On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will begin a two-day visit to the Republic of Georgia. Pompeo’s trip comes alongside rising concerns over the young democracy’s future.
Of primary alarm at present is the contested Oct. 31 election, in which the ruling Georgian Dream party won a huge victory. While opinion pollsters showed sustained leads for Georgian Dream prior to the election, the party performed far better than expected on polling day. Regardless, opposition parties have rejected the results. They assert that carousel fraud and voter intimidation were serious problems giving the incumbent government an unfair advantage. A report released by the International Republican Institute on Monday lends credibility to those assertions.
The report suggests that there were situations where “ballots cast exceeded the number of voter signatures” and found numerous summary judgments evincing a lack of interest in possible fraud. It also notes that of three major election inspection organizations present, none received a complaint uphold rate of more than 17% from electoral authorities. As the small central Eurasian nation moves toward runoff elections on Saturday, these issues require timely attention.
Unfortunately, while the State Department says that Pompeo will meet with civil society representatives during his visit, opposition parties say they are not receiving meetings. Were that to hold true, it would represent a break from previous high-level U.S. visits to Tbilisi. And that’s concerning. Because what we’ve seen with the recent election mess is not simply a problem in its own right. Instead, it reflects the slow but increasingly obvious shift of Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia away from democratic norms.
For a start, there’s the Georgian government’s increasingly formal appeasement of Russia. Retaining occupied territory it seized during the 2008 war, Russia continues to undermine Georgian sovereignty and social stability. At the same time, Vladimir Putin’s interests in preventing Georgia’s greater economic connectivity with Europe have been enabled by Gakharia. Seemingly on the order of Georgian Dream’s billionaire oligarch founder and funder, Bidzina Ivanishvili, major port and fiber optics cable projects have been disrupted. These two infrastructure interests would have served the Georgian people and promoted the nation as an untapped investment resource. Instead, Georgia increasingly looks like just another post-Soviet state. A place where business requires fealty to those in power and doing business only with those in power.
These issues are ones that Pompeo should raise publicly during his visit. If he fails to establish the understanding that the democratic world expects Tbilisi to adhere to democratic norms, the current will simply double down on cronyism.Top