The possibility of the end of Georgia’s post-Soviet nightmare of wars, coups and poverty may be distantly glimpsed with Georgian Dream’s victory. But many questions remain to be resolved before Georgia can get out of the hole. The last of the three famous post-USSR “Coloured Revolutions” has come to its end: like the others, it has ended in disappointment.
The big question is the interaction between the new Parliament and Saakashvili during the remainder of his term. Saakashvili is prone to accuse any opponent of being a stooge of Moscow and has done so with Ivanishvili. Ivanishvili, while he has repeatedly said that he wants a Western orientation, including NATO membership, for Georgia has also repeatedly said that better relations with Moscow are essential. How will Saakashvili behave when the first steps are made?
The constitutional situation is another point of concern. Saakashvili is still President, the President is still more powerful than the Prime Minister: indeed the former appoints the latter. (And whom will Saakashvili appoint?) But, when Saakashvili leaves office in a year, the power relationship will reverse. These year-old constitutional changes, which some saw as an effort by Saakashvili to remain in power will, instead, send Ivanishvili or his nominee into power and Saakashvili into retirement. But, at the moment, it’s dual power and history shows few happy endings to that situation. Saakashvili is unlikely to be a good loser and there are already fears of what he could do to make things hard for Ivanishvili.
Will the new Parliament ask the big unasked question? And that is the disparity between the claimed high economic growth rate and the staggeringly high unemployment rate: 69% in a recent US/Swedish survey consider themselves unemployed. (See page 13). How can both of these be true? I can think of only two ways high growth can be consistent with spectacular unemployment rates: either that the growth is a façade of luxury hotels and other fripperies for visitors or that corruption and cronyism have kept the money locked in a tiny group of connected people. A potentially explosive question.
Is Ivanishvili’s coalition anything more than an ephemeral anti-Saakashvili grouping? Can the coalition hold against likely attempts by Saakashvili to detach members?
The Abkhazia and South Ossetia problems will continue. Ivanishvili’s spokesman reiterates that Tbilisi expects them back and, more convincingly than Saakashvili ever could, insists it will be done through negotiations. That is not going to happen in any future that he or Ivanishvili will see. Conceivably, after years of effort, reconstruction, prosperity, peaceful relations and a serious investigation into Tbilisi’s crimes against these areas (starting in the 1990s, if not in the 1920s) something might be possible. But Abkhazians and Ossetians will take a very long time and a high degree of proof before they will trust Tbilisi. They are not serfs to be passively transferred from one owner to another.
In short, this is a good start, but there is a long way to go before Georgia becomes a peaceful and prosperous land.