The parliamentary election shaped the political agenda of 2016 for Georgia bringing the anti-West party the seats for the first time while the drop of the national currency rates hit the reputation of the government. But the course for EU membership was legislatively stated as the one with no alternative.
Domestic Policy: The Top Party Prize – Constitutional majority
In 2016 political life in Georgia was turning around the parliamentary elections. Thus, on November 18, the 150-member newly elected parliament in its first session shaped three key issues:
– A political force informally led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili’s, The Georgian Dream, won a constitutional majority of parliamentary seats, gaining 115, or ¾, of all MPs’ seats.
– A political force led by Former President Mikheil Saakashvili virtually is in microscopic minority, only gaining 27 seats.
– The third political force, which magically cleared the 5% threshold, is a political party notorious for its conservative, nationalistic discourse and anti-Western, anti-Turkish rhetoric.
Immediately after announcement of the election results, Saakashvili’s United National Movement split virtually in two opposing factions – one supporting Saakashvili, while the other one turning against him. The latter group believes that a citizen of Ukraine can’t hold the honorary position of president. In their view, the party is without a formal leader. Their favorite is the former Speaker of Parliament David Bakradze.
Tensions in the former ruling party approach the boiling point. The party convention is set to be held in the second half of January, which will decide whether the party bursts into two parts. Saakashvili overtly called his opponents “freaks”. The fact is that a split is weakening the party.
At the same time the pro-Western political spectrum seriously impoverished, two strong pro-Western parties have been virtually ‘orphaned’. The defeated Republican Party and Free Democrats have been abandoned by their leaders. Republican Speaker of the previous Parliament and former Defense Minister Irakli Alasania of the Free Democrats distanced themselves from their parties. These two political hara-kiri’s by overtly pro-Western forces seem quite alarming.
Despite of this general sense of instability which has been formed in the country, which renders anti-Western, pro-Russian political forces increasingly attracted in the eyes of the population, despite that majority of the citizens still supports pro-Western policy. Such situation clearly motivates the ruling political establishment to resort to authoritarian, conservative political agenda, in spite of a need of swift and overwhelming democratic reforms being implemented in the country.
Economy: Georgian Currency in the Process of Melting
The ruling party, Georgian Dream, soon after winning in the parliamentary elections faced serious challenges, as Georgian national currency lari’s (GEL) exchange rate drops to the record low, triggering mass displeasure.
On December 18, 2015, GEL exchange rate against the dollar was 2.3977, on December 18, 2016 it was 2.6837. The value of lari fell by about 12%. This reversal has been felt particularly bitter since May, when the exchange rate was 2.1459. The new “National Banker” started with a positive dynamic in lari-dollar exchange process. However, after the election the rate started dropping again, hitting rock bottom lows. In the country where prices on virtually all commodities are attached to the dollar, this process is painful for almost all citizens and, in turn, hits the reputation of the government.
Newly elected parliament passed a resolution stating the foreign policy priority is Georgia’s EU membership, without an alternative
The price hike on consumer goods is between 20% to 30%. In order to revive the economy, the government has announced a sharp reduction of the state apparatus, as well as the administrative costs in the budget of 2017 are expected to be adjusted.
The situation has been alleviated by a couple of positive indicators:
- According to the Tourism Administration, 6,350,825 international visitors came to Georgia in 2016, which is 7.6% higher than in the previous year
- According to the Wine Agency, Georgia exported 50 million bottles of wine to 53 countries, that is 38% more than in the previous year
Foreign Policy: Georgia’s Wait for Visa Free Regime
The New Year visit to Georgia of two US senators, the Republicans John McCain and Lindsay Graham, and the Democrat Amy Klobucher carried a strong signal of marking the geopolitical frontier of the free world. Their trip started in Ukraine, continued to Georgia and ended in the Baltic States.
Vladimir Putin has illegally annexed a part of Georgia, but Georgia will one day be free, united and independent, Senator John McCain said to journalists at the NATO-Georgia joint training and evaluating centre.
At this time the main vector of Georgia’s foreign policy lies in the pages of the Georgian passports. Debate on the issue when Georgian citizens will be granted visa-free travel to Europe, is reminiscent of Shakespearean dramatic reading periphrasis ‘with visa or without a visa, that is the question.’ Citizens have constantly heard from media that Georgia fulfilled all the obligations which had been imposed in order to get a visa-free regime with the EU.
Despite of its repeatedly proven pro-Western course, it was a novelty that the newly elected parliament passed a resolution stating the foreign policy priority is Georgia’s EU membership, without an alternative, and that the Association Agreement between Georgia and the EU is not the ultimate goal. Georgia strives for EU membership in line of Article 49 of The European Union Treaty. In 2013, a similar resolution was adopted by the Parliament, but it put emphasis more on integration than on membership.
And what about the other side, there is growing perception that in Europe, which Georgians think is their home as well, perhaps expediency weighs over the justice.