By Svante E. Cornell, Per Eklund, Mamuka Tsereteli
October 2016, pp. 21
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• Georgia will hold parliamentary elections on October 8, 2016, which will be key to deciding the country’s future development and its strategic trajectory.
• Economic problems, especially unemployment and prices, dominate the minds of the Georgian electorate. A large majority thinks the country is headed the wrong direction.
• The Georgian Dream government has lost the support it had four years ago; yet the electorate appears to lay equal if not more blame for Georgia’s problems on the predecessor UNM government.
• Palpable anger and frustration is visible in surveys, where practically all political figures have negative approval ratings.
• This makes the election an opportunity for “third” parties and new political forces, if they are given the space to take advantage. These range from reliably pro-Western forces like the Free Democrats; to populists like the Labor party; unknown quantities like the State for People alliance; and outright anti-Western ones like the Alliance of Patriots.
• The pro-Western political forces are internally troubled and those outside government face growing intimidation, reducing their effectiveness. They remain in considerable need of support to maintain a focus on Georgia’s longer term European and Euro-Atlantic integration.
• There is great uncertainty regarding the composition of the next parliament. This uncertainty is likely to continue up until the election, and perhaps beyond October 8, until the runoff in the majoritarian districts.
• The U.S. and Europe are paying scant attention to Georgian politics and its October elections. This stands in great contrast to the past decade, when Western decision-makers observed developments in Georgia closely. The Georgian population, meanwhile, is increasingly disillusioned about the deliverables of its Western orientation.
• This election could be decisive for Georgia’s future path, and for the development of the broader region. Georgia’s trajectory matters greatly to U.S. national security interests, and to the viability of the EU’s Eastern Partnership. It is time for Western governments to do more to encourage continued reform, pay attention to Georgia’s security concerns, and inject momentum for the country’s European orientation.