Nations in Transit 2009 - Georgia
|Author||Elizabeth Fuller Carlson|
|Publication Date||30 June 2009|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Nations in Transit 2009 - Georgia, 30 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a55bb3d9.html [accessed 22 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
by Elizabeth Fuller Carlson
Population: 4.4 million
The data above was provided by The World Bank, World Bank Indicators 2009.
Nations in Transit Ratings and Averaged Scores
|National Democratic Governance||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a||5.50||5.50||5.50||5.75||6.00|
|Local Democratic Governance||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a||6.00||5.75||5.50||5.50||5.50|
|Judicial Framework and Independence||4.00||4.00||4.25||4.50||4.50||5.00||4.75||4.75||4.75||4.75|
* Starting with the 2005 edition, Freedom House introduced separate analysis and ratings for national democratic governance and local democratic governance to provide readers with more detailed and nuanced analysis of these two important subjects.
NOTE: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year.
Following the collapse of the USSR in December 1991, Georgia suffered several years of chaos and economic meltdown during which it lost jurisdiction over much of the territory of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which had enjoyed autonomous status for decades within the Georgian SSR. The Former Communist Party of Georgia First Secretary, and later Soviet Foreign Minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, who returned to Tbilisi in March 1992 and was elected president in 1995, proved unable to end corruption or create conditions for sustained economic growth, and was ousted in November 2003 after a rigged parliamentary election. Mikheil Saakashvili, who was elected president in January 2004, succeeded in reducing corruption and liberalizing the economy, but failed to restore jurisdiction over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. President Saakashvili's proclaimed pro-Western orientation and aspirations to take Georgia into NATO exacerbated latent tensions with Moscow. His perceived authoritarian tendencies, together with widespread popular discontent over social and economic conditions, impelled the opposition to stage peaceful protests in November 2007 that were violently suppressed.
Saakashvili won reelection for a presidential second term in a pre-term election on January 5, 2008 that the opposition claimed was rigged. International observers registered significant violations both in that ballot and in the pre-term parliamentary election on May 21 in which Saakashvili's United National Movement preserved its absolute majority. Tensions with Russia worsened in April after NATO declined to offer Georgia the hoped-for Membership Action Plan. NATO reaffirmed, however, that both Georgia and Ukraine would join the alliance at some unspecified future date. Sporadic exchanges of fire between Georgian forces and Ossetian militias over several weeks culminated in a Georgian artillery bombardment of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, on August 7, 2008, to which Russia responded with a military incursion and the bombing of Georgian cities. Up to 500 Georgian civilians and servicemen were killed, and 130,000 Georgians forced to flee their homes. French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, acting on behalf of the European Union, proposed the terms for a ceasefire on August 12 to which both Russia and Georgia acceded. Two weeks later Russia formally recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, and subsequently concluded military alliances with both regions. Leading oppositionists accused Saakashvili of undemocratic and authoritarian methods and called for pre-term elections.
National Democratic Governance. Despite constitutional guarantees of civil and political rights, Georgia remains a hybrid system in which a parliament loyal to the president fails to curtail authoritarian tendencies on the part of the executive. The authorities' disinclination to take any real steps towards dialogue with the embittered and internally divided opposition compounded polarization. President Saakashvili's failure to address the concerns of the population of the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia enabled Moscow to draw Georgia into a conflict that left hundreds dead, tens of thousands of displaced persons, and ended in Russia's unilateral recognition of the two republics' independence. Due to the absence of any real constraints on the president, the authorities' reluctance to engage in dialogue with the opposition, and unanswered questions concerning the August war with Russia, the rating for democratic governance worsens from 5.75 to 6.00.
Electoral Process. The opposition rejected the official results both of the pre-term presidential election on January 5, and of the pre-term parliamentary election in May, calling the elections rigged. On both occasions, international observers registered procedural violations during the vote count and tabulation. They also noted the unfair advantage enjoyed by the incumbent during campaigning for the presidential election, controversial amendments to the election law enacted in March that "created an unequal playing field in favor of the ruling party," and the extensive recourse to administrative resources and campaigning by "political officials." In light of the shortcomings registered by the OSCE during the January presidential election, and the authorities' failure to remedy some of those failings before the May parliamentary ballot, the rating for electoral process declines from 4.75 to 5.25.
Civil Society. The varied and vibrant civil society that emerged during the late 1990s lost momentum in the wake of the 2003 Rose Revolution. There are no legal restrictions on the founding or activities of NGOs whose activity does not violate the freedoms upheld in the Georgian constitution. But many NGOs remain dependent on foreign sponsors, and the Georgian authorities frequently ignore their recommendations. There have been reports of illegal pressure and harassment by local officials of small NGOs in the provinces. Trade unions function without legal constraints or interference, but their ability to protect and promote employees' interests is limited by the illiberal labor code passed in 2007. The rating for civil society worsens from 3.50 to 3.75.
Independent Media. The Georgian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the media and prohibits censorship. In practice, however, individual journalists and media outlets are sometimes subject to pressure, and constitutional and legal provisions of free access to information are frequently violated. Outlets whose owners support the country's governing powers dominate the media landscape. In March, the change of leadership at the Public Broadcaster demanded by the opposition failed to yield greater plurality of views as was hoped for. Access to Russian websites was blocked and rebroadcasting of Russian TV stations was suspended in the wake of the August war. Georgia's rating for independent media remains at 4.25.
Local Democratic Governance. Recent legislation on local government is widely regarded as unsatisfactory. Mayors of large cities and provincial governors are still not popularly elected. Citizens frequently encounter difficulties in obtaining either assistance from local authorities or information about local initiatives that could affect them personally. The Georgian authorities continue to ignore or dismiss complaints of discrimination expressed by the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities of southern Georgia as unfounded. The rating for local democratic governance remains unchanged at 5.50.
Judicial Framework and Independence. The Georgian authorities have taken few concrete steps to counter the widely held convictions that the government, not the judiciary, determines the outcome of criminal trials, and that the Interior Ministry is a law unto itself, accountable to no one. Prison conditions remain abysmal. The rating for judicial framework and independence remains unchanged at 4.75.
Corruption. Since 2004 the Georgian authorities have waged a selective campaign against corruption that many believe exempts the president's closest entourage. International financial organizations have registered marked progress in the economy and business spheres. But Transparency International Georgia has listed numerous areas where the authorities have failed, whether out of inertia or lack of political will, to remedy perceived shortcomings. The rating for corruption remains unchanged at 5.00.
Outlook for 2009. In conditions of an imminent global recession, Georgia faces the huge challenge of repairing the economic damage inflicted during the August war, restoring investor confidence, and providing housing and aid to thousands of displaced persons. Those problems are likely to eclipse pressure, whether domestic or international, to address documented human rights violations and the erosion of media freedom. President Saakashvili continues to claim popular support and affirm he will not step down before his term ends in early 2013. The fractured opposition may prove too weak and divided to force the authorities to agree to pre-term elections. The prospects for the restoration of Georgia's territorial integrity remain minimal, especially in light of the West's disinclination to antagonize Russia.