In Georgia, a Historic Transfer of Power
On Monday, October 1, Georgians cast their ballots to elect 150 members to parliament. These polls held particular significance, as constitutional amendments will bestow increased power on parliamentarians and on the prime minister when they take effect in December 2013.
Observers have lauded the process as one of the most peaceful transfers of power in Georgia’s history. Nermin Nisic, IFES chief of party in Georgia, offers his reflections on Election Day, Georgia’s democracy and what comes next.
These elections are considered a real milestone in Georgian democracy. Why is that?
Several key factors contributed to a general consensus that these elections marked a tangible step forward in Georgia’s ability to hold democratic elections. Not least of these factors are increased political competition and citizen participation; improved election management body administration; heightened trust in the voter list; and a proactive civil society.
How was Election Day and how did turnout compare to past elections?
Expectations were exceptionally high leading up to Election Day, with record numbers of local and international observers and voters. While areas for improvement remain, such as clarification of assisted voting measures, increased accessibility for persons with disabilities and enhanced training efforts for polling station members, observers and political party proxies, overall, Election Day was orderly and marked by visible improvement in election administration.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) reported a turnout of 60.8 percent for Monday’s parliamentary election, which translates into 2,197,173 voters. That is an increase of nearly 7 percent from previous parliamentary elections.
A number of key developments marked this pre-election season: Amendments were made to the constitution to shift power from the president to the parliament; the first-ever live, televised parliamentary debates were held ahead the polls; and at the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly, President Saakashvili promised to promote free and fair elections. What does all this say about Georgia’s democracy?
These developments touch upon a general sentiment that Georgians desire a society that is free and democratic. Monday’s elections demonstrated that change is possible through the ballot box, a fact that was underlined by concession speeches from the losing party (a relatively new phenomenon in the region); this marks Georgia’s progress in realizing these ideals and aspirations.
What impact could these developments have on Georgia’s neighbors and the region as a whole?
While it is difficult to speculate on political developments in the region, the power of the vote was realized in Georgia, and this will reverberate far beyond its borders. Irrespective of political opinions, this historic transition of power, in a country that spent much of the 20th and 21st centuries under Soviet or one-party rule, underlines that while that path is not always easy or smooth, democracy does not discriminate based on history or geography. Georgia’s elections made a clear statement that voting is not a privilege – it is a right.
What do you see as an important next step for Georgia’s leaders?
With the Georgian Dream Coalition having received the majority of seats in parliament and Mikheil Saakashvili, leader of Georgia’s United National movement, heading the country as president, Georgian leaders will need to seek compromise and work together in the current reality of political cohabitation.
How has IFES contributed to these positive developments in Georgia’s electoral process?
IFES has supported Georgia’s democratic development for over a decade by addressing capacity, awareness and perception deficiencies in Georgia’s electoral processes.
Programming in the country focuses on election law reform; building the capacity of the election administration and the bodies responsible for implementing Georgia’s political finance legislation; verifying the country’s voter registry; encouraging civic education for disenfranchised populations and university students; supporting increased gender equity; and building the capacity of nongovernmental organizations to provide oversight. IFES also encourages accountability and increases public awareness about election-related issues and processes while providing training for electoral stakeholders.