[Skip to Content]

Subscribe to our web page

აქციის მონაწილეების საყურადღებოდ! საერთო ცხელი ხაზი +995 577 07 05 63


 საერთო ცხელი ხაზი +995 577 07 05 63


How to win elections? Pre-election strategic coalitions

Levan Kakhishvili, Researcher[1]

Need for strategic unity

This year, in October Important parliamentary elections are upcoming in Georgia. As President Salome Zurabishvili mentioned, the 2024 elections must be a referendum on whether the Georgian electorate wants pro-European foreign policy and integration in the EU. Also, in October we will elect a fully proportional voting system in the Parliament. This means that 150 MPs will be elected only with partial lists and individual politicians will not have a chance to get the mandate with majoritarian rule. Such election rule will bring forward the importance of political parties and they will be imposed the responsibility to operate political processes in the country. Consequently, this reduces the role of charismatic leaders in politics. To defeat the Georgian Dream, pro-European political parties need to collaborate.  However, it is essential to discuss what kind of collaboration is necessary and what challenges it has.

Regardless of positive changes in the election system, two major challenges are noticeable. Firstly, Georgian political parties meet elections unprepared, which will be held in several months. This unpreparedness means that regardless of the extremely high politicization of public or private discussions, opposition political parties could not transform political debates into substantive debates when various parties can present their visions to the electorate on their needs and concerns. While all political party prepares preelection programs, they do not work on these programs in-between the election periods and the political preferences of the electorate remain unaddressed during their elaboration.

For example, the report prepared per 2020 elections compass results demonstrates that Georgian Dream was the closest to the median electorate according the political preferences, and the most distant party from this position was the United National Movement. This data indicates the weakness of political parties. On the other hand, one aspect needs to be mentioned here as well, none of the political parties have high trust among the electorate, which is reflected in the high share of undecided electorate and makes it more difficult for such an electorate to make a choice.

The second challenge is related to the high barriers in the 2024 elections and the counting rule for mandate distribution. According to the Elections Code „to establish the number of mandates got by the political party, the number of votes they gained is multiplied by 150 and divided on the sum of the votes by all political parties, who got at least 5% of real votes of the electorate who participated in elections. The integer part of the received number is the number of mandates gained by the political party. If the sum number of mandates received by the political parties is less than 150, undistributed mandates will be received in sequence by the political parties having the better results“.

As the product of the votes received by the party and 150 is divided by the sum of the votes received by the parties that passed the threshold, this results in proportionally more seats than we might expect. This is because votes given to parties that fail to pass the 5% threshold are essentially lost, creating the possibility that a party will win a majority of parliamentary seats without the support of a majority of the electorate.

The following scenario can be pictured: Let's suppose that 9 political parties participate in elections. If 5 parties out of these 9 receive 4% of votes and cannot pass the threshold, while the votes of the other four political parties who attained the barrier are distributed followingly – 40%, 20%, 10%, and 10%, the party on the first place will receive 76 mandate and it can form a parliamentary majority. This is the scenario when 20% of votes are lost. The more votes are lost, the lower the percentage will be needed for the winning political party to receive a majority. And vice versa, the fewer votes are lost, the closer the percentage required to obtain a majority will be to the 50% threshold. In the case of the latter, it will be necessary to form a coalition government.

Therefore, such a situation is created, when on the one hand Georgian electorate is confused and does not know to whom to vote, since they cannot find a party that is close to their vision and can acceptably promise solutions to their problems. On the other hand, to form a coalition party, the votes should not be lost and parties need to attain the barrier. Both of these problems can be temporarily solved by the „Georgian Charter“ suggested by the President. The document creates a positive agenda, but only in the democracy and foreign policy fields, and not in the fields of economy or social policy. At the same time, the document creates an umbrella, under which those political parties can be united, for whom Georgian democracy and European foreign policy are important. Regardless of the fact, that President Zurabishvili explicitly declared that party lists presented by the political parties are their job and that she will not participate in these discussions, political parties need to take responsibility for protecting the votes of their voters, not only for the elections day or afterward, but now. Therefore, cooperation and strategic action are needed.

Configurations of strategic coalitions

The need for strategic cooperation is no longer discussed in the Georgian political field, however, it is still under question what form this cooperation will receive. The discussion is held on what will be the configuration of political parties and how many lists will be presented for elections. The number of party lists is not important and without substance, the major question is what type of unions is acceptable for the Georgian electorate. Since it has never been a priority for Georgian political parties to develop their election programs with the electorate, they do not know what percentage of the electorate supports them. Coalitions are needed due to this risk and for securing this risk, to reach the election barrier jointly and to prevent loss of the votes.

Rational configurations of coalitions must be based on two key elements: Firstly, the political parties need to think that unions are acceptable for the electorate, to prevent such a situation when the undecided electorate will be incited to stay at home. Secondly, this is related to the political parties themselves and what cooperations are acceptable for them. This is important to prevent artificial unions of political parties with opposite political visions. Therefore, several versions of coalition configurations need to be discussed.

Unified list

The first configuration, that is discussed is the creation of a unified list by all pro-European opposition political parties, however, it needs to be highlighted that this idea is not popular among political parties. It is highly probable that political parties, such as „Gakharia for Georgia“ or „European Georgia“ will not join such a list. Meanwhile, Georgian Dream already started a campaign against coalitions and coalition governments. In her video, published on the 30th of May, Nino Tsilosani argues that coalitions paralyze the state and that domination of one political party over others is unavoidable. The first argument aims to trigger negative emotions towards coalitions in general since Georgia is in a so-called emergency due to the foreign risks; The second argument aims to bring forward the role of the United National Movement in the context of coalitions and highlight that opposition coalition will not be a real coalition and this will be a new form of UNM.

At the same time, it is difficult to determine whether such suggestions by the opposition parties will be acceptable to the electorate. At a glance, such an attitude creates a sense of emergency among the electorate and provokes emergency solutions for crisis and compromise. Meanwhile, as the experience shows, the United National Movement has the biggest number of voters among opposition parties, and at the same time, it has the biggest number of negative voters. This means that an important part of the electorate thinks they would never vote for the United National Movement. In such a model, opposition political parties can compensate for UNM domination in various ways, however, how an opposition union can do so, is difficult to say. Therefore, if voters have only two choices between the Georgian Dream and united pro-European opposition, there are three possible behaviors for those people, who have extremely negative opinions on UNM.

The first option is an easy choice not to participate in elections. This is a problem, cause if the opposition wants to defeat the Georgian Dream, mobilization of such voters is important. According to the survey held in October 2023, 62% of voters declare that their interests are not covered by any party, additional 9% think that they cannot answer the question. This indicates the ineffectiveness of the communication held by Georgian political parties with the voters. However, such an attitude is a challenge for the Georgian Dream as well. Consequently, competition among the parties should be directed to convince and mobilize this segment of voters. How this mobilization can be achieved is a separate issue, however, the unified list may impede this process.

The second option is that undecided voters, who have an extremely negative attitude towards UNM, may be affected by the Georgian Dream’s rhetoric, and with the fear of UNM having dominant power in the opposition coalition, they will vote for GD, while they do not want to do so.

The third option is like the second one and it will harden success for opposition as the second one. In this case, voters, as a protest sign, may support radical-conservative movements or small parties, that do not have real chances of achieving barriers. This scenario will work positively for the Georgian Dream.

Therefore, since the United National Movement is unacceptable for a large part of voters, a unified list is unsafe. If such voters cannot be mobilized and it is extremely difficult to determine what can convince the electorate that is disappointed with the Georgian Dream and with the United National Movement, this negatively reflects on opposition chances. Therefore, probably, the unified list will not be a guarantee for success.

“Unity without Unity” – choice for the voters

The alternative is the cooperation under the umbrella suggested by the President “Georgian Charter” and the grouping of small parties for their enlargement, to give opportunity to the voters to make their acceptable choice. The main challenge in this composition is to choose such a configuration, that will be acceptable for the parties and electorate as well. In the first option key factor was whether a unified list would be acceptable for the voters or not, in this case key factor is the profiles of political parties and past experiences of cooperation or in the formation of blocks. Therefore, randomly selected numbers and claiming that there must be three lists, is not a solution to this challenge. Analysis of political party positions is required.

Choice 1: United National Movement and Strategy Aghmashenebeli: Since the United National Movement triggers negative sentiments in the electorate, they should be separately in the election list. The only partner for UNM is Strategy Aghmashenebeli. Not only the latter can attain the barrier, but also the past cooperation of these two makes it less expected to disappoint the majority of voters because of such a union.

Choice 2: European Georgia, Girchi-More freedom, Droa, Akhali. On the one hand, the leaders of these political parties were members of the United National Movement, on the other hand, they were ideologically close to each other. Moreover, Girchi-More Freedom and Droa already have such cooperation. According to the 2020 election compass, Girchi-More Freedom and European Georgia had economically right-wing and culturally liberal positions, and the ideological distance between them is small. (See Picture 1) Droa and Akhali supposedly have similar ideological positions. For example, the position of Nika Gvaramia - Leader of Akhali agrees with the opinion of European Georgia and Girchi-More Freedom on the abolition of gender quotas. Therefore, the similarity of ideology of these four political parties can be a decisive factor. According to the public surveys, there are parties in this group, who can get 1-3% independently, therefore union of these parties must not be at risk that they will not attain the barrier. Furthermore, this union can take votes from UNM and may show better results, than it is expected at this stage.

Choice 3: Lelo, Citizen, For People, Republicans, National-Democratic Party. Two major factors unify this group. On the one hand, the parties in the group are neither strongly associated with the United National Movement, nor with the Georgian Dream, which creates the opportunity of perceiving them independently. Secondly, these parties have more of Centrist views. Lelo’s position from the 2020 election compass is truly Centrist, Republicans also are a Centrist party. There is no tangible data to check the positions of the Party for People and the National Democratic Party, but, probably, they do not stand far away from the center. As for the Citizen, its ideological positioning was compatible with economic right-wing views and cultural liberalism in the 2020 elections, however, according to the statements of party leaders, Citizen do not consider having strict ideological positions and they leave more flexibility for themselves. Therefore, ideological centrist positions support a union of these parties, and the fact that they are not associated with Georgian Dream and UNM.

Picture. 1. Georgian political landscape before the 2020 elections.

Source: Kakhishvili, Levan, Keshelava, David, Papava, Giorgi and  Sichinava David. 2021 „Georgian political landscape: Diversity, the intersection of positions and free spaces“, Tbilisi, Fridriech Hebert Foundation, https://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/georgien/18418-20220419.pdf.

Choice 4: Gakharia for Georgia. Since the party’s affirmed position is not yet known whether they will join the President’s „Georgian Charter“ or not, and they are more affiliated with the Georgian Dream, this party should be represented independently. Their ideological platform is also unknown, but according to the manifest published on their website, they have economically right-wing and culturally liberal positions. However, it is less expected to be enough ground to group this party with Droa, European Georgia, Akhali and Girchi-More Freedom. On the other hand, there is no left-wing political party in the Georgian political field, apart from the Georgian Dream’s quasi-left ideology which gained an illusory nature, particularly after their withdrawal from the European Social-Democratic Alliance. Gakharia for Georgia is in a unique condition until his ideological profile is determined, to fill in this gap. However, how it will manage to do so, is also questionable. Apart from this, this party has two advantages, that can determine to overcome the barrier. Firstly, the party has the potential to take voters from the Georgian Dream. This can be the voter for whom opposition parties are not acceptable, but he is also disappointed with the Georgian Dream. Respectively, for such voters, Gakharia for Georgia can be an alternative. Secondly, Giorgi Gakharia and his team members may enjoy sympathy among public servants deriving from their experience in the public sector. Therefore, it is not excluded that the party may deserve votes from public servants. These two categories of voters are amongst those, who cannot openly express their opinion in public surveys. In addition, in the 2021 elections, Gakharia for Georgia got 42.596 votes in Tbilisi and 95,166 votes in the regions in the proportional elections. If this was a parliamentary election, the party could get 7.59%, and even in the case of 70% of activity, the party can overcome the 5% barrier with this number of votes. For that reason, Gakharia for Georgia can independently achieve the barrier, but this will depend on their election campaign along with other factors.

Finally, according to this analysis, the opposition must prepare their strategic coalitions and represent four lists under the „Georgian Charter“ umbrella. Accordingly, those parties discussed here, have expressed their support towards this charter, however, Girchi has not expressed support is not among the party list. The charter determines their political agenda, and in the fields of economy and well-being, they can produce independent campaigns. Technically, how the parties’ campaigns will be translated into temporary government politics needs to be discussed further. The opposition must demonstrate to be loyal to the charter provisions. 

Conclusion: Forthcoming steps

According to this analysis, four opposition groups reveal, that are distributed based on their ideological visions, past experiences, and perceptions among the voters on this experience. These four lists are not risky in terms of achieving high thresholds. Furthermore, the opportunity to choose will give additional motivation to the voters, particularly in the context when opposition parties will be united under the same Charter umbrella. Consequently, such an approach will promote voter mobilization and prevent the probability of losing votes.

Preelection coalitions will have a challenge to proceed with effective election campaigns. In this process, coalitions should plan coordination in terms of resources. On the one hand, the opposition should create a positive agenda, on the other hand, they should respond to the electoral clientelism produced by the Georgian Dream and impede practices of intimidation and bribing the voters.

Footnote and Bibliography

[1] Levan Kakhishvili is a researcher in the European Policy Research Group at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich). He prepared his doctoral dissertation at the University of Bamberg, Germany on the topic "The Nature of Party Competition in Hybrid Regimes: The Case of Georgia." Levan got education at Tbilisi State University and Oxford University.

The website accessibility instruction

  • To move forward on the site, use the button “tab”
  • To go back/return use buttons “shift+tab”