“Georgia’s progress toward democracy has been complicated and fitful over its entire post-Soviet history,” note Miriam Lanskoy and Giorgi Areshidze in the latest issue of the Journal of Democracy. And so it remains.
Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution, once hailed as a democratic opening, has since witnessed a closing of democratic space, according to Lanskoy, senior program officer with the National Endowment for Democracy, and Areshidze, director of the Partnership for Social Initiatives (PSI), a Tbilisi-based NGO. Prime Minister Mikheil Saakashvili has taken advantage of enhanced state capacity to promote economic development and counter-corruption initiatives. But the “laudable achievements of Saakashvili’s state-building program have come at the high price of a superpresidential political system,” they contend.
The government has acted unilaterally, violating human rights and failing to achieve popular consent. Russia’s invasion has temporarily established a consensus among all political factions around safeguarding the state and its citizens. But the opposition will renew calls for constitutional reform and new parliamentary elections once the situation stabilizes.
There are grounds for optimism in the fact that the electoral commissions have been reformed to include opposition representatives, but greater reform is needed. A more representative and pluralistic legislature that would restore media independence and provide oversight of the police, military, and security services “could rebuild confidence in the political process, contribute to the rule of law, lead to greater public consent, and end the current confrontational and polarizing mode of politics,” they conclude.
Meanwhile, Georgian activists are pushing for democratic conditionality clauses to be attached to the U.S. Administration’s $1 billion aid package for Tbilisi in order to leverage donor support for reform, especially since the bulk of the funds are for economic support and reconstruction, while “none are aimed at strengthening democratic institutions or civil society.”