09/07/2024 GIP

GIP Hosted its 9th Annual Democracy Conference #GEODEM2024

On June 25, the Georgian Institute of Politics (GIP) held the 9th Annual Democracy Conference, “Georgia’s Slide to Authoritarianism: How to Withstand Antidemocratic Pressure.”

#GEODEM2024, organized with the support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Georgia and the Embassy of Switzerland in Georgia, included two panels:

  • Panel I: Conversation with Parties: Concerns and Perspectives After Turmoil
  • Panel II: The Future of Georgian Democracy and the Role of the International Community

Conference discussions were based on a compendium of policy briefs, published and presented to the #GEODEM2024 audience.

Prof. Kornely Kakakchia, Director of the Georgian Institute of Politics, and H.E. Meline Arakelian, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Georgia, opened the conference with their opening remarks. In his speech, Prof. Kakachia focused on the importance of political parties as well as international society in the turbulent times which challenge Georgia’s young democracy. As Ambassador Meline Arakelian pointed out, her country has long been engaged in developing Georgia’s democracy, along the strengthened EU focus on Georgia and its European aspirations, and now in challenging times, the Netherlands stay committed to contribute to advancing democracy in Georgia.

Panel I 

The moderator Nino Gelashvili, Senior Editor of the Radio Liberty / Free Europe Georgian office opened the first interparty discussion under the title “Conversation with Parties: Concerns and Perspectives After Turmoil”. Dr. Nino Japaridze, Senior Advisor at Edison Research reflected on Georgian voters’ expectations from the political parties. According to her, voters expect unity from the parties considering the current environment and context. Political parties should not navigate within their comfort zone, and they should rather try to understand the demands from the society throughout Georgia. While 30% of the society might support Georgian Dream (GD) ruling party nowadays, it does not necessarily mean that the rest 70% will support the opposition. According to Dr. Japaridze, this was the miscalculation of the opposition during the 2020 parliamentary elections, and they should avoid making a similar mistake this year.

After contextualizing voter expectations, members of five Georgian political parties shared their insights regarding the following questions: How do Georgian political parties see the pre-election environment and the perspective of multi-party democracy in preparation for the 2024 elections? How will political parties answer to the public demands and expectations in the current context? What major factors may hinder the democratic process before and during the elections? And what are the key challenges that Georgian political parties face in the context of the ongoing political crisis?

All politicians speaking at the panel emphasized the importance of cooperation in the context of the upcoming parliamentary elections, especially considering the increasing tensions and current political crisis. They also underlined that it will be crucial to ensure that the votes will not be lost, regardless of the configurations that the parties will agree on before the elections.

Irakli Kupradze, General Secretary of Lelo for Georgia presented his party’s vision according to which they are seeking to identify possible configurations for the upcoming elections, that attract rather than lose the votes of the opposition electorate. He also highlighted the need for creating common strategies against disinformation, especially considering the tense political environment created by the GD, which is trying to hijack the political process in Georgia.

Boris Chele Kurua from the Girchi More Freedom underlined that increased violence and tensions in the last few months point towards the fact that the upcoming elections are especially important for the ruling party. In that context, it will be of crucial importance for political parties to offer their electorate a renewed political system.

Giorgi Noniashvili, a member of the European Georgia party highlighted his party’s strong position that any possible configuration should be based on more fundamental grounds so that parties could cooperate even after the elections. According to him, it is important to make sure that the opposition voters also have a choice and that the pre-election campaign is based on policy issues.

Teimuraz Papaskiri representing Ahali party shared his take on what he called the unique political environment amid the 2024 elections in Georgia. Papaskiri underlined that Ahali party is actively consulting with the other political subjects since losing any number of votes might be fatal in the upcoming elections. Therefore, he added that if any political party sees that they cannot overcome the 5% barrier, they should be modest enough to consider merging the party lists in order to save as many votes as possible.

Lastly, Dimitri Shashkini from the United National Movement highlighted the importance of the geopolitical changes taking place around Georgia and the challenge of illiberal powers gaining dominance over the region. He noted that the geopolitical context makes the upcoming elections even more important.

The panel was summed up with the Q&A session where members of the audience raised important issues with the political party members, such as the impact of poor social conditions of the society in Georgia on the election process; Georgian political parties’ cooperation with the European party groups, and Russia’s hand in domestic political competition.

Panel II 

The second-panel discussion was dedicated to the future of Georgia’s democracy and the role of the international community. Moderator Rayhan Demytrie, BBC correspondent, opened the discussion with ambassadors of four European countries to Georgia and Prof. Julie A. George, Associate Professor of Political Science, City University of New York and Adjunct Associate Professor at SIPA, Columbia University. Discussion touched upon the strategies for international community to help Georgia to return to the path of democracy, support civil society in this challenging context, and contribute to ensuring fair and democratic elections in Georgia.

Ambassador of Denmark to Georgia H. E. Anne Toft Sørensen stated that all the European countries are committed to supporting the civil society organizations in Georgia in given difficult contexts shaped by the newly adopted law on transparency of foreign influence. “We are not going anywhere”, – noted Ambassador Sørensen, adding that it is hard to see that the Georgian government considers the financial aid coming from the European countries to different social, agrarian programs as an “influence”.

E. Riina Kaljurand, Ambassador of the Republic of Estonia, reminded that “Georgia made a choice to democratize and that is why Estonia has been supporting this country.” Estonia does not need convincing why Georgia matters – “it always mattered. We need to think how to keep and improve relations in the crises” – ambassador noted.

H.E. Andrius Kalindra, Ambassador of the Republic of Lithuania to Georgia admitted that “the reputation of Georgia was damaged after [adoption of the law against the foreign influence]”, which makes further progress more challenging. He wished politicians to talk about political culture and transfer power in a peaceful way; encourage more women in politics; and focus on the future, rather than the past.

According to H.E. Bergljot Hovland, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Norway to Georgia, even though Norway is not the EU member, the country is still in line with the common European approach towards supporting democracy in Georgia and invests in order to build strong democratic institutions in the country.

Prof. Julie George commented on the issue of “Global War Party” that it should not be understood as propaganda or disinformation, but as a tool used for spreading fear in the Georgian society. Key message from the panel was that it is only up to Georgians to choose democracy, which cannot be done by the West. Once Tbilisi chooses democracy, the EU is there to show its support.

GEODEM 2024 was organized with the support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Georgia and the Embassy of Switzerland in Georgia.

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