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How the system and political context have changed in Georgia’s recent past?

Iago Kachkachishvili, Professor of Sociology

12 years into the power, both the configuration and strategies for maintaining power of the Georgian Dream have profoundly (and even dramatically) changed. The government, once unparalleled with its diversity and eclecticism, has eventually developed into a single-party power standing out with unsatiable lust for maintaining power and what is most appalling, propensity for revising ostensibly inviolable paradigmatic goods (first and foremost, a grand narrative of the country’s Western aspiration).

More specifically, over the past years, Georgian authorities have concocted new strategies for maintaining power and management which require analysis and naming. The present paper aims to do so in relation with few of these strategies:

  1. Right-wing populism

As commonly known, the right-wing populism is an ideology which supports neonationalism, social-conservatism and economic nationalism (reduction of import and investments). With an unequivocal intent, the authorities have chosen the right-wing populism which is manifested in the government and their inner circle constantly stressing the need to return to a direct democracy, which is superior to a representative democracy.

The United National Movement, for the sake of fairness, resorted to a so-called ‘proselytisation of democracy’, in other words, a strategy envisioning the trickle-down effect of democracy and persuading society in its benefits. Such a strategy was backed up by a very principle of the representative democracy and majority seats in the parliament which empowered then ruling party to pass any initiative, including those that were not approved by the people. However paradoxical it may sound, in the end, under the United National Movement government, the representative democracy was rather out of the line with public sentiments (taking unsteady steps towards a secular state was an apparent mismatch with the public sentiments which, according to the body of research, were inclined (and still are) towards anti-secularism).

The incumbent authorities have chosen a different pass: they have tried to take into consideration passions and will of the majority even when these sentiments are in a substantial conflict with democracy. By doing so they kill two birds with one stone: a) on the one hand, they win the hearts of the majority and b) strengthen authoritarianism in the country with the other. Both ‘birds’ ultimately serve to maintain power of the Georgian Dream. The government’s initiative to pass a law ostensibly ‘banning’ LGBT propaganda (which, in fact, dramatically worsens the situation with regard to rights protection and daily life of LGBT community) is just one of the examples of how this strategy is brought to fruition. The government is aware that the majority of the electorate will support this initiative and tries to mobilise support (and subsequently maintain power) and deliver a blow to European integration aspirations.

Therefore, the right-wing populism is essentially a quasi-democratic strategy even though the government might act in the interests of the majority and do what the majority want.

However, interestingly, the right-wing populism has been struggling to gain a foothold in Georgia because a) according to body of research only 11% of the electorate consistently adhere to ultraright values and b) so-called ban on LGBT propaganda and other populistic lines cannot serve as a card to mobilise voters’ support since it is not an ideological exclusive of the Georgian Dream. At the same time, this tactic is part of negative mobilisation strategy while the maintaining of power requires positive initiatives (with a little bit of overstatement, banning an LGBT propaganda is not going to resolve unemployment problems nor alleviate poverty). Therefore, speculations with LGBT themes will only mobilise symbolic capital for the government which will not suffice to secure decisive victory in the elections.

  1. Soft (hybrid) authoritarianism or curved ambivalence

What is the mechanism that contains authoritarianism?

If described in a single term, it is anti-holism, a concept implying the presence of institutes which are out of the influence and oversight of authorities. These institutes include courts, critical media and civil society organisations.

Georgian authorities have managed to put under their control such fundamental institute as judiciary. They have also been successful, to a certain degree, to weaken critical media. The intent to marginalise civil society organisations by initiating a so-called agents law has not yet been overly successful.

And why ‘soft’ authoritarianism?

Georgian Dream authorities have not been acting too rigidly. “A step forward, two steps backward’, an infamous slogan of Lenin’s has become ‘two steps forward, one step backwards’ at Ivanishvili’s hands. The Georgian Dream has mastered retreat, which is painful, yet tactical measure for cementing power. What they have also learnt is to ‘rebrand’ steps made backward as their advantage and achievement. This is well exemplified by events preceding and following Georgia’s EU candidacy status: in the runup to this landmark event, Georgian Dream did not do anything but building barriers: out of 12 preconditions for granting the status laid down by the European Commission, the Georgian Dream implemented only three (!) as stated by the Commission itself. In addition, European structures made it clear that their decision had been driven by Georgian people’s unwavering commitment to the European aspiration. However, the government ‘celebrated’ the victory and took all the credit single-handedly.

The return of the so-called Russian law to the agenda is a whole new chapter. In 2023, the authorities dropped the law only to launch a new attack just in a year. This time, they are committed to passing the bill. The bill is essentially the same, however, with rearranged terms. The authorities have, this time, brought the concept of ‘transparency’ to the fore replacing the ‘agent’ from the previous version and launched an offensive against civil society organisations using the ruse of transparency as a democratic (European) practice. The United National Movement did not need to resort to such populist curtsies since they were much honest in their authoritarian intentions. While the signature authoritarianism of the Georgian Dream is blurred and ambivalent, they use circumventions, similar to one described above, for consolidating their power.

  1. The one who chases two rabbits

Waging an uncompromising war for maintaining power, the Georgian Dream cherishes every single vote. Authorities are desperate to mobilise more and more voters or at least maintain the electorate since according to more or less trustworthy polls, a threshold of its legitimacy never goes beyond 40%, which is not enough for winning majority of seats in legislature. Findings of the same body of research demonstrate with a greater depth that around a third of those who vote for the Georgian Dreams are strong or consistent ‘Westerners’ which means that the government is compelled to take them into consideration and nurture them with statements about their Western aspirations and take all possible measures to demonstrate this (the government, without any hesitation took all the credit for the EU candidacy status even though, according to a formal assessment carried out by the European Commission itself, the Georgian Dream government failed all but 3 recommendations out of 12).

All this points out that the Georgian Dream strives for maintaining far-right voters with nationalist sentiments with one hand and extend the other to its pro-Western voters. This is no easy task and presumably, mainstream symbiotic communication messages that the government uses under an umbrella of ‘Towards Europe with Dignity’ slogan, serve the execution of this very task.

Interestingly, in his most anti-Western speech delivered in front of a crowd of thousands bussed into the capital on 29 April, Ivanishvili chose not to divert from the tactic of chasing two rabbits even though this move came at a cost of exposing the true nature of this tactic to the level of absurdity and comedy. More specifically, Ivanishvili told the audience that the EU and the USA are both parts of the ‘global war party’ who have been trying to undermine Georgia’s independence, and at the same time, he pledged that Georgia would become the EU member state by 2030. With high probability, such an absurd attempt to reconcile the incompatible is doomed to a failure and the events will take a turn described in a well-known proverb: the man who chases two rabbits, catches neither.

  1. Heterogenisation of the Opposition

Political opposition (except for the United National Movement) has managed to compete with the Georgian Dream only for the 2024 elections with Mikheil Saakashvili departing from the scene. All previous attempts went to no avail.

This is clear to the government. Therefore, the authorities have been taking all possible measures to destroy every prospect for the heterogenization of the opposition and portray them as organic parts of the political body owned by the United National Movement and Saakashvili’s admirers. There is not even a single pro-Western opposition political party who is not smeared as a satellite of the United National Movement and labelled as one of the latter’s own kind. However, as of now, this rhetoric (‘everyone is a Nazi’) has withered to a certain degree because of an interplay of the two following factors: a) internal crisis within the United National Movement leading to a division not only in the leadership of the party but also among its voters and b) negative experience related to a partnership between the United National Movement on the one hand, and small parties on the other. This partnership turned up as a losing hand for small parties causing even an identity crisis (an example of the Republican Party).

  1. Anticipating a coalition

Majority of respondents (up to 60%) of public opinion polls believe that it is important to not end up with a single-party government as a result of the 2024 elections. In other words, there is a clear support for a coalition government. Even a considerable part of the Georgian Dream’s voters (a third, according to the findings of some surveys) would welcome an advent of a new pro-Western actor. This is the significant news: There had been supporters of coalition government in the runup to the 2020 elections and even earlier. However, this was never a mainstream idea and importantly, supporters of the Georgian Dream would consider this idea as treacherous. Today, the idea of the coalition government impregnated the Georgian Dream voters gaining traction among the latter.

On the other hand, it would not be accurate to assume that a coalition government will be necessarily formed without the Georgian Dream. Coalition might be led by the incumbent authorities, and this is one of the plausible scenarios following the elections. A strong support for coalition government demonstrated on part of the Georgian Dream voters suggest that the Georgian Dream being one of the members of the future coalition is one of the prospects. Therefore, one should not jump to the conclusion to assume that the formation of the coalition government signals the Georgian Dream’s moving to the opposition. However, on the other hand, if opposition political parties – those who will overcome the barrier, manage to claim seats the cumulative sum of which exceeds those of the Georgian Dream, and agree on a design of the coalition, the former might be left beyond the coalition government.

  1. Extra-parliamentary opposition parties as a functional alternative to the majoritarian system

As a matter of fact, in order to gain majority of seats during all previous elections, the Georgian Dream used majoritarian MPs as a lifeboat. It was with the majoritarian candidates that the ruling party filled the gaps created by party-proportional system (for instance, during the 2020 parliamentary elections, the Georgian Dream harvested 48% of votes translated into 60 seats which was not enough for surplus majority. This was secured by adding 100% of majoritarian votes, in other words 30 seats in legislature).

As commonly known, the 2024 elections will be held based on the proportional system. However, political parties have to overcome a rather high electoral threshold amounting to 5% of votes. If a party fails to collect enough votes to overcome the threshold, these votes will be proportionally distributed across successful parties. Almost every recent sociological research suggests that, at this point of time, only three or four opposition parties can overcome the electoral threshold. Around 10-12% of opposition votes will be lost as a result of relatively small opposition parties’ failure to overcome the threshold, while a greater portion of these votes will end up with the Georgian Dream. Therefore, we might face the following paradox: voters supporting opposition parties will vote against the Georgian Dream, however, their votes will go to the ruling party. The trick performed by the majoritarian system for the benefit of mono-partite power during previous elections, now might be set in motion at the hands of the supporters of opposition parties.


In 2024, Georgia once again has come to face a crossroad: the conventional choice between democracy and authoritarianism is now coupled with a new dilemma (the one which has never been topical since Georgia’s regaining independence in 1991) between the West and Russia. Evidently, these two challenges are closely corelated and neither exists without the other. In other words, democracy can only be rescued by close integration with the West, while authoritarianism can only be reinforced by integration with Russia (or with a political regime similar to that of Russia’s). In spite of numerous challenges on the country’s journey towards democratic development (hybrid authoritarianism, double play pursued by the authorities swaying between the Western and anti-Western, a high election threshold, a low level of legitimacy of the opposition), a clearly articulated will of active part of Georgian society and unwavering commitment to striding towards the European integration will reap its fruits.

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