Georgia: Seven years waiting for democracy

Lasha Tughushi, "Liberal Academy Tbilisi" Foundation (Georgia, Tbilisi)

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Discussions regarding the changes to the Constitution are still ongoing in Georgia with the main stumbling point being the electoral system. As for the Georgian economy, the results of the first half of the year give some hope for a new record. When it comes to the foreign policy, the heated arguments with Russia regarding the Georgian Euroatlantic ambitions have intensified

Domestic Policy. One against all

“I cannot see any possibility for a dialogue between the parties. My message would be the following: talk to each other. A dialogue is very important. I feel very, very disappointed. I feel more and more disappointed hour after hour. I believed in the Georgian political class to take a step forward to get a more democratic constitution, and today it is in crisis”, — said Gianni Buquicchio, the President of the Venice Commission, after meeting the Georgian authorities in Batumi.

In fact, the Venice Commission received one project of changes to the Constitution, while the Georgian Parliament adopted a completely different one in two readings. The Venice Commission approved the implementation of the proportional representation as early as during the next elections, however, the Parliament “tricked” the commission as it suddenly changed the text of the project already after the written conclusion of the commission.

The proportional representation, when mandates are divided according to the party lists, should substitute the mixed electoral system. However, this transition will be postponed. It means that whatever good there is in the document will only be implemented in seven years, and not during the nearest elections. The concept of the “postponing democracy for seven years” is unclear both to experts and most politicians, apart from the ruling authorities. One against all seems to be a current political landscape in Georgia. On the one hand, there is a ruling party with a super majority in the Parliament, on the other hand, there are the rest of eighteen parties, a numerous non-governmental sector and the President chosen by the people of Georgia. The “Georgian Dream” was left all alone yet still achieved its goal while losing some of its reputation.The wide spectrum for manipulations and administrative resources used during the elections are the obvious pitfalls of the current system, as well as the opportunities for the ruling political power in the majority constituencies.

The struggle continues. Most talks are concerned with the concessions, yet it is still unclear which ones exactly. The situation is likely to deteriorate. The project will have its third Parliament reading in September. The local elections in October are bound to provide an even more emotional response to the situation acting as a red flag to the parties.

Economy. A new record?

The Georgian tourism tends to continue its growth. The number of tourists coming to Georgia increased by record 43% in June, stated the Prime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili at the government meeting. According to the head of the government, up to 330 thousand tourists visited Georgia in June.

This number is made up of those visitors who spent at least 24 hours or more in Georgia. This makes 99 thousand more tourists than in June of 2016. According to the last 6 months data, the number of tourists grew by 29%, with visitors entering Georgia not only from the countries of the region, but also from the EU countries: there is a 54% growth of the tourist coming from Austria, 36% from the Netherlands, 32% from Germany, 28% from Great Britain, 23% from France, 17% from Lithuania. Moreover, the number of tourists arriving from Asia has gone up dramatically as well. According to the forecast provided by the Department of Tourism, this year will see a 1 mln growth in the number of tourists against last year and will set a new record of 7 mln visitors.

Russia needs to understand once and for all, that NATO is a choice of the people of Georgia

While Kakha Kaladze, a former football player for Milan“, resigned the seat of the Georgian Minister of Energy to run for Tbilisi mayor, the construction of the largest hydro power plant in Georgia for the last 50 years, Shuakhevi HPP, is coming to an end.

The construction on the project began in the fall of 2013. The project investment cost equals $416 mln. Shuakhevi HPP will have a total installed capacity of 187 megawatts. It will enable Georgia to meet the electricity demand during the winter months, while the rest of the energy will be exported to Turkey.

At the same time Georgia is facing the prospect of a serious foreign investment project. A leading Swiss train manufacturing company Stadler Rail AG is interested in building a factory that will manufacture, put into operation and repair rail vehicles in Georgia. A corresponding memorandum was signed by the President of Stadler Rail AG Peter Spuhler and the Georgia’s Economy and Sustainable Development Minister Giorgi Gakharia. The Prime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili attended the ceremony of signing this memorandum.

Foreign Policy: Russian opposition to Georgian NATO aspirations

Moscow yet again expressed its dissatisfaction with Georgia cooperating with NATO. According to Grigory Karasin, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, “recently the Georgia’s cooperation with the alliance takes such forms that it actually makes Tbilisi a participant of the NATO’s policy to deter Russia”.

Replying to Mr. Karasin, the State Minister of Georgia on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Victor Dolidze made a statement that  “Russia needs to understand once and for all, that, first of all, this is a choice of the people of Georgia, and secondly, this choice is not aimed at someone. European Georgia, Georgia as a NATO member, Georgia that is economically strong and stable is a guarantee of the security in the region, which includes Russia as well.

Moreover, in June it was announced that the Vice President of the USA Mike Pence will arrive in Georgia after his visit to Estonia and Montenegro. The Prime Minister of Georgia Kvirikashvili called this visit a clear sign of the American support.

In 2016 the strategic partnership between the two countries reached a new level as they signed a Memorandum on Deepening the Defense and Security Partnership. In the frames of this memorandum, the USA will build a military center in Georgia similar to the German base in the city of Hohenfels.

The expectations are high following the American officials’ visit to Georgia, especially from the security standpoint.