Georgia's Ruling Georgian Dream Shatters Ahead of Parliamentary Vote
This week’s breakup of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition has turned Georgia’s political scene into a Star Wars bar, with a slew of political forces of every description set to compete in the parliamentary election this fall.
It’s been a surprise that this unlikely alliance of ideologically strange bedfellows made it this far. Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili’s successful plan to build an opposition army to bring down ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s team in 2012 united groups and individuals with wildly incongruous philosophies and IQs. Western integration activists joined hands with Russia-nostalgic traditionalists, liberal erudites like philologist Levan Berdzenishvili sat next to actor Soso Jachvliani, who can’t tell the difference between a development bank's acronym and a Russian vulgarity for sex.
Occasional public bickering, grumblings over distribution of executive government seats and a persistent failure to speak in one voice on national issues long betrayed deep-seeded divisions in this coalition.
The Free Democrats were the first to split away in 2014 after Ivanishvili felt he could not keep in line their ambitious leader, ex-Defense Minister Irakli Alasania. Now, the biggest news is the Republican Party, pro-Western moderates, announcing on March 31 that it will run in the fall election independently from the Georgian Dream coalition.
Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, the designated leader of the coalition’s flagship, Georgia Dream-Democratic Georgia, said that the infighting has taken unacceptable forms. “It does not matter who started this fight and why. We should not stoop to this first of all out of respect for the people who supported us in 2012, who entrusted us with ruling the country and who are the majority of Georgia,” Kvirikashvili stated.
Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli, a co-leader of the Republican Party recently has become the target of attacks based on unsubstantiated rumors of lewd behavior, as well as allegations of engineering the outcome of a by-election. Khidasheli has scoffed at the accusations.
Her husband, Parliamentary Speaker Davit Usupashvili, another Republican leader, said, though, that the party is not switching into opposition to the Georgian Dream for now. The prime minister said the Republicans will retain their posts in the government until the election. Aside from the defense ministry, the group also holds the post of environmental minister and of state minister for reconciliation and civic equality, who handles policy toward breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Kvirikashvili also said that his party, the actual Georgian Dream, will test its electoral chances on its own. Another coalition member, the conservative Industrialists' Party, whose most prominent leader, the Stalin-admiring beer magnate Gogi Tapadze, has had a longtime dispute with Khidasheli over alleged vote fraud, said it will never cooperate with liberals; i.e., the Republican Party. Still another member, the National Forum, said it will also run separately.
The ruling party aside, the opposition camp is quite splintered itself. Several members of the largest opposition party, ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement, broke away to form their own group, the Pine Cone, and are doing their own thing now. There is ex-Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze and her Democratic Movement – United Georgia advocating for friendly ties with Russia. In the pro-Russia camp is a relatively marginal Alliance of Patriots of Georgia led by flamboyant radical Irma Inashvili.
Then there are those eternal oppositionists, the Labor Party. Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili is a maverick with no party of his own, but enjoys significant public support.
Amid the changes, it is hard to gauge the electoral chances of all the groups and subgroups. Some may fuse into an alliance or further break-up close to the election. But in any case, Georgia may be facing the widest array of political choices in its democratic history.