On coming October 2nd, local elections shall take place in Georgia. And those elections are essential for several reasons.
Firstly, they refer to the ground level of democracy – citizens directly elect their “immediate” governance. Secondly, they are perceived as a political stability test for Georgia: they are the first elections to be organized after the internally contested parliamentary elections of October 2020 and, more importantly, after the EU negotiated “April 19th” agreement.
Under that agreement, all Georgian political forces should have united behind securing necessary democratic reforms: significant amendments to the electoral code and measures ensuring the independence of justice or protecting all against political prosecution. And while the current Georgian government and President successfully started implementing the April 19th agreement, part of the political parties in opposition, including the largest one – the United National Movement – decided not to sign the April 19th agreement altogether, even 100 days after its enactment.
Let us be clear. On the one hand, such divisive actions cannot benefit Georgia’s people or Georgia’s way to EU integration. On the other hand, all previously successful EU accession countries have shown the political maturity and collective will to go beyond power-opposition traditional quarrels and conduct necessary EU-agreed and EU-compatible political and economic reforms.
With those facts in mind, the local elections and their aftermath constitute a test of political maturity for the Georgian political class. The integrity of the polls and, implicitly, of their result should be guaranteed by respecting long-established OSCE and EU practices and by the in situ supervision by independent foreign observers. But once validated, endlessly contesting them serves no good or useful purpose. Respecting citizen’s will and working together to achieve it should determine cohesive rather than divisive political actions at all governance levels.
And cohesive national political actions are needed for yet another important reason: at the commemoration of thirteen years from the start of the Russian-Georgian, short but bloody, military conflict (8-12 August 2021), Georgia’s President, Ms Salome Zourabichvili, asked Russia to revoke its 2008 decision to recognize the independence of two Georgian separatist regions, namely South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Besides the Russian Federation, those two regions were only recognized by Nicaragua, Nauru, Siria and Venezuela, while most of the international community chose to respect Georgia’s territorial integrity.
The President also asked Moscow to fully respect the agreement signed back in 2008 by its President, Mr Medvedev and the then French President, Mr Sarkozy, including the obligation to redraw the Russian troops from the two separatist regions. Or, currently, the Russian Federation maintains military bases in both parts of the Georgian territory; Georgia considers such presence as an occupation: “The Russian Federation occupies, presently, 20% of the Georgian territory. We shall work continuously to obtain its de-occupation. With the help of the international community, we shall succeed”, said, at the same event, Mr Irakli Garibashvili, Prime-Minister of Georgia. “Russia must show good political will and advance towards de-escalation by revoking its recognition of the independence of the two separatist regions. Therefore, today is a day of mourning but, equally, a day of hope: I believe that Georgia will, ultimately, reunite,” said the President.
In a region where hot and cold conflicts are, unfortunately, usual (see the “Crimean case”, the occupation of a part of the Moldovan Republic – Transnistria – by military troops of the Russian Federation or the recent Armenia-Azerbaijan war), stability and peace matter most. And stability can only be achieved if internal political forces understand its vital importance and tirelessly work together to achieve and maintain it. And if external forces respect and contribute to such stability by promoting inclusive policies and trust-building actions.
It is, therefore, important for all Georgian political parties to leave aside division and work together for a stable, prosperous, European Georgia. But it is equally the responsibility of the EU not to abandon the European destiny of Georgia. Instead, to support and closely work with its President, Prime Minister, and responsible political forces to, sooner rather than later, celebrate a reunited new member: Georgia.