Single Party Rule Returns to Georgia
Source: Central Election Commission of Georgia
The voting process was relatively calm, with international observers such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, NATO, and the Council of Europe assessing it positively. There were shortcomings, though. The head of the European Parliament Delegation in Georgia referenced a “high number of alleged cases of pressure and reprisals on voters, including threats of job dismissals and social benefits cuts as a result of their support for opposition candidates.” These allegations are troubling but haven’t been confirmed. Former First Lady Sandra Roelofs, a parliamentary candidate for the United National Movement in Zugdidi, refused to participate in the runoff election because she believed she received a majority of votes in the first round but lost because of manipulation. Party leader Giga Bokeria also accused the election authorities of stuffing ballot boxes to ensure a victory for Georgian Dream.
The incumbents’ near-sweep of the runoffs and the prospect of a constitutional majority are alarming to some. The party has spoken of making the office of the president elected by parliament rather than by popular vote; a move that would strengthen Georgian Dream but erode the checks and balances that underpin any well-functioning democracy. Current President Giorgi Margvelashvili has often been a thorn in Georgian Dream’s side. From a democratic standpoint, that’s a good thing. The prime minister has also expressed his priority to amend the constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, something which is already written into the country’s civil code. Such an amendment would hurt Georgia’s image in the eyes of its European partners while accomplishing nothing of tangible value.
Low turnout is another concern. Roughly 51.63 percent of eligible voters went to the polls on October 8, and only 37.5 percent did on October 30. That gives 2016 the lowest turnout of any parliamentary election in the country’s short democratic history, significantly lower than the 60 percent turnout in 2012. Here’s the paradox: Georgian Dream received fewer than half of total votes cast and, when turnout is factored in, was supported by only 25 percent of the electorate. It will nonetheless be significantly more powerful than it was after the 2012 elections, when it received many more votes.