Georgia’s political “debates” prior to the country’s parliamentary elections heated up to the extent that some opponents attacked each other physically. The country’s economy is under recession due to the current coronavirus situation. However, the main threat comes from the country’s neighbors: Armenia and Azerbaijan, as two states started large-scale military operations.
Political rhetoric ends up with fighting
Political parties have submitted their lists of candidates for parliament. The public is now familiar with the first dozens of parliamentary candidates. The ruling party “Georgian Dream” had been keeping the main intrigue till the very end: who would it be to head its list? Would the undisputed leader, a billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili be at the top? However, at the top of the list one can find the incumbent prime minister Giorgi Gakharia, who will keep his position if the ruling party wins yet again.
The numbers in electoral ratings published by different organizations vary significantly. Nevertheless, the sequence is consistent, at least the first three places in all surveys are ranked identically. The second place belongs to the party of Mikhail Saakashvili called “United National Movement” (UNM), with the party’s first number being a film and music legend, Vakhtang “Buba” Kikabidze.
The polarization of the society and rhetoric of political opponents is still quite high, while the public has witnessed some physical violence incidents in several regions. It is only one month before the elections and yet the groups from different parties can be seen wandering from one TV station to another. However, there is no ruling party among them as it would act differently from the others and go live only on those mass media that are under its influence. So far there have not been any high-quality program debates being broadcast. The discussions are quite personal and come down to adversaries demonstrating a good knowledge of each other’s biographies as well as mathematics when it comes to promises having some monetary value. Populist trends are quite clear, while pandering to religious issues has become a special feature of the campaign.
The situation prior to the elections is overshadowed by the growing numbers of COVID-19 infected people, especially when it comes to the region of Adjara, where domestic tourism rates set a record last summer. The aftermath of the growing domestic mobility is obvious.
“The polarization of the society and rhetoric of political opponents is still quite high, while the public was a witness of some physical violence incidents in several regions.”
Lari is down with coronavirus
On October 2 lari celebrated its 25th birthday. “Lari is down with coronavirus” – such malevolent jokes are frequent in Tbilisi due to the fluctuations of Georgia’s national currency shaking up the country’s economy. Lari has been losing its value recently.
As of February 29, 2020 1 US dollar made up 2,79 lari. Officially 1 US dollar is equivalent to 3,32 lari as of September 29, at the close of the trade. The National Bank has sold reserves several times in order to stabilize Georgian lari rate. Overall, in 2020 the National Bank put on sale at the currency market reserves that are equivalent to $420 million.
Nevertheless, Georgian lari continues to fluctuate. According to the report published by National Statistics Office of Georgia, in January-August 2020 the economic activity in the country went down by 5,6%, while August saw a decrease of 5,3%, which, naturally, results in the devaluation of lari.
However, Georgian authorities are quite optimistic regarding the future, while growing prices on crucial goods do not result in any positive emotions experienced by customers. For instance, the price of food went up 8%, which creates a heavy burden on low-income households.
Georgia “under crossfire”
It smells like war in the Caucasus. The war in Nagorno-Karabakh is intensifying, which naturally presents a serious threat to the security and stability of Georgia.
Georgia is quite neutral when it comes to this military conflict, with several factors acting as pre-conditions. Both ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis reside on the territory of Georgia.
Georgia is the main land transit route for both neighboring countries. Therefore, Tbilisi risks finding itself under pressure from its neighbors aiming to use its territory for arms transit. For instance, both a route from Russia to Armenia as well as from Turkey to Azerbaijan could have been a route for arms transit by land mostly via Georgia. This contradicts the national interests of Georgia as it would mean its involvement in military actions.
The Russian propaganda machine is already trying to involve Georgia into the conflict, with thousands of fake news being spread regarding the transit of weapons and forces across the territory of Georgia. However, such information is not true. Several days following the beginning of the war Georgia’s National Security Council meeting took place with its members announcing that Georgia bans military supplies transit to both countries. As for civil goods supplies, they have not been stopped and it will remain like this in the future.
The president of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili called on the Minsk Group and the European Union to be more active in the matters of deescalating and resolving the conflict.
Georgia once again made an offer of Tbilisi becoming a place for hosting the representatives of both countries for the fast conflict resolution.
The risks are also high when it comes to economy or humanitarian issues. Moreover, there are some issues regarding the Eastern Partnership policy since both Armenia and Azerbaijan are EaP members and now it is difficult to imagine them being the members of one club.