Author: Annamária Kiss
Due to recent constitutional changes, the 2018 election is the last direct presidential election in Georgia. However, despite limited formal competences, the next president’s political affiliation matters. Even the incumbent president, despite his membership in the governing party, clashed with the government. The first round produced a virtual draw between the government-backed independent Salome Zurabishvili (38.64 per cent) and the main opposition’s candidate Grigol Vashadze (37.78 per cent). Thus, a historically unprecedented second round will be held on 28 November without a clear favourite.
The campaign consisted almost exclusively of personal attacks. The main means to discrediting a political opponent remains the accusation of pro-Russian sentiments or being controlled by Russia. Due to Zurabishvili’s poor performance, the ruling party has begun to frame the second round as a political choice between them and the opposition. This makes the election a ‘referendum’ about the increasingly unpopular governing Georgian Dream party of the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. However, his dominant role in politics has resulted in ‘Ivanishvili-fatigue’ and a dropping allure of his party. This enabled Vashadze to secure a surprisingly good result, particularly in larger cities.
Georgians now have to choose between Ivanishvili’s candidate, who accused her own country of starting the 2008 war with Russia, and Saakashvili’s old comrade, who flaunts his Soviet diplomatic career. This makes both unacceptable to many. Many Georgians now ask themselves, “Which is the lesser evil?”
Keywords: Georgia, South Caucasus, Presidential election, Zurabishvili, Vashadze, Georgian Dream, United National Movement, Ivanishvili, Saakashvili
Annamária Kiss is a Research Fellow at the Center for European Neighborhood Studies (CENS) at Central European University. Annamária received her B.A. degree in International Relations and her M.A. in Russian Studies, both from the Eötvös Lóránd University. Her primary research interests are Russian politics, the South Caucasus and Islamic radicalisation in Russia. She currently investigates the Russian foreign fighter phenomenon. Prior to joining CENS, she has worked for the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs. She has participated in several research projects in cooperation with other Budapest-based institutions. Annamária regularly guest lectures at the National University of Public Service and Pázmány Péter Catholic University on foreign and security policy of Russia and the South Caucasian countries. Contact: KissA(at)ceu.edu
This policy paper was published by STRATPOL as part of the Young Professionals program 2018. The publication of this paper was made possible thanks to the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic.