Georgian vote won’t affect relations with Armenia

Johnny Melikyan:

Georgian vote won’t affect relations with Armenia

PanARMENIAN.Net - On October 1, parliamentary elections will take place in Georgia; the vote will determine the country’s future for the coming years, since Georgia transfers from presidential to parliamentary republic in 2013. Johnny Melikyan, expert on Georgian affairs shares his views on the upcoming vote with PanARMENIAN.Net, speaking about the favourites of the forthcoming elections, their attitude to Armenia and the Armenian community in Georgia, as well the prospects of Russian-Georgian ties.
What’s the disposition of political forces in Georgia ahead of the elections? Which parties are the front runners of the upcoming vote?
21 parties and two election blocs are taking part in the parliamentary elections in Georgia. Three of them can be named as favourites: parliamentary parties - United National Movement of Mikheil Saakashvili and Christian-Democratic Movement of Georgia of Giorgi Targamadze, and non-parliamentary opposition alliance, Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition.

The internal political situation in Georgia is tense yet quite interesting now. After publication of the videotape on tortures and inhuman treatment in Georgian jails on September 18, the so-called “video and audio discrediting war” started between Saakashvili’s United National Movement and Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition. Publication of these videos and street protest actions against inhuman treatment in Georgian jails affected the rating of the ruling party and cut down the trust towards it. Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition used these materials and toughly slammed the ruling party to boost its own rating, and it did succeed in this, to some extent.

Campaign of the third force, the Christian-Democratic Movement of Georgia is characterized by demonstration of the two contradictory approaches of the ruling United National Movement and Georgian Dream; they call on people to vote for their programme, posing themselves as an alternative to the two confronting forces.

As to forecasts on the vote outcome, it should be noted that the United National Movement and Georgian Dream coalition will definitely enter the parliament. The third force, the Christian-Democratic Movement has all chances to overcome the threshold and make it into the new parliament of Georgia.

Also, it may happen so that the day after the elections, the opposition Georgian Dream, discontented with the voting outcome, may start a protest action demanding that the elections be recognized non-legitimate; this, in its turn, may spark clashes and deterioration of the situation in the country.

What awaits Saakashvili after these elections? Will he leave, or be content with a minor role, or maybe come back to power as a prime minister?
In any case, following the results of the upcoming parliamentary elections and presidential vote of 2013, Mikheil Saakashvili will not retain his key position (either as president or prime minister), thus paving the way for the democratic transfer of power in Georgia.

Most likely, the parliamentary elections will result in some kind of consensus within the ruling elite on the candidacy of the prime minister; Vano Merabishvili will again undertake this position. After the term of his presidency expires and after the 2013 presidential vote, Saakashvili may be assigned with some “big project”; he can quit politics and engage in the implementation and PR campaign of this project.

What’s the approach of the election front runners to the ties with Armenia and the Armenian community?
With regard to approaches of the Georgian political parties to Armenia, I’d say that none of them has a clearly defined foreign policy, except for the ruling party. The latter will further pursue its foreign policy trying to balance between its neighbours and avoiding activation of conflicts in the Southern Caucasus, since any conflict will entail certain consequences for Georgia. In case of change of power in Georgia (this scenario is unlikely to happen) the situation will not change but rather undergo some corrections with regard to foreign policy.

As to the approach to national minorities living in Georgia, all political forces mostly share the same attitude. The September 18 debates of the political parties came to prove this. Leaders of the Georgian political parties voiced their key provisions, including protection of the rights of national minorities, equality before the law for all Georgian citizens, exclusion of discrimination, and integration through study of the official language, etc.

Who does the Armenian community of Georgia support?
Georgia's Armenian community is split and has no universal position. Nearly all major political parties comprise Armenian figures; however, the ruling United National Movement of president Mikheil Saakashvili has the largest number of candidates of Armenian origin.

Another important factor is that Georgia's Armenia population accounting for 245000 people, of which 85000 live in Tbilisi, has traditionally voted for the ruling parties. Anyway, contrary to previous national elections in Georgia, some part of the votes may this time support the opposition.

Can the elections change the Russian-Georgian relations? What's the front runners' approach to ties with Russia?
The relations with Russia will be maintained on the same level. All major parties adhere to same priorities in foreign policy: European integration and accession to NATO. A chance for a dialogue with Russia will emerge only in case the majority in the new parliament belongs to Ivanishvili’s opposition Georgian Dream coalition. Even in this case, the coalition will insist on bringing Abkhazia and South Ossetia back to Georgia.

Hayk Khalatyan / PanARMENIAN News