Foreign Experts on Georgian Opposition Boycotting New Parliament

The Georgian opposition parties reject the results of October 31 parliamentary elections and refuse to enter the new parliament. To reflect on the opposition’s decision we asked foreign pundits:

All opposition parties that crossed the election threshold announced that they would boycott the new parliament. Where does this leave Georgia and, in your view, what is the way out?

Our respondents are Thomas de Waal, Lincoln Mitchell and Hans Gutbrod.

Thomas de Waal, Senior Fellow with Carnegie Europe

It strikes me that the decision by the Georgian opposition to boycott the election is hasty and that Tina Khidasheli’s [former Defense Minister] call to engage from inside parliament is wiser advice.

There are certainly many issues with the October 31 election that are concerning to an outside observer. They include the way the Georgian Dream party is still able to outspend all its opponents, reports of intimidation of voters, as well as reports of irregularities in the Parallel Vote Tabulation count.

However, that is an argument for an investigation and a partial recount—a total boycott looks like a big over-reaction. As post-election statements by the EU and United States suggest, it currently seems unlikely that if the irregularities were corrected, it would cost Georgian Dream the election and the ability to form a government.

Moreover, the Georgian opposition should also be asking itself tough questions.

The biggest one is this: why were opposition parties unable to make a successful pitch to voters, akin to the one Georgian Dream made in 2012, that convinced Georgians in big numbers that it’s time to throw out the current government and install a new one?”

Lincoln Mitchell, Political Analyst 

“The decision to boycott the new parliament by the opposition parties creates problems for the Georgian Dream and the Georgian government more generally, but also for the opposition parties. While I understand both the opposition parties concerns about the conduct of this election as well as their disappointment in their poor performance at the polls, the boycott creates a number of problems for everybody involved. A half empty Georgian parliament will be seen by some as delegitimizing the government. That is clearly the aim of the opposition. However, despite the problems with the elections, it is also clear that the Georgian Dream remains the most popular party in Georgia and that the Georgian people’s desire for a UNM led government or UNM led “revolution” is not significant.

Therefore, by boycotting the parliament the opposition parties risk minimizing themselves as political life will go on without them.

There is no question that elections can be improved in Georgia, and that the Georgian Dream would be wise to try to do that, but it is equally clear that parties with limited support do not help themselves or the polity by pursuing all or nothing strategies.”

Hans Gutbrod, Associate Professor at Ilia State University

“From what I have seen so far, the opposition parties may need to explain their decision to boycott the new parliament a little better. Many of their supporters seem to be scratching their heads, and would want their views represented in the future parliament. How to move forward? Obviously a recount of the polling stations where there are concerns is an essential step. Potentially, the government could also pull forward municipal elections, in order to signal that there will be an opportunity for the opposition to contest important elections in the near future. If the opposition parties were to win in some major cities, this could signal that a democratic transition in the country is possible.

Also a stronger representation of the political spectrum – several of the smaller parties – in the election commissions could help to safeguard future elections.

In that way, with some support from Georgia’s friends, there might be a chance of transcending the current impasse. Such a compromise would be as imperfect as the 2020 elections, but perhaps better than a prolonged stand-off with all its risks.”