On the 25th of May, four members of parliament from the opposition United National Movement (UNM) withdrew from the party. While a number of UNM members have left the party since the October 2012 parliamentary elections, this is the first time that high-profile members quit. After their withdrawal from the UNM parliamentary faction, the makeup of the oppositional wing in parliament continues to change.
Among the four members who left the UNM was the executive secretary, Zurab Japaridze, who was one of the new high-profile faces of the party. The former members declared that they quit because the UNM failed to rebrand itself; that they are going to focus their efforts on presenting an economic development plan for the country; and that they are planning to create a new platform for like-minded, pro-Western people. The real political impact of this split still remains to be seen.
Public opinion reflect in the recent NDI poll is very conducive to the creation of new alliances. According to a recent National Democratic Institute (NDI) poll, only 24% of voters side with the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) coalition, 16% with the UNM, 5% with the opposition Free Democrats, and 45% are undecided. Furthermore, 35% of Georgians do not identify with the ideologies of any party. Based on these results, none of the main parties currently in parliament has a strong potential to acquire a majority in the upcoming 2016 parliamentary elections. Different public opinion polls as well as election results show that the GD’s approval rating is decreasing, while the UNM’s remains more or less the same.
The voters’ final voting decisions will likely strongly depend on the new political alliances that may form in the coming year. There is potential for the creation of a strong political alliance among the pro-Western political forces, but there are also practical obstacles to it.
One potential center for a pro-Western opposition is the Free Democrats, who were part of the Georgian Dream coalition but quit in 2014. One of the proclaimed reasons for splitting off was the Georgian Dream’s lack of commitment to Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. Though there is common ground between the UNM and Free Democrats, antagonism between the two parties is strong. The Free Democrats publically distance themselves from the UNM, including on issues of common interest such as political prosecutions. At the moment, it’s difficult to imagine an alliance between these two parties and though there are no attempts from either side.
In order to become part of a pro-Western coalition, Zurab Japaridze should first succeed in establishing himself as a political force and present himself as an important political player. The key challenges to this are finding financial sources, and attracting people to join his party. Japaridze’s personal popularity ratings are not promising, while there has not been a flow of new people joining his movement in the weeks after he had not announced establishment of a new political force.
On the other side of the political spectrum, pro-Russian forces are strengthening in Georgia. Pro-Russian organizations are engaged in active propaganda to undermine Georgia’s European choice. The number of supporters of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) is increasing: According to NDI polls, in 2012-2013, only 11% of those surveyed supported Georgia joining the EEU; in the 2014 poll, it increased to 20%; and in 2015, it reached 31%. The leaders of the Georgian Dream party lack strong and consistent messages regarding Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. The founder of the Georgian Dream coalition, Bidzina Ivanishvili, has not fully cut ties with parties that are considered to be pro-Russian. Meanwhile, there is Nino Burjanadze, the leader of the party Democratic Movement – United Georgia, who is a pro-Russian politician and often holds meetings in Moscow with members of the Russian government. Another rising politician, Irma Inashvili, who leads the Alliance of Patriots, is known for her anti-Western statements, is also gaining ground. The possibility of an alliance, formal or informal, between Nino Burjanadze, Irma Inashvili, and the Georgian Dream should not be excluded from the potential political landscape leading up to the 2016 parliamentary election.
Georgia has not entered into a inactive pre-election campaign phase yet, though some political decisions reflect the potential establishment of political forces across the spectrum. The major political decisions that will shape the pre-election landscape have not been made yet, but even the minor shakeups that are occurring should be seen in a pre-election context.