GP Insights # 189, 23 November 2019
With thousands of protesters gathered in Tbilisi since 16 November, Georgia has been witnessing a second wave of protests in 2019. The current demand is to instil the constitutional changes that were promised by the governing Georgian Dream Party. The demonstrators continue to take to the streets, protest outside various government buildings and set up tents at the foot of the parliament.
What is the background?
Following the June protests that left 240 people injured, the Georgian Dream Party had promised to amend the electoral system, which was heavily tilted to favour the ruling party, and introduce proportional representation. This transition will enable smaller parties to be part of the decision-making process, contest elections, thereby allowing a wider representation of the Georgian society.
However, the constitutional amendment did not pass in the Parliament last week. Disappointed by this failure, people have taken to the streets once again to protest.
What does it mean?
Large anti-government demonstrations have taken place in recent weeks in almost every continent: Algeria, Bolivia, Britain, Catalonia, Chile, Ecuador, France, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Czechoslovakia, Lebanon, India and Pakistan. A fight for democracy is what the protesters in Georgia have termed their rallies to be.
The significance of the protests in Tbilisi is threefold:
Firstly, the failed amendment vote sparked a deadlock in parliament with opposition politicians refusing to attend sessions this week, while 12 Georgian Dream members left the ruling party- has been the trigger of the protest. Domestically, the country is witnessing a second wave of anti-incumbency that has now put the governing party in a position where it has to either chose between snap elections or forcefully subdues the protests. The present public perception is that the current system may be “no free and fair elections.″
Secondly, the protest in Georgia is regionally significant. Since the country fought a war with Russia in 2008, any protests within the country assumes regional importance for Russia and the eastern bloc. In June the protests had a vivid anti-Russia sentiment after a Russian MP delivered a speech at the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO) from the speaker’s seat. It not only angered the politicians home but also pushed the people to protests in what they saw a growing bonhomie between the government and Russia. If the government subdues the protest coercively the possibility of anti-Russia sentiment marring the protest narrative is likely.
Thirdly, the protests in Tbilisi has gained the support of the US and the European Union giving the country its much-needed backing from the Western bloc especially when Georgia is looking to join the institutions like the NATO and EU. However triggered mostly by domestic reasons, most of the leading countries in the region such as Russia, US, Germany, UK have not come out with a strongly worded support for Georgia. It is yet to be seen whether Georgia will walk down the same path as Chile or Lebanon in succeeding to overturn the government with fresh elections.