Domestic politics

2003 parliamentary elections

The 2003 parliamentary elections reflected the rise of opposition parties and Shevardnadze’s loss of support. Widespread vote rigging was reported.  The OSCE was strongly critical of the conduct of the elections.

2003 Rose revolution

Non-violent demonstrations against Shevardnadze and calls for new elections followed the flawed parliamentary elections. Shevardnadze claimed that the protesters risked civil war and he deployed hundreds of soldiers on the streets of Tbilisi. At that point, student demonstrators gave roses to the soldiers. Many soldiers laid down their guns. Mikhail Saakashvili led the demonstrators to the parliament building. Together with other supporters of the opposition, they made their way into parliament with roses in their hands (hence Rose Revolution)while Shevardnadze was giving a speech inside. Lacking support from the military, Shevardnadze agreed to resign.

Saakashvili wins 2004 presidential election

Presidential elections were held in January 2004. Saakashvili was elected with96% of the vote. The OSCE noted “frequent but not systematic irregularities.”

The parliamentary elections of November 2003 were annulled and new parliamentary elections held in March 2004. Saakashvili’s National Movement-Democrats won with 67% of the vote and 135 seats. The only other electoral bloc that passed the 7% threshold for representation in parliament was the alliance of the Industrialists Party and the New Rights Party (8% of the vote and 15 seats). International observers praised the conduct of the elections, but the Labor Party questioned the accuracy of the returns.

While the new administration engaged in many reforms in tax and customs, police, defense, and other government sectors, it came under criticism by the opposition for exerting pressure on the independent media, passing restrictive amendments to the election code, and failing to reform the judiciary. The National Movement also lost some of its original allies, the Republican Party and the Conservative Party.

Opposition seeks to oust Saakashvili

By 2006, the opposition parties and Saakashvili were in complete confrontation. Following the expulsion of a Republican Party member from parliament, opposition deputies boycotted parliament for several weeks. A rallyo f several thousand in Tbilisi later called for Saakashvili’s resignation.

Former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili’s arrest in September spurred the opposition on. He accused Saakashvili of a long list of crimes, including ordering the killing of oligarch (and opposition bankroller) Badri Patarkatishvili. The latter had claimed he would spend all his fortune to oust Saakashvili. Opposition activity peaked with a November 2 mass demonstration of50,000 in Tbilisi, representing the largest protest event since the 2003 Rose Revolution. Demonstrators pushed for Saakashvili’s resignation, early parliamentary election, changes in the election rules, and the release of political prisoners. Patarkatishvili’s television network, Imeldi TV, carried the opposition line on the airwaves.

Government crackdown boomerangs

Smaller peaceful protests continued for several days, until forcefully broken up by riot police on November 7. Hundreds were reported injured. Riot police forcefully shut down the Imeldi and Caucasia TV networks. A state of emergency was declared in Tbilisi, banning all political activity and placing restrictions on the media. International criticism of these departures from democratic norms was sharp. The state of emergency was not ended until November 16.

Saakashvili goes to the voters

Saakashvili responded by calling a snap presidential election for January 2007to show that the people were with him, and not with the opposition. Curtailing his term of office by a year, he resigned in November to campaign for president.

Saakashvili was reelected in a first round victory with 53.5 percent of the vote, according to the Central Election Commission. The lead opposition coalition candidate, Levan Gacheechiladze, won 25.7 per cent, with all other candidates receiving less than 10 percent. Nonetheless, the opposition claimed the elections were rigged, including one-sided and unfair treatment of opposition candidates by the state media.

The International Election Observation Mission (including OSCE’s ODHIR, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament) reported that the process was in essence consistent with most OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards for democratic elections, but significant challenges were revealed which needed to be addressed urgently. These challenges included widespread allegations of intimidation and pressure on public sector employees and opposition activists, lack of distinction between state activities and party campaigning, vote count and tabulation procedures, and the post-election complaint and appeals process. Notably, the IEOM noted that the vote count and completion of results protocols at 23 percent of the counts it observed were bad or very bad.

In addition to the presidential election, voters were asked in a non-binding referendum if they favored early elections in the spring (almost 80% did), and whether Georgia should join NATO (77 per cent were in favor).

Short-lived overture to the opposition

Saakashvili made overtures to the opposition following his reelection. In talks a week after his reelection, he accepted an opposition demand to dissolve the perceived pro-government supervisory board of Georgian Public Television. He also reshuffled his cabinet, brought in several non-party figures as ministers and dismissed some close allies. Nonetheless, the opposition was not satisfied and continued to call Saakashvili’s election illegitimate.

In March 2008, Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM), with its parliamentary majority, pushed through a change in the election code. Parliament replaced the form of proportional representation based on large constituencies adopted in 2005, with an earlier provision through which half the 150 seats would be filled by majority vote in 75 constituencies and the remainder byproportional representation. The opposition claimed the change was designed to tilt the outcome of the May 21 parliamentary elections in the UNM’s favor.

Saakashvili’s UNM big winner in 2008 parliamentary elections

The United National Movement was the big winner in the May 2008 parliamentary elections, with 59.37% of the vote (119 seats). The United Opposition came in afar second with 17.59% 17 seats), followed by the Christian Democratic Movement(which split from the United Opposition to run on its own) with 8.48% (6 seats),and the Labor Party with 7.53% (6 seats). Opposition parties accused the United National Movement of stealing the vote. The United Opposition and Labor said they would boycott the new parliament in protest, and establish an “alternative parliament.”

The International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) undertaken by OSCE’s ODIHR, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly reported that overall, these elections clearly offered an opportunity for the Georgian people to choose their representatives from among a wide array of choices. The authorities and other political stakeholders made efforts to conduct these elections in line with OSCE and Council of Europe commitments.

The IEOM noted that it had identified a number of problems that made this implementation uneven and incomplete. These included inconsistencies, gaps and ambiguities remaining in the Unified Election Code that left room for varying interpretations, affecting its consistent implementation. Parties were able to campaign around the country, although within a polarized and tense environment. The distinction between state activities and the United National Movement campaign was often blurred. Allegations of intimidation of candidates, party activists and state employees affected the campaign environment. The media generally offered a diverse range of views. Public TV offered voters the chance to compare parties and candidates, while most other broadcasters lacked balance and tended to give more attention to the United National Movement and the authorities.

Domestic impact of 2008 War

The public generally accepted the government’s argument that Russian aggression caused the war, and that the Georgian government’s action were more defensive than offensive. The opposition has been unable to use the war’s outcome against Saakashvili.

Georgian Dream wins 2012 parliamentary elections

Georgia had a peaceful change of government as a result of the October 2012parliamentary elections.  The Georgian Dream coalition led by Bidzina Ivanishvili -- Georgia's richest person --  took 55% of the vote (winning 85seats), besting President Saakashvili's UNM with 40.3% of the vote (winning 65seats).  The parties winning the remaining 4.7% of the vote did not make it past the threshold.

Georgian Dream is a six-party coalition composed of Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia, Republican Party, Our Georgia-Free Democrats, National Forum, Conservative Party, and Industry Will Save Georgia).

Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvikli (Government of Georgia Website)

Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvikli (Government of Georgia Website)

Ivanishvili became prime minister, entering into an uncomfortable cohabitation with Saakashvili continuing as president until October 2013. 

Tensions in government
Within the coalition

Prime Minister Ivanishvili stripped Defense Minister Irakly Alasania, leader of the Free Democrats Party and his coalition partner, of his dual position as Deputy Prime Minister in January 2013.  Differences appeared to include Alasania's interest in running for the presidency rather than supporting Ivanishvili's preferred candidate, and Free Democrat support for a presidential or mixed presidential-parliamentary system of government.  

Ivanishvili vs. Saakashvili

The co-habitation increasingly deteriorated into a no-holds barred struggle. Ivanishvili did everything possible to discredit and destroy Saakashvili's UNM as a political alternative.

Georgian Dream prosecutors investigated Saakashvili and other UNM officials in multiple criminal investigations, including the President's responsibility for the 2008 War with Russia. 

At the local level, UNM council executives and council members in provincial districts and cities were replaced by Georgian Dream in a multitude of extra-legal ways.   Ivanishvili's government initiated a criminal prosecution against popularly elected Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, long close to Saakashvili.  (A court eventually removed Ugulava from office in December 2013at a prosecutor's request, pending judicial proceedings on charges that he misappropriated municipal funds to support UNM political activities.)

In May 2013, former Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili, head of Saakashvili's UNM,and Zurab Tchaberashulli, former Social Affairs Minister, diplomat and current UNM Governor of the Kakheti region--were arrested on charges that they had  misappropriated public funds when they had been in office.  (Merabishvili was convicted of abuse of power and corruption in February 2014 and sentenced tofive years' imprisonment.)

Irakly Alasania

Irakly Alasania

Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava toasts construction of the new USAID building, 31 May 2007. (American Embassy Tbilisi)

Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava toasts construction of the new USAID building, 31 May 2007. (American Embassy Tbilisi)

Vano Merabishvili (Voice of America)

Vano Merabishvili (Voice of America)

Georgian Dream's Interior Minister Irakli Garibashvili stated at a press conference for foreign diplomats in June 2013 that the Saakavishvili team was responsible for torture and rape of suspects arrested for terrorism after the2008 war.  Merabishvili headed the Ministry of Interior Affairs at the time, although no evidence has been shown to link him to the abuses.

Ivanishvili resigns, Gharibashvili becomes prime minister

Ivanishvili resigned as prime minister in November 2013 as he had promised todo in July, saying that he was leaving politics to focus on developing civil society. He denied accusations that he would continue to pull the government's strings from behind the scenes.. He named Interior Minister Gharibashvili as his successor. Gharibashvili's stated priorities are economic development, and Georgia's entry into the EU and NATO.  He also succeeded Ivanishvili as Chairman of the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party.

The 31-year old Gharibashvili became prime minister as constitutional amendments took effect, making it the most powerful political office in the country.

Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili (Government of Georgia Website)

Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili (Government of Georgia Website)

Politically-motivated prosecutions of senior UNM officials Merabashvili, Ugulava and former Defense Minister Bacho Akhalai have continued.

2013 presidential election campaign
Margvelashvili wins overwhelming victory

Georgy Margvelashvili, hand-picked by Ivanishvili as Georgian Dream's candidate, won 62.11% of the vote to succeed Saakashvili as president.

UNM candidate David Bakradze (former speaker of parliament) came in second place with 21.73% of the vote, and Democratic Movement-United Georgia candidate Nino Burjanadze in third place with 10.18%.







Although Margvelashvili's election was never in doubt, Bakradze's second place showing was respectable, maintaining the opposition UNM as a serious contender in the future.  Burjanadze's perceived pro-Russian positions during the campaign apparently did not resonate well with the voters.

Georgy Margvelashvili, 2013 (Youtube)

Georgy Margvelashvili, 2013 (Youtube)

David Bakradze (Korber Stiftung/Marc Darchinger)

David Bakradze (Korber Stiftung/Marc Darchinger)

Nino Burjanadze 2003 (U. S. Air Force/Andy Dunaway)

Nino Burjanadze 2003 (U. S. Air Force/Andy Dunaway)

A voter casts his ballot in Tbilisi during the presidential election in Georgia, 27 October 2013. (OSCE/Thomas Rymer)

A voter casts his ballot in Tbilisi during the presidential election in Georgia, 27 October 2013. (OSCE/Thomas Rymer)

The IEOM's preliminary report stated that the October 27 presidential election was efficiently administered, transparent and took place in an amicable and constructive environment. Fundamental freedoms of expression, movement and assembly were respected, and candidates were able to campaign without restriction.

Prosecutors file criminal charges against Saakashvili
Opposition claims prosecution politically-motivated

Prosecutors filed criminal charges against former President Saakashvili in July 2014 for illegally breaking up a 2007 protest, taking over a television station and seizing the property of a businessman.  Saakashvili has lived outside Georgia since he left office in 2013.