly match the fervor and anger the place had witnessed during the past weeks of fierce resistance.

Some frustration was clearly visible, and images of some dismayed protesters tearing up made rounds on social media. Yet a bigger factor was that many activists had already shifted their focus elsewhere: to the October 26 parliamentary elections.

A group of protesters split off from the rally at the parliament to organize a spontaneous march. Their first stop was the Orbeliani Palace, the residence of President Salome Zurabishvili, who has actively opposed the law with all her little official powers.

“Thank you! Thank you!” the marchers chanted as they reached their destination. The cheering was less about Zurabishvili’s past struggle against the controversial law and more about the president’s newly revealed determination to lead the efforts of pro-Western and pro-democracy Georgians to change the illiberal government through legislative elections in October.

In a landmark Independence Day speech two days before her veto was overridden, the President called the upcoming elections a “referendum” between a “European, democratic, independent Georgia, or a Russian-led, authoritarian, and isolated Georgia.”

Later the same day, she unveiled the “Georgian Charter” – a roadmap for achieving victory in October. The President offered herself as the guarantor of democratic transition by proposing a “technical, non-partisan government” if the opposition wins. According to her roadmap, the new government would then help pass democratic and EU-requested reforms and lead the country to free and fair early elections in 2025.

Don’t panic – organize!

The President wisely side-stepped the issue of how the opposition parties would run in the elections. The October elections will be fully proportional, with a 5% threshold. While some – including ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili – have floated the idea of a unified opposition list, it remains controversial. There is a fear that a single list with Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) may alienate many new anti-government voters. The voters give UNM, a former ruling party, a negative rating comparable to that of the Georgian Dream.

While the president’s initiative has been widely welcomed, the road to its implementation is going to be bumpy. With the polling day approaching, opposition remains fragmented. In the highly personalized world of Georgia’s politics, the clash of egos while forming the lists will likely lead to disputes and drag the process out.

Meanwhile, activist groups are once again taking matters into their own hands. The newly passed law will force civil society groups to undergo onerous registration procedures by the end of August or the beginning of September. Activists think the government will target the local election watchdogs first, opening the way for the ruling party to hijack the vote. They see recent controversial amendments to the election code as an additional step in that direction. As a result, many are mobilizing as volunteer observers to protect the vote.

Opponents of the “foreign agents” law protesting in front of the parliament on May 28, 2024. Photo: Guram Muradov/

“Election victory requires joint efforts of citizens, of each of us who have fought in the streets for a month and a half or supported the protests in or outside Georgia,” Shame Movement, an activist group, said in a statement. The group has distributed an online form to fill out for those willing to take part in “self-organizing,” where volunteers can pick the activity they’d like to contribute to – from election observation to door-to-door canvassing, volunteering during rallies, or mobilizing emigres to vote.

Other parallel initiatives are also emerging. Many of those who volunteered and mobilized during the protests in recent weeks are now joining a new Facebook group called “Protect,” a platform that aims to “organize an unprecedented number of observers for the 2024 elections.”

Particular attention is paid to the participation of the Georgian diaspora. Hundreds of thousands of Georgians have emigrated over the past three decades. (According to official data, 344,633 Georgian citizens emigrated in the three years from 2021 to 2023, and 185,827 Georgian citizens returned from emigration.) Still, their participation in the elections has hardly made a difference – despite the fact that their votes were overwhelmingly favoring the opposition.

Low turnout has been attributed to complex registration procedures. Some people who live or work abroad illegally or semi-legally fear that registration would make them vulnerable. For those who are registered, the Georgian consulates run only a few polling stations abroad and mostly in the capital or major cities. This is an impediment in large countries such as the U.S., where many Georgian emigres work.

Political parties, the President, and civil society groups have called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to open more polling stations, and expatriate groups have collected signatures to demand it. So far, to no avail. The activists inside and outside the country are volunteering through social media campaigns to mobilize expatriate Georgians to (literally) go the extra mile and exercise their voting rights in October.

Time – a healer or oppressor?

As activists continue to discuss their strategies, more such ideas and platforms may emerge. However, there are fears that the remaining five months before the elections would only give the ruling party more time to impede popular mobilization through intimidation and repression.

After what appeared to be a brief respite, the media, opposition, and civil society are once again being targeted with vandalism and phone intimidation. Ruling party MPs effectively admitted to orchestrating such attacks. Earlier, the commander of the crack police team suspected of violently battering the activists told the media he “had a list” of which protesters to target.

Some protesters remain behind bars, facing years in prison for confronting police. Many others are routinely summoned for questioning by the police and summarily fined by kangaroo courts for protest-related administrative offenses. These pressures are likely to persist and perhaps even intensify in the coming months, draining civil society’s human and financial resources.

But time may also prove crucial for pro-Western Georgians to find the best strategies to counter the polarization and alienation that the government has exploited and deepened to lead the country into perhaps its worst existential crisis in decades. A hot summer is coming, and summer means more Georgians traveling around the country, communicating with their fellow citizens, and potentially bridging the gaps.

Routine youth-led protests are also set to continue to keep the resistance alive and support those targeted and jailed.

Demonstrators against Agents’ law call for Georgians to go on strike, May 31, 2024. Photo by Guram Muradov/

Not all in vain?

Those looking on the brighter side believe the country might have gained more than it lost over the past month and a half: a vibrant and more decentralized civil society emerged, and many young, previously apathetic people joined the political struggle. Official demographic data show that between 160,000 and 180,000 young Georgians have reached voting age since the last parliamentary elections in 2020.

Polls have yet to show how recent events have influenced their political choices and how many plan to vote. But after years of failing to counter the autocratic turn of the Georgian Dream and the continued paralysis of opposition parties, these new groups are hoped to be game changers.

“Civil society will not only survive but become more decentralized, democratic, and political,” Tamta Mikeladze from Social Justice Center, a Georgian CSO, wrote on Facebook on May 27. “You’ll be facing not only NGOs but cohorts of self-organized citizens and groups!”

Georgian CSOs also remain committed to fighting on other fronts. They’ve announced plans to appeal to the Georgian Constitutional Court to suspend the law on the grounds of human rights violations and say they’re preparing a separate application to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) with similar aims. The recent analyses by OSCE/ODIHR and the Council of Europe Venice Commission, respected intergovernmental human rights and legal watchdogs, gave them some additional hope.

The Constitutional Court, however, remains under government control, and PM Kobakhidze recently hedged against the potentially critical ECtHR ruling, saying he hoped the Strasbourg court wouldn’t “come under undue political influence.”

In what has become a trend, the Georgian Dream is likely to see the invisible and malevolent hand of the phantom Global War Party behind every decision critical of their conduct.

Nini Gabritchidze/


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