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Campaign Beat: June 25-July 9

Three months remain until the elections in October, and the opposition parties are gearing up for the official kickoff of their campaigns. This is while the Georgian Dream administration is reaping the results of its confrontation with Georgia’s Western partners. As Euro-Atlantic integration becomes increasingly elusive, many citizens are increasingly feeling the importance of the upcoming elections. The opposition tries to frame the upcoming election as the referendum on Georgia’s European future. As expected, the unified opposition bloc did not materialize, but armed with polls, the opposition parties are trying to pull together and create larger platforms.

The following covers election-related updates spanning June 25-July 9.

Campaign Context

Farther from the West: Over the past two weeks, Georgia has felt the impact of the damage that passing a highly criticized law can do to its Western partnerships and aspirations. The United States has been firm in its position, holding U.S. Congressional subcommittee hearings on the Georgian issue and announcing the indefinite postponement of the Noble Partner exercise in Georgia scheduled for July 25-August 6 this year. However, despite the overwhelming concern over the U.S. decision, the GD party claims no change in foreign policy occurred. Claiming Georgia is ready for cooperation and friendship with the West, GD officials say they won’t be “anybody’s vassal” and call for a “reset.”

Relations with Europe aren’t faring any better. In the past two weeks, the European Council has expressed “serious concern” and called on “the Georgian authorities to clarify their intentions” on the EU path. Meanwhile, the PACE resolution has once again condemned the Foreign Agents Law and questioned Georgia’s commitment to EU-Atlantic integration. In addition, the GD-critical “Bucharest Declaration” of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has ruffled GD’s feathers so much that the party’s representatives refused to vote for the document, which condemns the occupation of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, claiming that it contains a “blatant lie” – portray the law on agents as a threat to freedom of expression and assembly. The European Union has moved from words to actions, as it halted Georgia’s EU accession process and froze EUR 30 million in EU Peace Facility funds. Further measures are being considered if the situation in the country deteriorates further, according to EU Ambassador to Georgia Paweł Herczyński.

The Process of Unification: With three months left before the October elections, opposition parties are finalizing their plans to unite, while some projects fall short of expectations. The United National Movement and Strategy Aghmashenebeli – already acting as a bloc for a while – with a sprinkling of other independent opposition MPs and activists, have announced a new platform – “Unity – to Save Georgia.” The aim of the platform is to unite the pro-Western parties under the same number on the ballot, underlining their common commitment to implementing the necessary reforms to achieve EU membership. Opposition parties – Ahali, Girchi More Freedom and Droa – also came to the decision to post a joint election list for the Parliamentary elections in October. Their talks to unite with Lelo have come to naught (so far, nuance their leaders).

New Political Movements: Levan Tsutskiridze, the former Executive Director of the Eastern European Centre for Multiparty Democracy/EECMD, alongside other civic activists and representatives of CSOs in Georgia, set up a new political movement “Freedom Square” – we spoke to Tsutskiridze about their ideas and plans. The movement’s manifesto pledges it to be an open, democratic platform for “protecting Georgia’s national interests and achieving Georgia’s historic goal.” According to the manifesto, the movement will unify “patriotic, professional, and honest citizens for freedom and democracy.”

A group of activists previously associated with the GD and with a pronounced pro-Russian stance also announced a new political movement, “United Neutral Georgia,” which they hope to transform into a proper party in a year. In the movement’s manifesto, the founders say that over the past two years Georgian society has become a “political hostage” of the EU integration issue, which “poses the greatest danger to the Georgian state”.

Legislative changes 

Amendments to the Election Code: The Georgian Parliament overrode the President’s veto of amendments to the rules of procedure of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Georgia, which provides that if a decision of the CEC requiring the support of at least two-thirds of its full members cannot be adopted at a meeting of the CEC, it shall be subject to a new vote at the same meeting and shall be deemed adopted if it receives the support of a majority of the full members of the CEC. These amendments were adopted despite the Venice Commission’s second critical legal assessment and warning that changes to the electoral code less than a year before elections undermine public confidence.

Anti-LGBT Legislation: Homophobia continues to be the main pillar of the GD’s election campaign. The parliamentary majority has already passed in the first reading the anti-LGBT legislative package consisting of a core law, “On Protection of Family Values and Minors,” and 18 related amendments to various laws of Georgia. This law was adopted against concerns raised by civil society organizations and international criticism, particularly by the CoE Venice Commission. In its legislative assessment, this august constitutional body called on the government to retract this law or to seriously re-work it as it contradicts Georgia’s human rights commitments.

“Law on Funded Pension”: The ruling Georgian Dream party has passed another controversial law, stoking fears about the safety of senior citizens’ savings and corruption. The legislative package renames the Pension Agency to the Pension Fund. It provides for increased executive control over the institution. Experts fear that the government may use these savings without proper controls.

Campaign Trail

The Georgian Dream party tried to ride the wave of popular excitement about the national football side. Despite the national team’s loss in the EURO 2024 play-offs that captivated Georgians’ hearts. Upon the players’ return to Georgia, the government organized a massive public welcoming ceremony, during which the boys were driven several kilometers on the roof of a bus and later taken to the scene set up on Freedom Square, where they were awarded Medals of Honor by the President of Georgia, Salome Zurabishvili. The celebratory mood turned sour for Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, who was booed on stage, had to cut his speech short and quickly pass the mic to the President, who was warmly cheered. The GD team took on the defense of the Prime Minister, saying the obstruction was “organized by the opposition.” A sour loser, Kobakhidze devoted a whining social media post to the incident and blamed everything on the UNM.

The United National Movement’s office in Poti (western Georgia) has been vandalized. Davit Khomeriki, Chairman of the UNM regional organization in Poti, said the double-glazed windows had apparently been broken by heavy blows. These kinds of orchestrated attacks have been taking place against the UNM and other opposition parties and civil society organizations almost since the beginning of the protests against the Law on Agents.

The leader of the Lelo political party, Mamuka Khazaradze, opened new regional offices in Khashuri, Kareli, Chkhorotsku, and Kharagauli. In Chkhorotsku, Kornel Tsurtsumia, deputy chairman of Sakrebulo, was appointed head of the new office. These openings reflect Lelo’s strategy to expand its presence and intensify its campaign efforts across Georgia in the coming months. The party aims to visit every district, engage directly with voters, and build momentum for the October elections.

Women members of the Ahali Party from Western Georgia, supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), held a two-day working meeting in Borjomi on 29 and 30 June. They focused on establishing a women’s organization, defining the strategy and action plan, and discussing ways to increase and strengthen women’s political participation.

The For Georgia party has actively continued meetings with Georgian citizens. The party’s leader, Girogi Gakharia, who seems to court no alliances so far, visited the villages of Vertkvichala and the township of Kharagauli. The women representatives of the party also organized a meeting in Tbilisi. The party’s deputies from the Tbilisi City Council also visited an illegal construction waste dump in Nafetvrebi. They called for an immediate halt to the unauthorized and harmful activities, pointing to the serious ecological damage being caused. The deputies demanded accountability from political officials and highlighted the significant health and safety risks posed to Tbilisi residents by the illegal dumping practices.

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