Election fever is over in Tbilisi. The government and opposition alike are assessing the reality on the ground after a long and intense political battle. Analysing their gains and losses, and those of their counterparts, each side is now planning for the future.
Zurab Vardiashvili, Editor of the magazine Liberali, talked with Davit Berdzenishvili, one of the leaders of the Republican Party, for his take on the recent events.
(ZV) Do you recognize the election results?
(DB) This election was plagued by electoral fraud. That is a fact. We even have the footage that shows how it was rigged. There were cases of vote buying as well as other irregularities. In their reports, local NGOs, as well as international observers, heavily criticised the way in which the election was held.
However, the reality now is that Salome Zurabishvili is the president of Georgia. Although this election was not free, fair, or democratic, I nevertheless do not question its legitimacy. I do not believe that doing otherwise would be politically wise or appropriate.
What do you have to say about the involvement of Mikheil Saakashvili in the pre-election period and aftermath?
Mikheil Saakashvili is a recipe for losing. The more active and pretentious he is going to be and the more inappropriate statements he will make, like when he urged the police and the military to disobey orders, the more his words will work to his own detriment.
For us, the Republicans, it is unacceptable that Mikheil Saakashvili, first at Philharmony on November 29 and then at the demonstration on December 2, calls the public to welcome “the president” Grigol Vashadze. That is a red line. Not even Vashadze himself ever called himself “the president”.
Like we have always said, involvement of Saakashvili has extremely negative impact on the current processes.
However, you endorsed Grigol Vashadze…
That is correct. Not just that, but during the whole month that followed, the party members – Khatuna Samnidze, Tamar Kordzaia, Levan Berdzenishvili, Davit Zurabishvili, and I as well as Irakli Shavleishvili in Adjara – actively supported Grigol Vashadze as an opposition candidate by the means available to us.
Is your support still there? You have not joined the demonstrations.
Presently, the Republicans have been joined not only by the United National Movement but with all the other opposition parties in our demand for an electoral system based on proportional representation.
As to the strategy, street demonstrations were not acceptable to the Republicans. We are no strangers to street, but managing rallies is not one of the strengths of Grigol Vashadze. He is much weaker in that capacity than as a solid presidential candidate.
What makes you think the government may give up on the majoritarian voting system?
Any weak post-Soviet government that significantly depends on the European Union and the United States sometimes gives up by its own will, and sometimes they bow to external pressure.
Let’s imagine there’s a chessboard in front of us where deployment of chess pieces signifies a configuration of political powers. Now, we are probably at middlegame, since there are two more years to go before the endgame in 2020. In order to make the right move, you need to objectively assess your positions as well as those of your counterpart. Let’s make that assessment.
Configuration of political parties depends on which electoral system that election is going to be held. So, we must make our analysis based on different scenarios.
If the present electoral system remains intact, where 77 seats are allocated to the MPs from the proportional party-lists, and the remaining 73 seats to the MPs from single-mandate constituencies with 50% threshold – which means the number of second rounds and which is an undesirable, bipolar system based on clashes – then there will be a necessity for a grand coalition of pro-Western opposition parties to be formed. Such coalition will then nominate a candidate who will be able to compete with that of the ruling party in single-mandate constituencies.
I hardly see any chance for “third power” since majoritarian voting system demands a strong alternative.
As things stand, the electoral system in place is dangerous for the government. Vashadze receiving 800,000 votes with our support proves that we are capable of forming a grand coalition against the government.
The better we are able to show the government that this threat is real, the more incentive it will have to implement proportional representation system. Otherwise, since the system in place is a winner-takes-all system, the government will end up empty-handed, just like the United National Movement that received 40% share of votes in 2012 but was left with nothing.
Under proportional representation system there will be no need for grand coalitions, since, in case of the threshold being set at 3%, many political parties will manage to enter parliament and maybe create coalitions there.
Coalitions are a European choice. Coalitions are incompatible with Bidzina or Misha. Coalitions mean the end for these post-Soviet chiefs, political princes that turn into monsters later on.
Ivanishvili and Saakashvili hindered the maturity of Georgian politics. If politics is reduced to their clash – a tug of war between anti-Misha and anti-Bidzina – that means we are stuck in post-Soviet Georgia.
Judging from a historical perspective, what does the election of the first female president mean to you?
If she were elected according to proper, democratic procedures, if she had democratic mandate, if NGOs and political parties viewed the election process as a fair battle based on rule of law, then it would mean something. But since she was basically appointed, her gender makes no difference.
Zurabishvili was never at the frontline of Georgian opposition, neither personally nor politically. That did not stop her from being pretentious and demanding more. She met Bidzina before the 2013 presidential election and told him she was ready to become a president. Bidzina didn’t take that very seriously back then.
Of course, she was not an independent candidate for Mtatsminda MP in 2016, but the entire Georgian Dream (the ruling party of Georgia associated with Ivanishvili) was helping her.
It is similarly wrong to see her as an independent candidate now. They removed her – a beautiful woman’s – picture from the billboards and replaced it with Bidzina Ivanishvili. They made her disappear; she was their hostage. She was a candidate appointed by the Georgian Dream.
Female politicians are not a rarity in Georgia. We, the Republican Party, lead the way in this regard. The two main leaders of the party are women, but that is not because they are women.
We also adhere to our internal standard of quotas, according to which every third member of our party list should be of different gender. That is a natural state of things for us.
This article is part of the #DemocraCE project series run by Visegrad/Insight and the Res Publica Foundation in cooperation with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) as well as editors of leading newspapers across Central Europe. The original was published in Georgian on Liberali and can be found here.