Georgia election results: a proxy Ivanishvili-Saakashvili runoff
None of the candidates could secure the majority of votes in the first round of the Georgian presidential elections held on 28 October. Georgians will have to decide in a runoff which is scheduled to be held on 2 December this year.
The final results announced on Monday showed that Salome Zurabishvili, a French-born former foreign minister, was able to secure 38.7 % of votes. Zurabishvili, an independent candidate backed by the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party, was just one percentage point ahead of the main opposition candidate Grigol Vashadze, a candidate of opposition United National Movement (UNM) and also a former foreign minister. Another candidate, David Bakradze, who finished third with 11 percent, announced that his supporters should vote for Vashadze in the second round.
The result could be interpreted as a loss for the ruling GD. Most of the votes were split between many opposition candidates even though Zurabishvili had a large advantage in campaign funding. Analysts interpret the result as a loss of confidence of the Georgian voters for Bidzina Ivanishvili, a billionaire behind-the-scenes leader of GD, and dissatisfaction with Georgia’s economic growth. The result also marks a comeback of Mikheil Saakashvili into Georgian politics. The exiled UNM leader wanted in Georgia on multiple charges clashed bitterly with Ivanishvili in 2012. Both leaders prepare for a parliamentary election in 2020.
The election did not go without scandals and corruption allegations. The OSCE monitoring mission reported several misuses of state resources and illegal campaign practices, however, it concluded that Georgians had a “genuine choice.”
These were the seventh presidential elections since Georgia’s independence in 1991 and are the last in which voters decide by direct ballot. A constitution amendment signed in 2017 changed the system of voting from a direct ballot to a 300-member College of Electors, which would be comprised of parliament deputies as well as local and regional political representatives.
#NATO: Trident Juncture 18, a largest military exercise since the Cold War
From 25 October until 7 November 2018, around 50 000 participants from 31 NATO and partner countries are conducting the largest military exercise since the Cold War. Some 250 aircraft, 65 ships, and up to 10 000 vehicles are present in Norway and the surrounding areas of the North Atlantic and the Baltic Sea. Trained NATO forces able to cooperate and ready to respond to any threat and regional crisis should be the outcome of the exercise.
U.S. Admiral James Foggo stated that the exercise is also a demonstration of NATO´s capability to bring a large force to bear on an ‘Article 5 problem’. Furthermore, according to Carl Bildt, former Sweden´s foreign minister, the joint exercises could move non-member Sweden closer to the Alliance.
The drills will send “a clear message to our nations and to any potential adversary”, said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. The exercise might be also seen as a response to Russian Vostok 2018, the largest military maneuvers since 1981, mobilizing some 300 000 soldiers together with China and Mongolia.
Paradoxically, the Kremlin is worried about the ongoing exercise in Norway and surrounding areas. Russian minister of defense Sergei Shoigu expressed his concerns, saying that “NATO´s military activities near our borders have reached the highest level since the Cold War times” and that NATO´s exercise is “simulating offensive military actions”. Allegedly, Russia has informed Norway that it is going to test missiles in international waters off Norway´s coast this week, precisely when the NATO´s joint drill is taking place. Besides, Vladimir Putin announced Russia will produce new weapons that have no comparisons anywhere in the world.
ASEM: Saving multilateralism?
#Asia and #Europe are going through rapid political, economic and societal changes – our recently published discussion paper looks at the ideas, initiatives and innovations aimed at building a better world through cooperation. Have a read: https://t.co/1nG7LxfQfL #ASEM pic.twitter.com/ZWqZvTtcpo
— Friends of Europe (@FriendsofEurope) October 26, 2018
On 18-19 October, the heads of 30 European and 21 Asian countries met in Brussels, together with Jean-Claude Juncker (European Commission), Donald Tusk (European Council) and Lim Jock Hoi (ASEAN). During the 12th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit, the leaders agreed to strengthen EU-ASEAN relations and promote a rule-based multilateral international order.
Juncker supported multilateral world order and its organisations such as the UN or WTO and mentioned it is necessary to reform the WTO to correspond to the new realities to solve the global challenges. Federica Mogherini pronounced the importance of cooperation between Asia and Europe as regions that together represent 60% of the global population.
The Council of the European Union has adopted a new strategy for connecting Europe and Asia. The strategy includes developing transportation infrastructure, telecommunication and internet infrastructure, opening up of the business environment, all with a rule-based and sustainable approach.
The EU has signed a free trade agreement with Singapore, its biggest trade partner among the ASEAN countries. This will remove almost all tariffs on European products and facilitate the trade of goods and services, and set common high labour, safety and environment standards. Both sides have also signed an Investment Protection Agreement as part of the EU’s new investment protection approach.
The European Commission has also adopted agreement regarding free trade with Vietnam. Apart from removing duties on mutual trade, it also includes a legally binding commitment to human and labour rights development and promotes legal timber trade as part of environmental protection.
Deserted ‘Davos in the Desert’ following Khashoggi murder
On 23 October, a three-day conference, the Foreign Investment Initiative (FII), nicknamed “Davos in the Desert” started in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The opulent conference was, however, overshadowed by the brutal murder of a journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month.
Saudi government changed its version of the event multiple times and recently admitted that it was a prepared murder. There are many indications that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was personally involved in Khashoggi’s killing. As a result, many western financial institutions, companies and politicians pulled out from the conference. This will likely strengthen the trend of rapidly-decreasing foreign investment in Saudi Arabia. But the price may be even higher.
Western think-tanks return Saudi money and major media wrote numerous articles critical of bin Salman’s regime, who attempted to create an image of a reformer by introducing some cosmetic changes to the strict laws, such as letting women drive. Attention has been brought also to the Saudi intervention in Yemen, during which multiple war crimes occurred. Khashoggi’s murder caused Western politicians to call for a review of the relationship with the Saudis, some U.S. congressmen even called for sanctions.
It is true that in the last years, interests and values of the United States and Saudi Arabia have been divergent. Moreover, Turkish president Erdoğan used Khashoggi’s murder to delegitimize the Saudis and gain an advantage in the regional rivalry between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
While the alliance between Saudi Arabia, U.S., and other Western states was undeniably damaged by the incident, for now, it seems that it will last. Saudi Arabia is simply too important – it is not only a major oil supplier and recipient lucrative arms deals but also a bulwark against assertive Iran and it hosts multiple American military installations. But after Khashoggi’s murder, it would be elusive to think that this alliance is anything more than a marriage of convenience.
Image source: Flickr | NATO / Exercise Trident Juncture 2018
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a bi-weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into a broader context.
Responsible editor Ondřej Zacha.
The text has not undergone language revision.