REUTERS / David Mdzinarishvili At a polling station in a school in Tbilisi, October 2016. 

Georgia's Long-Shot Democracy

Not Quite Liberal

On October 8, Georgia held what may have been its freest, fairest, and most competitive elections in its independent history. The vote proceeded more smoothly than many observers had expected, given the rising tensions between the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party and the chief opposition party, what was once the ruling United National Movement (UNM), and the brief spike in political violence in the days leading up to it.

The vote marked Georgia’s third consecutive round of free elections since 2012, when a GD-led coalition overcame the odds to push the entrenched UNM out of power. Today, Georgia can certainly be called a democracy; it is home to a relatively open and competitive political and electoral environment. Yet whether the country’s democracy is a liberal one is less of a settled matter: the victorious GD may yet seek to mold the constitution to its own advantage, and hard-line factions within the UNM continue to agitate for GD’s ouster through extrapolitical means.

The parliamentary elections were a victory for constitutional centrism.

Georgia’s ability to consolidate its political institutions around a durable democratic culture is uncertain. In that quest, the seeds have only just been sown. As recent trends in the United States and Europe suggest, democracy is a garden in need of constant tending—and that is especially the case in Georgia. 

HOW THE UNM HANDED IT AWAY

Preliminary results suggested a strong victory for GD, which took some 49 percent of the vote, compared with the UNM’s 27 percent. In Georgia’s mixed proportional-majoritarian system, which awards about half of Parliament’s 150 seats based on national vote shares and the rest through single-district mandates, those results should translate to 67 seats for GD and some 27 seats for the UNM. The remaining majoritarian seats will be allotted based on second-round voting, which will take place in late October. Having already won 23 majoritarian races outright, in addition to its 44 proportional wins, GD needs only nine more seats to achieve an outright parliamentary majority

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