Nations in Transit - Georgia (2006)
|Publication Date||13 June 2006|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Nations in Transit - Georgia (2006), 13 June 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/473aff3350.html [accessed 26 December 2014]|
|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.|
Status: Partly Free
Private Sector as % of GNI: na
Life Expectancy: 72
Religious Groups: Orthodox Christian (83.9 percent), Muslim (9.9 percent), Armenian-Gregorian (3.9 percent), other (2.3 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Georgian (70 percent), Armenian (8 percent), Russian (6 percent), Azeri (6 percent), Ossetian (3 percent), Abkhaz (2 percent), other (5 percent)
|Judicial Framework and Independence||4.00||4.00||4.25||4.50||4.50||5.00||4.75|
|National Democratic Governance||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||5.50||5.50|
|Local Democratic Governance||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||6.00||5.75|
Since independence, Georgia has created a hybrid regime haunted by instability. There were no constitutional transitions of power after 1990, while in 1992 and 2003 elected presidents were forced out of office following public protests. In the latter case, however, the change was peaceful and did not lead to a major disruption of the constitutional process. Wars for secession from 1991 to 1993 brought some 15 percent of the country's territory under the control of unrecognized governments in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Since then, these zones of so-called frozen conflict have been major impediments to Georgia's development: They contain threats of renewed violence and undermine Georgia's chances for political and economic stabilization. The 1995 Constitution conformed to primary democratic criteria – this, along with the liberal policies of the government, allowed political parties to compete freely for the most part, independent media and civil society to grow, and the Parliament to develop into a fairly independent institution. However, under President Eduard Shevardnadze, the executive power was ineffective and corrupt, and elections were increasingly rigged. The political system was overcentralized, with almost no democratic institutions at the subnational level. Owing to incomplete territorial control, extremely low public revenues, and an inability to provide public goods, Georgia was often referred to as a 'failing state.'
In November 2003, fraudulent parliamentary elections triggered wide public protests that ended in the resignation of President Shevardnadze and brought to power a new generation of Georgian politicians led by the charismatic Mikheil Saakashvili. The new government declared joining NATO and the European Union (EU) as its strategic goals and embarked on an ambitious reform program. It focused its activities on rooting out corruption and developing effective state institutions. A strategic success was achieved in May 2004 in the Autonomous Republic of Achara, where the local autocratic regime was removed as the result of a democratic revolution supported from Tbilisi, the capital. The collection of public revenue was stepped up considerably, and institutionalized 'pyramids' of corruption in state agencies such as the police were disrupted. The government started to provide visible public goods, such as repaired roads and other infrastructure and increased, timely paid salaries and pensions.
However, these rapid achievements were accompanied by certain setbacks in the democratic balance of power. Two years after the revolution, there is still no credible opposition to the United National Movement, the party that came to power after the Rose Revolution. Changes to the Georgian Constitution in February 2004 weakened the Parliament and moved Georgia in the direction of superpresidentialism. The judiciary rarely makes decisions that run counter to the will of the executive. The government's policy-making process lacks transparent, orderly, and predictable procedures. Independent media and civil society, though often openly critical of the government, have become less influential. Still, there have been important steps forward in democratic development: Elections have been much fairer and better organized (even if less competitive), there are fewer human rights abuses by the police, and in 2005 the first steps were made toward decentralizing the government.
National Democratic Governance. Georgia has a mixed political system that secures major civil and political rights and provides for political pluralism and meaningful expression of the citizens' will. However, the government's numerous imbalances, most notably the domination of the executive branch over all other state agencies, leads to authoritarian tendencies in different spheres of public life and prevents Georgia from becoming a consolidated democracy. Civil society has influence over some aspects of state policies, but the level of political participation – save for elections or public protests – is concentrated within a small elite. There is insufficient civilian oversight of the military. About 15 percent of Georgian territory is controlled by the secessionist regimes of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are backed by Russia. The effectiveness of the executive government has increased considerably in the last two years, especially in attracting public revenue and providing public goods. As Georgia is a hybrid system with considerable democratic freedoms but still lacking fully consolidated state institutions and sufficient governmental checks and balances, and the government's authority does not extend over the entire territory, the rating for national democratic governance is unchanged at 5.50.
Electoral Process. Snap presidential and parliamentary elections in 2004, as well as by-elections to the Georgian Parliament in the fall of 2004 and fall of 2005, were considered generally free and fair and constituted significant progress over the fraudulent and chaotic parliamentary elections in November 2003. Some problems persist, such as incomplete voter lists and the use of state administrative resources by the party in government. The inherent weakness of the opposition significantly reduces political pluralism. Opposition parties are engaged in building their base for future elections but are still unable to compete with the party in power and its popular leader. In 2005, there was a rising trend of incivility between the government and the opposition. The rating for electoral process is unchanged at 4.75.
Civil Society. Legislation regulating the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) is quite liberal. Nonprofit organizations are easy to register, their number is growing, and they can operate freely. A majority of the public appreciates its role in advancing democratic causes. However, after the Rose Revolution the sector's visibility diminished somewhat as many important civil society leaders moved to the government or – in some cases – to the opposition. NGO cooperation with the government is productive in some areas, but there is no stable mechanism for interaction between the government and civil society. There are organizations with illiberal, extreme right agendas, but their influence has diminished in the last two years. The social base for NGOs is rather narrow, and organizations in most regions outside the capital are less developed. They are dependent primarily on foreign funding. The new tax code that came into effect in 2005 instituted tax breaks for charitable activities, though these legal provisions are rarely used. Trade unions exist but have little influence. The rating for civil society remains unchanged at 3.50.
Independent Media. The Georgian Constitution and legislation ensure a liberal environment for the development of independent media. The 2004 Law on Freedom of Speech and Expression took libel off the criminal code and relieved journalists of legal criminal responsibility for revealing state secrets. However, after the Rose Revolution the media proved vulnerable to behind-the-scenes pressure from the government. The media are rather critical of the government but may be avoiding some sensitive topics. This is explained in part by the weakness of the media's economic base: Independent TV companies are usually unprofitable, serve to promote the agendas of their owners, and display a low level of editorial independence. The professional quality of journalists is insufficient, and there are no strong formal associations to set professional and ethical standards for the industry. The rating for independent media remains unchanged at 4.25.
Local Democratic Governance. Democratic institutions are least developed at the local level in Georgia. The Constitution does not define the territorial arrangement of the country or the competences of subnational institutions of state power. Legislation adopted in 2004 regarding the Autonomous Republic of Achara left very little power to the regional council. In December 2005, the Georgian Parliament adopted new legislation laying the groundwork to create new local government institutions after the local elections, which are expected in 2006. This legislation provides for elected government institutions at the district level, Georgia's six largest towns, and the capital, Tbilisi, which will be governed by locally elected councils with their own budgets and property. The law was criticized, however, for creating overly large local government units with insufficient authorities and resources. Since important legislative steps were made in the direction of developing local government, the rating for local democratic governance improves from 6.00 to 5.75.
Judicial Framework and Independence. The Georgian Constitution provides important safeguards for the protection of human rights and the independence of the judiciary. However, in 2005 the judiciary was still not able to withstand political pressure, and courts rarely disagreed with the prosecution's demands. There was a notable decrease in torture at preliminary detention facilities, at least in the capital. Further, important progress was made in curbing violence against religious minorities, with some perpetrators of past violence sentenced to prison, and new registration provisions improved the legal standing of religious organizations. Owing to improvements on the issues of torture and religious freedoms, the rating for judicial framework and independence improves from 5.00 to 4.75.
Corruption. Although a high rate of corruption has been typical for Georgia, the new government undertook resolute anticorruption measures. Several corrupt officials were arrested, including some appointed by the new government. The salaries of a large number of public servants and law enforcement officers were dramatically increased as an incentive against corruption. Certain official procedures have been simplified, and the government adopted a new National Anticorruption Strategy and Action Plan. There is evidence of improved public confidence in state institutions. Owing to the persistent anticorruption measures of the new government, the rating in this category improves from 5.75 to 5.50.
Outlook for 2006. In 2006, the Georgian government is expected to take important steps in several areas. Local elections scheduled for the fall are expected to be the most important political event of the year. They will test the ability of the opposition to compete with the ruling United National Movement. Most important, they are supposed to lay the foundation for a new system of local government. Education reforms are intended to produce a new system of self-government in Georgian universities, and a number of self-government bodies will be created in Georgian schools. The government will be under pressure to demonstrate at least some success toward an independent judiciary. It is expected that jury trials may be instituted, at least in some areas. Steps aimed at resolving the 'frozen conflicts' in Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be high on the agenda. There are fears, however, that demanding the withdrawal of Russian peacekeeping forces will lead to mounting tensions in these areas as well as in relations between Georgia and Russia.
Electoral Process (Score: 4.75)
The Constitution and the electoral code guarantee universal suffrage, equal electoral rights, and the right to direct and secret ballot. However, electoral standards were generally low from 1990 to 2003 and thought to be declining. The irregularities registered most frequently by domestic and international observers included ballot stuffing, multiple voting, erroneous voter lists, and rigging of the ballot tabulation process by election commissions on various levels. In most regions, political parties were free to campaign and express their views. People were usually free to express their political will, though pressure was exerted on public servants and the military to support government parties. The November 2003 parliamentary elections constituted a nadir in this trend, leading to the Rose Revolution. President Shevardnadze resigned under popular pressure, and the Supreme Court of Georgia annulled the results of the party list vote owing to massive fraud (the election results from most single-mandate constituencies were not annulled).
Elections held after the Rose Revolution, namely snap presidential elections on January 4,2004, and repeated parliamentary elections (party lists only) in March 2004, demonstrated distinct improvements. After the snap presidential elections in November 2003, the International Election Observation Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe noted 'clear improvements, particularly in the conduct of voting, new voters' lists, the legal framework, and overall election administration.' Similar conclusions were reached after the March 2004 parliamentary elections.
Both elections, however, were marked by a low level of political competition: No major political figures dared to run against Mikheil Saakashvili, who won the presidency with 96.27 percent of the vote. The bloc of the National Movement and United Democrats, which led the revolution, also carried the March 2004 parliamentary elections with 66.24 percent of the vote (later the two parties formally merged into the United National Movement [UNM]). Only one other bloc, the New Rights-Industrialists, overcame the 7 percent threshold for political parties, with 7.96 percent.
In that period, the lack of competition was attributed to postrevolutionary euphoria. However, later by-elections confirmed the trend. In by-elections on October 1,2005, all five parliamentary seats were taken by the UNM. Neither local nor international observers reported any serious violations that would suggest an attempt to rig the ballot. However, the problem of creating an accurate voter registry persists: Many electors could not find their names on the voter list and, as a result, could not vote. It is not clear whether the problem resulted from legislation or the administration of the election.
After the Rose Revolution, an amendment to the electoral legislation was adopted that introduced the principle of voter self-registration. Its initial version included an option to register on election day, but this was later removed. This led to a situation where some people who took part in the snap elections and expected to be on the parliamentary by-election list lost their right to vote when their names were not found. Another criticism of the elections was the use of so-called administrative resources in favor of government candidates. This also implied the use of state budget resources to partially fund the campaigns of candidates.
The composition of election commissions continues to be an issue. Before 2005, Georgian election commissions were based on a balance of political party representatives, with government parties usually calling the shots. Amendments to the election code adopted in April 2005 introduced a new system of creating central and district election commissions based on neutral civil servants selected through a competitive process. According to the law, the president selects 12 candidates for the Central Election Commission (CEC) and a candidate for the chair, while the Parliament elects 6 members and confirms the chair. Based on these parameters, a commission was created in summer 2005, but it drew protests from the opposition, which did not trust the neutrality of the new electoral administration.
The most substantive deficiency in the Georgian electoral system is the lack of strong and stable political parties competing at different levels. Most influential political parties are seen as machines for ensuring support for their individual leaders, rather than as vehicles for mobilizing citizens around competing interests and policy options. There is a tradition of dominant political parties – the Round Table from 1990 to 1991, the Citizens' Union of Georgia from 1995 to 2001, and the Union of Revival of Georgia in Achara from 1992 to 2004 – that tend to merge with government structures. The Rose Revolution led to the re-creation of a single dominant party, the UNM. There are two opposition blocs in the Parliament: The New Rights-Industrialists has 17 members; the Democratic Front faction (also with 17 members) was created in fall 2005 from two party groups, the Republicans and the Conservatives, which broke away from the UNM faction, and several independent members of Parliament (MPs). The parliamentary opposition does not have any significant influence on the work of the Parliament but actively uses the parliamentary platform to publicize its views.
The 1997 Law on Citizens' Political Associations presents no significant barriers to political organization and registration. By July 2005, there were 184 political parties registered in the Ministry of Justice. The only important restriction prohibits the creation of regionally based political parties. This provision was used by the Ministry of Justice to deny registration to Virk, a political party based in the ethnic Armenian-populated province of Samtskhe-Javakheti. Virk advocates creating an ethnically based Armenian autonomy in the region, which is a source of concern in Georgian society.
Although election turnout figures are usually considered unreliable owing to faulty or incomplete voter lists, a high level of participation is obvious in most critical elections, including the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2004. However, the lack of viable political parties restricts broad public participation mainly to elections or occasional protest actions.
The genuine participation of ethnic minorities is especially low (though their formal turnout in elections is relatively high). According to a 2002 census, ethnic minorities constitute more than 16 percent of the population (not counting the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and are concentrated largely in two provinces, Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti. The majority do not speak Georgian, which is the country's only official language. This effectively disqualifies them from public and political life at the national level. Ethnic minorities are underrepresented in all branches of power at national and, in some regions where they reside, local levels. They are also rarely involved in political parties other than the dominant parties in power.
Civil Society (Score: 3.50)
The independent civic sector in Georgia is relatively large, vibrant, and influential. Its rights are for the most part protected, and the state does not impede its activities. However, the social base for NGOs is rather narrow, including mostly young urban professionals. The civic sector played an important role in the Rose Revolution of 2003 by providing authoritative monitoring of the electoral process, mobilizing support for democratic causes, and using its capacity to ensure peaceful and organized mass protests.
This increased the public visibility of the civil society sector in Georgia. According to a poll conducted by the Center for Strategic Research and Development of Georgia (CSRDG) in spring 2005,42.8 percent of those surveyed said that civil society organizations have an important or more or less important impact on current developments (in 2003, the same figure stood at 30.7 percent); 57.2 percent assessed their role as 'positive' (against 45.9 percent in 2003). However, this did not translate into high participation figures: Only 7.9 percent said they had interacted with NGOs, and less than 2 percent described themselves as members of any organization.
Many experts believe that after the Rose Revolution, the impact of civil society organizations declined somewhat. This is due to several factors, which include leading activists moving to positions in government, the refocusing of donor support to reforms carried out by government, and greater differences among the leading civil society organizations on major policy issues.
There is no established format for interactions between the government and the civic sector, and contacts and cooperation are uneven yet successful in some areas. The Liberty Institute, which played a prominent role in the Rose Revolution, is now close to the new government and has influence on its policies (though it may also be critical of some of its actions). Civil society representatives are routinely included in official commissions and working groups, which define different aspects of the reform agenda, and have an impact on government decisions. The Ministries of Education and Science, Health, and Social Welfare and the Tbilisi municipality are notable for involving civil society organizations in their reform processes.
In 2005, a coalition of regional NGOs won a US$145,000 contract from the Georgian Social Investment Fund for institutional capacity building of local governance and community development. A public council, including human rights activists and public figures, is active in monitoring the penitentiary system. Their activism was important in raising awareness of the problems in prisons and led to open conflict with the minister (who was later removed). Cooperation between the Office of the Public Defender and human rights organizations on monitoring preliminary detention facilities has been successful in reducing instances of physical abuse. The Georgian Young Lawyers Association and the Ministry for Environment Protection cooperated successfully in the process of setting up a new environment patrol force. However, the circle of organizations with which the new government is willing to cooperate is actually rather narrow. Many activists of the civic sector often express their disappointment with the new government's tendency to make important decisions without leaving enough time for broad consultations and adequate public discussion.
There were 7,581 nonprofit associations and 999 foundations registered in Georgia by April 2005. Numerous organizations exist on paper only or were created for implementing just one or two projects. However, several hundred are relatively stable, and some 30 groups have permanent staff and boards. The capacity and quality of management of leading organizations are gradually increasing, and local expertise on NGO management is becoming more readily available for less developed organizations. Training and handbooks on NGO management, fund-raising, and other resources are largely available. In 2004, a code of conduct for NGOs was created. However, in the last few years there has been a notable gap in capacity development: Only a relatively small group of leading organizations shows a steady trend of institutional development, while many other groups show a tendency to decline.
Georgian civil society is diverse, with the most active and visible organizations involved in democracy promotion, good governance, human rights protection, and public policy research. Many other groups are involved in environmental, social, and similar humanitarian causes. Women's and minority groups are numerous but peripheral to the mainstream. Community-based organizations have developed in some regions but require donor assistance to survive. According to the previously mentioned CSRDG poll, the wider public sees the role of NGOs as mainly defending citizens' civil and political rights, and minority rights in particular.
Civil society representatives are frequently invited by the media to comment on current political issues and policy reforms. However, only a small number of organizations and civil society personalities maintain high media visibility. In the CSRDG poll, the Liberty Institute and Georgian Young Lawyers' Association proved by far to be the most well-known civil organizations in Georgia (about 25 percent of those polled knew about these groups).
Free access to public information is guaranteed by the administrative code, but in practice there may be resistance by some state agencies to release information. Some NGOs report that after the new government came to power, accessing public information became more difficult in practice. In particular, this is true of the military and law enforcement agencies, led by former representatives of the NGO community.
According to the civil code, nonprofit organizations have the option to be registered as associations (unions) or foundations. They can also be active without registration, but in this case they cannot conduct financial operations. In practice, registration is quite easy. The Law on Grants exempts from most taxes moneys received by nonprofit organizations. The new tax code, put into effect in January 2004, instituted tax exemptions to encourage charitable giving. Businesses can now spend up to 8 percent of their gains on charitable activities to avoid taxes on that amount.
Many businesses are involved in charity, but these activities are rarely institutionalized, and only a handful of Georgian businesses have formed charitable foundations. Almost no local donations go to support civil society causes. Developed organizations usually depend on grant support from Western organizations. Only a small number use volunteer workers, and the role of income-generating activities is generally marginal. Despite some efforts to bridge the civil society and business communities, cooperation is weak. Funding from the Georgian government has increased, but its share is still small.
Georgia has a number of public associations that pursue illiberal causes. These claim mainly to protect Eastern Orthodox values from the pernicious influence of Western liberalism. In the past, some groups have been involved in violent attacks against religious minorities, civil society, the media, and the political opposition. The new government has been successful in curbing the activities of such groups, so that violence on behalf of 'uncivil society' has largely stopped. These groups are free to express their opinions but do not have much political influence or seriously disrupt public order.
Georgians are free to organize and join trade unions, but so far only a few viable independent trade unions have been created, mainly in health care and education. Those trade unions that are successors to Soviet-era organizations do not play any visible role in defending employees' rights, though in 2005 their activism intensified somewhat, in particular in the course of opposing the new draft labor code, which was discussed in the Parliament. In 2005, the Tbilisi municipality issued matching grants to encourage the development of neighborhood associations; these groups were successful in organizing themselves and raising funds to provide for local needs.
During the period of independence, education standards declined, and there were numerous reports of widespread corruption. In January 2005, the Ministry of Education and Science launched an ambitious program to overhaul the university education system. A two-year-long transitional period started during which president-appointed rectors are supposed to implement reforms to bring university administration and curriculums closer to European standards. Opponents criticized the reform as compromising university autonomy. New legislation adopted in April 2005 aims at increasing the role of locally elected school boards in running public schools.
Independent Media (Score: 4.25)
Georgia's Constitution and laws provide considerable media freedoms that are close to the standards of developed democracies. However, in practice there are substantive problems that impede effective independence of the media and their ability to adequately inform society. Hidden or obvious tensions between the government and the media after the Rose Revolution contribute to these difficulties.
The Constitution states that 'the mass media are free; censorship is impermissible' and that 'citizens of the Republic of Georgia have the right to express, distribute, and defend their opinions via any media, and to receive information on questions of social and state life. Censorship of the press and other media is not permitted.' In June 2004, the Parliament enacted a new bill on freedom of speech and expression, sponsored by the Liberty Institute. The law decriminalized libel, moving litigation from criminal to civil law competences. Journalists can no longer be held responsible for revealing state secrets; only relevant public servants can be charged for failing to guard them properly.
The Law on Broadcasting entrusts the licensing of outlets to the Broadcasting Commission, an independent body whose five members are appointed by the Parliament through the same procedure described for public broadcasting trustees. Licenses are issued for 10 years and extended automatically for another term unless the broadcaster violates specific requirements defined by law. In terms of legislation, there are concerns regarding the absence of special procedures for arrests and searches of media property. Currently, media organizations are required to follow the same procedures that apply to any other business, but the lengthy court procedures that tend to result from perceived violations can disrupt the functioning of the media. A widely publicized case in early 2004 – when Iberia TV was searched on charges of large-scale tax fraud by its parent company, Omega – illustrates the problem.
The media market is dominated by privately owned outlets. Rustavi-2, Imedi, and Mze are the most important independent TV channels. The weekly Kviris Palitra and the dailies Alia, Resonansi, and Akhali Versia are the most popular newspapers. However, newspaper circulation is low, with most popular dailies reaching 10,000 copies at best (no precise information is available). Several successful newspapers have developed in regions outside Tbilisi over the last few years. Newspaper distribution is also mainly in private hands. There are a number of independent radio stations. Some of them (Ucnobi, Imedi, Radio Green Wave) have become forums for public debates. The ownership structure of the media is quite diverse.
Following the December 2004 Law on Broadcasting, the State TV and Radio Corporation was transformed into Georgian Public Broadcasting in summer 2005. It is supervised by a nine-member board of trustees appointed by the Parliament, with two candidates for each slot preselected by the president from a multiplicity of applicants. In December, the board issued the first guidelines for the new leadership, giving priority to the development of balanced and comprehensive information programming for 2006.
The media sector's chief concerns are insufficient professional standards, a weak economic base that makes it vulnerable to behind-the-scenes pressure and creates grounds for self-censorship, occasional episodes of violence against journalists, unfriendly attitudes of the government toward the media, difficulties accessing information, and a lack of editorial independence for journalists. Most of these concerns relate to electronic media, as it is much more influential. In early February 2004, two popular talk shows critical of draft constitutional amendments were taken off the air on the same night by Rustavi-2 and Mze. The owners of both channels insisted that this decision was motivated only by a wish to enhance programming quality.
In summer 2005, the story repeated itself with another political talk show on Mze: It was taken off the air without any explanation after Giga Bokeria, one of the leaders of the parliamentary majority, openly attacked it for alleged antigovernment bias. No political talk show reappeared afterward on the channel. However, by the end of 2005 both Rustavi-2 and Imedi (both with national coverage) had live political talk shows in which leading opposition and independent figures participated regularly and could strongly criticize the government. Two stations in the capital, 202 TV and Kavkasia, also have regular talk shows that are critical of the government. Since the Rose Revolution, there has been an obvious lack of investigative reporting. The most popular program of this kind, 60 Minutes on Rustavi-2, was shut down in 2003. In 2005, investigative features were very rare in the Georgian media.
Although news programming is usually comprehensive, journalists and civil society organizations claim that the government is sometimes successful in blocking sensitive information from both news programming and talk shows, especially military and security issues such as the situation in South Ossetia. Government agencies restrict access to public information for those journalists who report on these topics in a critical way and provide privileged access to loyal journalists.
The advertising market in Georgia (from US$7 million to US$20 million annually) is not large enough to sustain several independent TV channels and a large number of newspapers. Media owners, including those of major TV channels, subsidize these outlets from their other businesses, and they may view these media outlets as tools to promote their interests in other areas. Media owners have been reluctant to spoil their relations with both the old and the new government, which makes them easy targets for pressure.
In 2004, the leadership in two national TV channels changed. After tax arrears brought Rustavi-2 close to bankruptcy, its owner, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, sold the company to Kimer Khalvashi, reputedly a close friend of Irakli Okruashvili, one of the top officials in the new government. David Bezhuashvili, whose brother Gela is another top official (in 2005, he was secretary of the National Security Council and later minister of foreign affairs), became co-owner of Mze. Also in 2004, two TV companies, Channel 9 and Iveria, were closed down. The first closure was the owner's decision, with no grounds to allege any government involvement. Iveria shut down its programming after its parent company, Omega, suffered huge losses resulting from tax evasion charges, which were never brought to court. Local TV companies Kutaisi and Kartli (based in Gori) were closed down, while Channel 5 in Bolnisi became government owned after the previous owner (an official of the Shevardnadze government) gave up his controlling share. Hidden government pressures are alleged in all of these cases.
The largest media scandal of 2005 involved the co-owner and main anchor of 202 TV, Shalva Ramishvili. On August 27, Ramishvili was arrested in a police sting; he was caught on tape accepting a US$30,000 bribe from Koba Bekauri, a majority MP, for squelching a feature exposing alleged corruption by Bekauri. Ramishvili was charged with extortion, and the court refused to release him on bail. However, 202 TV survived the scandal and has developed a strongly antigovernment stance.
Cases of journalists being harassed were rarer than in previous years, but there were several instances in 2005, especially outside Tbilisi. In September 2005, several Russian journalists from NTV were physically assaulted in the village of Napareuli. However, in his November 20 speech, President Saakashvili justified this attack as showing a 'sense of national pride.' The Russian journalists were trying to interview Georgian villagers for their opinions on the Russian pornographic movie Julia, which parodies Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili and former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. There are several journalist and media associations in Georgia, but none plays an important role or defines professional and ethical standards recognized by the media community. In summer 2005, the Georgian Media Council was created with that aim.
Access to the Internet is not restricted in any way, save for economic and technical reasons. There are still no Internet providers in a number of less developed regions, and many people cannot afford to use the Internet even in larger cities where it is available. According to 2005 data from the Institute for Polling and Marketing, 17.6 percent of Georgians living in major towns used the Internet, with 9.3 percent doing this at least several times a week. Some Web sites have become vehicles for expressing and discussing diverse opinions. The government does not create impediments for the registration of new Web sites and does not try to censor or control their content.
Judicial Framework and Independence (Score: 4.75)
The Georgian Constitution guarantees all fundamental human rights and freedoms mentioned in the European Convention on Human Rights. The death penalty was abolished in November 1997. The Constitution also provides for a public defender, who is nominated by the president and elected by the Parliament for a five-year term yet not accountable to either the president or the Parliament. In 2004 and 2005, the public defender strongly criticized a variety of government actions. In practice, there have been considerable violations of human rights in Georgia. Torture in preliminary detention facilities has been a major concern, although since the Rose Revolution there have been some hopeful signs, including supportive statements from the president. In March 2005, amendments were adopted to the criminal procedures code that allow testimonies given by a defendant in pretrial detention to be used in court only if they are confirmed by the defendant in court.
In January, the Main Division for Human Rights' Protection and Monitoring was set up at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. A number of cases of physical abuse have been sent to the ministry and the general procuracy for further investigation. The office of the Public Defender has also been effective in monitoring human rights abuses but it carries out this work only in the capital. Since the Rose Revolution, 10 police officers have been convicted on charges of torture and inhuman treatment. Human rights organizations testify that there has been a significant decrease in episodes of torture, most notably in the capital. However, there are still occurrences documented by domestic and international human rights organizations. Moreover, there are repeated episodes of physical abuse during the arrest process. There are no recorded instances of torture in prisons, but extreme conditions and inadequate sanitation and medical care lead to frequent deaths of convicts.
A number of human rights problems emerged as a result of the new government's crackdown on corruption. Public officials from the previous government who were widely believed to be corrupt were imprisoned in the first months of 2004, but by 2005 very few cases were heard in court. In most instances, the suspects were quickly released, having paid hefty sums to the state budget. In February 2004, changes to the criminal code instituted a system of procedural agreements, or 'plea bargains, ' between suspects and prosecutors to speed up the prosecution of cases. However, the new legislation does not sufficiently define the discretionary powers of the prosecution when such bargains are made, allowing room for arbitrary actions. As a result of widespread criticism from the Council of Europe and others, these procedural agreements were rarely used in 2005.
There has been significant progress regarding freedom of religion following an unpunished trend of violence in 1999-2002 against minority religions, especially Jehovah's Witnesses and the Baptist-Evangelical Church. The situation changed dramatically after the Rose Revolution. Perpetrators were arrested in spring 2004, and in January 2005 the court sentenced three of them to prison terms of one to six years. The open disruption of minority religious services has mostly stopped, though some relatively small episodes of harassment continue. In December 2005, Paata Bluashvili of Jvari, an extremist organization, was arrested for organizing an attack on Jehovah's Witnesses.
Until 2005, minority religious communities faced registration problems, including property registration. Amendments to the civil code enacted in April 2005 enable them to register as legal, nonprofit entities. Some major 'traditional' churches, such as the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Roman Catholic Church, were not satisfied with this decision, as they do not want to be registered on a par with NGOs. The mainstream Georgian Orthodox Church, which since October 2002 has had a constitutional agreement with the state, continues to receive preferential treatment. Registration has already helped some religious groups to rent facilities for worship, but difficulties in securing permits to build new places of worship continue to be an important concern for religious minority organizations. In May 2005, a permanent Religions Council was established under the Office of the Public Defender. The council has become a useful resource for religious minorities to voice their concerns to the government and gain greater public legitimacy.
The Constitution provides for the independence of the judiciary, but in practice this is often compromised. The judicial system consists of common-law courts and the separate Constitutional Court. Common-law judges are appointed by the president upon nomination by the Council of Justice, a consulting body whose members are appointed or elected, in equal numbers, by the president, the Parliament, and the Supreme Court. Only candidates who pass exams organized by the Council of Justice may be nominated as judges. Reports of pressure on judges coming from the executive have become common since the Rose Revolution; this is indirectly confirmed by statistics. Courts side with prosecutors in almost all cases where arrest warrants are demanded. Courts also grant prosecutors the standard three-month preliminary detention of suspects, even in crimes that most experts consider too minor to warrant detention. Since spring 2005, however, there has been a greater and more positive trend toward releasing suspects on bail, a practice almost never used before.
Government representatives informally justified pressure by alleging that the judiciary was corrupt and could be bought by criminals. In November 2005, four Supreme Court judges who faced disciplinary charges from the Council of Justice came out publicly accusing the Georgian executive agencies of blatant pressure on courts. The government described these judges as discredited and corrupt. The Council of Justice said it would continue investigating their cases into 2006 and the Parliament suspended their right to take part in judicial activities until the investigations conclude. Some civil society organizations criticized these moves for procedural violations. In 2005, the government initiated a reform to create larger court districts: A single district court was established in the capital, and similar changes are expected in the regions. The government is striving for greater efficiency, but in the meantime judges' jobs are less stable and they're more vulnerable to government pressure. On a positive note, new legislation adopted in 2005 significantly increased judges' salaries, effective January 2006.
February 2004 amendments to the Constitution included a provision stating, 'Cases shall be considered by juries before the courts' – indicating that Georgia will institute the jury trial. This is intended to strengthen the genuine independence of the judiciary. However, subsequent legislation has yet to be adopted. The low rate of executed court decisions has been a traditional problem in the judicial system during the last decade. A constitutional amendment in 2004 took the Office of the Prosecutor out of the judiciary, presumably to create greater distance between it and the court.
Corruption (Score: 5.50)
Under the previous government, corruption was considered a major obstacle to political and economic development. The new government elected in 2004 declared the fight against corruption as its highest priority. A number of high-ranking officials from the previous government were imprisoned on corruption charges. Some appointees of the new government as well as a parliamentarian from the ruling UNM, police officers, prosecutors, and judges were also arrested on corruption charges. The February 2004 changes in the criminal code introducing plea bargains were motivated primarily by the wish to increase the effectiveness of anticorruption efforts.
February 2004 changes to the Law on the Office of the Prosecutor and the administrative code enabled the state to confiscate the property of high-ranking state officials and their family if they fail to produce proof that the property was acquired legally. Several confiscations occurred in 2004. However, because the use of plea bargains and confiscations led to allegations of human rights abuses, they were used much less in 2005. In February 2004, the Parliament also ratified the 1990 Strasbourg Convention on Money Laundering and amended national legislation to harmonize it with this document.
The government took a major step toward preventing corruption by significantly raising the salaries of tens of thousands of public servants, military officers, and law enforcement personnel. Initially, this happened through a Development and Reforms Fund created in January 2004, but subsequently most of these salaries have been paid through the state budget. In 2004 and 2005, many public agencies went through a dramatic staff overhaul and carried out open competitions for new personnel. In 2004, offices of General Inspectorates were created in government agencies to oversee the use of public funds (a measure resisted by the previous government). The inspectorates established hotlines for the public to report government irregularities, though these have not yet proven to be effective.
The government has also established a 'single-window system' to simplify relations between government agencies and citizens. In November 2004, in an effort to make the process of property registration simpler and cheaper, the Ministry of Justice created the National Agency on Public Register. The ministry also simplified procedures for getting citizen IDs and passports. In 2005, procedures were likewise simplified in tax and customs offices. Although the reform's overall principle is generally appreciated, not enough officers have been hired to carry out these new functions, and long lines have resulted, creating new incentives for corruption.
Answering the criticism that Georgia's anticorruption efforts fail to follow a comprehensive plan, the government adopted the National Anticorruption Strategy and Action Plan in June 2005. These documents focus on increased efficiency and transparency in the civil service, strengthening the offices of General Inspectorates within public agencies, setting up simpler mechanisms for issuing licenses and permits, instituting reforms in law enforcement bodies (such as creating a witness protection system), and so forth. Steps have been taken to implement some items in the Action Plan, such as creating legislation necessary for the witness protection system and proposing specific steps to simplify the issuance of licenses and permits. Critics have claimed that the National Anticorruption Strategy is not based on sufficiently thorough research of existing practices and the root causes of corruption.
There are laws requiring financial disclosure and disallowing conflicts of interest. The Information Bureau on Property and Financial Condition of Public Officials processes financial declarations. Since February 2004, public officials are required to submit proofs of legality for any acquisitions of property, but the bureau does not have the capacity to check existing information. Additionally, there is no shared assessment of the government's anticorruption measures, although there is a near consensus that corruption has decreased overall. According to the CSRDG research, in spring 2005,46.5 percent and 46.8 percent of those polled considered the Georgian Parliament and government, respectively, to be corrupt; in 2003, these institutions were considered corrupt by 88.6 percent and 91.7 percent, respectively, of those polled. Most experts agree that institutionalized 'pyramids' of corruption have been disrupted.
The 2004 replacement of traffic police with patrol police has led to a dramatically visible decrease in corruption; this is recognized even by the most radical government critics. In 2005, national exams were carried out by the Ministry of Education and Science for admission to universities. They were broadly considered an extremely successful anticorruption measure, as university admission procedures had been notably corrupt in Georgia. However, experts note the continuing (though somewhat reduced) corruption in tax and customs offices, public procurement, and road construction. Although legislation prohibits public officials and politicians from taking part in economic activities, this continues in practice. In fall 2005, such allegations against Koba Bekauri, a parliamentary majority leader, led to an ad hoc investigative commission in the Parliament. However, the media's weak investigative reporting reduces its role as a corruption 'whistle-blower.'
The government's general lack of transparent and predictable policy making is frequently cited as a major structural component in high-level corruption in Georgia. Political decisions are often made spontaneously without due consideration, and their implementation leads to violations of existing procedures. A sudden government decision in spring 2005 to distribute free diesel fuel to Georgian peasants (20 liters per family) is a case in point – the hectic process was rife with violations and widely criticized in the media. Also, nonbudgetary funds such as the Defense Fund and the Law Enforcement Fund raise grave concerns about nontransparent spending mechanisms. In 2005, in response to broad internal and international criticism, these funds were closed down and their respective expenses moved to the state budget.
Many experts note a paradox in the Georgian public's attitudes about corruption. Although people express strong criticism of official corruption, many of them resort to corrupt practices as an easy solution to their own problems. The unwillingness of many citizens to serve as court witnesses on corruption cases or cooperate with law enforcement also decreases the effectiveness of law enforcement. Many people consider cooperation with law enforcement to be an immoral act of 'denunciation.' The government explicitly targets these attitudes through advertising campaigns. However, most official anticorruption initiatives are generally popular, and people are rather critical of the government for not being consistent enough in this area. Georgia's position in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index is low but slowly improving, from 1.8 in 2003 to 2.0 in 2004 to 2.3 in 2005. Last year, Georgia was ranked 130th out of 158 countries surveyed.
Ghia Nodia leads the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (Tblisi, Georgia) and teaches politics at Tblisi Ilya Chavchavadze University. He publishes regularly on democracy theory and political development in Georgia.
Local Governance (Score: 5.75)
Georgia's political system is highly centralized, with rather weak democratic institutions on the subnational level. However, new legislation adopted in 2005 laid the foundation for a new system of local government to be created after the local elections expected in 2006. The existing system of subnational governance is regulated primarily by the 1997 Law on Local Self-Government and Government, which has been amended several times. The 1995 Constitution did not define the structure of local government, postponing this move until after the resolution of conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Currently, there are three levels of subnational government: community (town/village), district (raion), and province (mkhare).
At the first level, heads of administrations are elected locally. At the raion level, there are elected councils, but heads of administrations are selected by the president from local elected representatives. There are no elected bodies at the mkhare level. Mayors of the two most important cities, Tbilisi and Poti, are appointed by the president. More important, competences of elected offices and councils are very restricted, with no control over reasonable budgetary resources. Local administrations depend mainly on transfers from the central government, while local taxes cover only a small fraction of the budget. Key governance functions such as police, health care, and education are formally part of both local and central government, but the national level dominates.
The Autonomous Republic of Achara has a special status, which until 2004 had not been defined by the Constitution. A clause mentioning Achara's autonomous status was added to the Constitution in 2000, but the actual distribution of powers was never defined owing to strained relations between the central government and the province. On June 20,2004, snap elections to the Supreme Council of Achara following the forced resignation of its leadership in May brought a strong victory of 72.1 percent to the UNM, with only the Republican Party able to overcome the 7 percent threshold. The Council of Europe gave the voting a mostly positive assessment but stated that 'the electoral process fell short of international standards in some regards, ' including accuracy of voter lists, secrecy of the ballot, and low competency of election commission staff.
On July 1,2004, the Georgian Parliament enacted a constitutional Law on the Status of the Autonomous Republic of Achara that severely restricted Achara's autonomy. It defined the competences of the republic in the areas of education, culture, local infrastructure, and so forth, but at the same time it gave the Georgian president extensive rights. The president appoints the prime minister of Achara. The president can also dismiss Achara's Supreme Council if its activities endanger the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia or if it twice consecutively fails to approve the candidacy of the Achara government's chairman.
Amendments to the Law on the Capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, creates grounds for the formation of a municipal government independent from the national authorities. The city council (sakrebulo) will be elected by residents of Tbilisi through a direct and secret ballot based on a mixed system (12 MPs are elected by proportional representation and 25 through multimandate constituencies based on a winner-take-all system), while the council elects the mayor.
In December 2005, the Parliament adopted the Law on Local Self-Government, which replaced the 1997 law. It introduced a one-level system of local self-government at the raion level. There will also be several self-governing towns. The law did not introduce any changes at the mkhare level. The raion sakrebulo will comprise representatives of each community within its territory and 10 members elected through a proportional vote. It will elect its chairperson as well as the mayor (gamgembeli), a public servant of local self-government who will head the raion administration. The draft law also provides for specific forms of citizen participation in decision making at the local level, such as citizens' assemblies, petitions, surveys, public discussions, and so forth. The resources of local governments will be audited by independent companies. The Parliament has also enacted the Law on the Property of the Self-Governing Unit, while the draft Law on the Budget of the Self-Governing Unit is currently being discussed in parliamentary committees.
The new law introduced larger self-governing units that might be economically viable and will potentially have a greater capacity to balance the power of the national government. The raion, which had traditionally been the key level of subnational government in Georgia, will for the first time come under the locally elected government. However, the law was criticized for making local self-government too distant from citizens, given that self-governance was abolished at the village and small-town levels. The government justified this change by saying that self-government at these levels could not be sustainable financially. The new legislation also reduced the financial resources for municipal governments and limited their competences to social and cultural spheres only. The new law will come into force following the next local elections, which are expected to be held in fall 2006.
National Governance (Score: 5.50)
The Rose Revolution, which followed the massively fraudulent elections in November 2003, was widely considered a significant step forward for Georgian democracy. It demonstrated a high level of intolerance in the society for infringements on political rights and the capacity to organize peaceful protest actions (in contrast with the 1992 violent coup), and it brought to power a political group that had long advocated democratic reforms modeled on Western countries. However, two years later the record of the new government is rather mixed. It has achieved a considerably higher level of effectiveness in state institutions, but so far the government is not based on a proper democratic balance of power.
The government's greatest defect is its inability to ensure territorial control. There are two self-proclaimed territories in Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which do not recognize national authority. Cease-fire agreements brokered and enforced by Russia have been in effect in these regions since 1994 and 1992, respectively, but there is no progress toward a final settlement. Moreover, during the last two years tensions in both conflict regions, especially South Ossetia, have increased. In January 2005, the government unveiled its peace plan for South Ossetia based on wide autonomy for the region. The plan gained the support of the international community but did not lead to any progress on the ground. The Georgian government has declared its commitment to using exclusively peaceful means to resolve the issue, but militaristic innuendo in the public statements of some leaders in 2004 and 2005 raised concerns that the military option is not off the table indefinitely.
The conflicts are complicated by poor relations with Russia, which the Georgian government accuses of supporting the separatists. In October 2005, the Georgian Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from South Ossetia and Abkhazia after February and July 2006, respectively, in the event Russia does not change its policy toward these conflicts. This may lead to either a more reliable security regime or a new round of instability in the conflict zones. In May 2005, Georgia secured an important success by reaching an agreement with Russia on the withdrawal of its military bases from Georgian territory within three years.
There is broad consensus in the country that strengthening democratic institutions is the only option for Georgia's development. The public and the political elite, including major opposition parties, are also solidly behind Georgia's bid to join NATO and the EU, goals that are central to the political aspirations of the new government. No political group of any influence contests these ambitions. The sovereignty of the national government is not disputed in other regions besides Abkhazia and South Ossetia, though some groups in the region of Javakheti, populated mainly by ethnic Armenians, call for special autonomous status for the region.
The 1995 Constitution defines Georgia's political system as a democratic republic. It stipulates that the people are the source of the state's authority, which shall be exercised through the separation of powers. Chapter 2 of the Constitution asserts all basic rights and freedoms of the individual.
Until 2004, the design of the central government generally followed the model of the U.S. Constitution. The president could not dissolve the Parliament and needed to secure parliamentary approval when appointing ministers and adopting the budget. On February 6,2004, the Parliament introduced changes into the Constitution that unraveled the republican balance of power in favor of the president. The positions of prime minister and the Cabinet of Ministers were established. The president must secure approval from the Parliament to appoint the prime minister but can dismiss him at will. Most important, the president has acquired powers to dismiss the Parliament in specific circumstances, such as in the event of three consecutive no-confidence votes delivered to the cabinet by the Parliament. In practice, parliamentary independence has decreased in the last two years. The assembly passes an enormous amount of new legislation without sufficient deliberation, though it offers resistance to some draft legislation coming from the executive branch.
The public's right to join and create political parties, take part in elections, and create and engage in public associations or demonstrations is generally respected. There are occasional meetings between the government and civil society representatives at the highest levels. Government agencies have public boards/councils and other formats for dialogue with civil society, and in some instances state agencies take its advice. However, the trend is not increasing: In 2004, the president had several meetings with civil society representatives, but no such meetings occurred in 2005.
The 1999 administrative code includes the equivalent of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, which makes all public information accessible. In practice, however, public agencies create serious obstacles to obtaining public information, and civil society organizations and the media complain that getting public information has become more difficult in the last two years. Despite introducing a more liberal tax code since 2005, there are complaints from the business community that frequent interventions by the financial police disrupt business activities and scare away investors.
Georgian legislation provides for democratic oversight of the military and security services. However, the actual level of civilian oversight is insufficient. During 2004-2005, a significant amount of financing for the Georgian army was channeled through the nonbudgetary Defense Fund and Law Enforcement Fund, which are not subject to normal public control procedures. The state has never disclosed a list of fund donors, describing them instead as 'real friends of this country, true patriots, mostly people who are not currently in Georgia.' In response to internal and international criticism, these funds were closed down in 2005. On the other hand, the adoption of a National Security Concept in 2005 and public discussion around it constituted a step forward in developing more transparent policy in the defense sphere.