Photo: Arba Murati

Election Well administrated presidential elections Georgia’s maturing democracy?

The presidential elections of October 27th changed the political landscape of Georgia and showed signs of a mature democracy. The elections marked the end of Mikheil Saakashvilli’s ten year presidency. Giorgi Margvelashvili of the Georgian Dream (GD) won the presidential elections. It was a well administrated election, and the transition of power were peaceful.

Published on on November 8, 2013

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The presidential elections of October 27th changed the political landscape of Georgia and showed signs of a mature democracy. The elections marked the end of Mikheil Saakashvilli’s ten year presidency. Giorgi Margvelashvili of the Georgian Dream (GD)[1]won the presidential elections, marking yet another victory for the coalition that had previously won the 2012 parliamentary elections. According to the OSCE/ODIHR report, the election was “efficiently administered, transparent and took place in an amicable and constructive environment”, marking important steps in democratic processes[2].

Twenty three presidential candidates were registered successfully for the elections, 13 of which had been nominated by initiative groups[3] and 10 by political parties. Only three candidates were women. Two candidates withdrew from the race a few days before Election Day. A few candidates were prominent figures while most of the candidates were little known to the public. Nevertheless, the race lacked big personalities, which have dominated Georgian politics in the past. The two main candidates for a possible second round were the GD candidate, Giorgi Margvelashvili, and Saakashvilis’ United National Movement (UNM) candidate, Davit Bakradze. Saakashvili could not run for office, as he had already served two consecutive terms[4].

Margvelashvili, a minister of Education and Science in 2012, ran his campaign under the shadow of Prime Minister (PM) Bidzina Ivanishvili. When Ivanishvili publicly suggested shortly before the elections that Margvelashvili should withdraw from the race if he did not win in the first round, Margvelashvili agreed. The move was likely just a call to mobilize as many GD supporters as possible. Ivanishvili’s popularity is said to have worked to Margvelashvili’s advantage. On internal matters the programs of the candidates focused on similar issues such as unemployment, economic growth and social welfare. Margvelashvili’s election program stressed economic growth and job creation, as being top priority. It also outlined ways of the creating a stable environment, strengthening existing potential, attracting investments, widening of the markets, more intensive engagement in international economical projects, strengthening democracy and democratic institutions, decentralization of local government, depolitization of the courts etc[5].

Bakradze, a prominent UNM figure, has a long political history and was Parliament Chairperson in 2008. His program focused on the failures of the GD government, the creation of employment, tax cuts, developing a free and democratic society, in addition to strengthening transparency and accountability. Nino Burjanadze who began her political career in 1995, was the third most popular candidate in the race. She fell out with Saakashvili in 2008 and founded the Democratic Movement-Democratic Georgia (DM-DG) party. Her program focused on issues including but was not limited to: unemployment, protection of national interests, empowering local government, territorial integrity restoration as top priority to state policy, increase tax for the wealthy, in addition to upholding sexual and ethnic minority rights.  She reported that she would have Saakashvilli arrested if elected[6]. Two other important candidates were Shalva Natelashvili and Giorgi Targamadze. Natelashvili is the founder of the Georgian Labor Party (GLP) and is known for criticism of any ruling party. His program included creating employment opportunities, raising salaries, stopping political pressure, ending the co-habitation, peace, justice, national and territorial integrity of the country, in addition to free health care.

Targamadze is a journalist by profession and is the founder of the Christian Democratic Movement (CDM). His program highlighted the restoration of the territorial integrity of the country, guaranteeing security, economic growth, improved social welfare, maintaining Georgia’s traditional values, in addition to maintaining the Orthodox Church’s official status.[7]

On foreign policy, Margvelashvili reaffirmed the importance of relations with the European Union and NATO, emphasized integration within these institutions. He also stressed the importance of improving relations with Russia. Georgia did not have diplomatic relations with Russia after the war of 2008, but since 2012 some degree of relations has been re-established between the two. Bakradze and UNM on the other hand, reiterated the importance of the Euro-Atlantic integration in protecting Georgian national interest. Burjanadze on the other hand has promised to create closer ties with Russia, a solution to solve Georgia’s territorial disputes, and has showed some degree of skepticism towards Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration.

The UNM had been ruling the country since 2004 following the Rose Revolution, until the 2012 parliamentary elections when the GD won a parliamentary majority. The political scene since 2012 has been dominated by two big personalities, president Saakashvili and PM Ivanishvili. Both will leave their current offices, Saakashvili ending his term and Ivanishvili will step down after the elections, despite enjoying widespread public support. Despite public disapproval, the resignation of the PM is not likely to have affected the decision of the voters in the presidential elections. According to opinion polls, 62% voters stated that his resignation would not make a difference to how they vote[8].

The coexistence between Saakashvili and Ivanishvili has not been smooth, raising concerns about the country’s stability. The relation has been particularly aggravated following arrests and interrogations of some UNM members on misuse of power, including former Prime Minister Ivane Merabishvili, which UNM labeled political persecution. The West has warned the government against selective justice[9]. President elect Mergvelashvili has said that there will be no politically motivated prosecution of Saakashvili.

The new president will take office with reduced powers as these were transferred to the Prime Minister and the Government through constitutional amendments made in October 2010, but which would not come to force until after the 2013 elections. Some argue that the changes were made to pave the road for Saakashvili in becoming Prime Minister following the termination of the two presidential terms. Among other things the president will no longer have the right to call for a referendum, to initiate draft laws, to direct domestic and foreign policy, to convene an emergency session of the parliament, and to hold a decision-making post in a political party[10].

The interest in the presidential elections has been somewhat low, arguably due to the reduced powers of the presidential office and the lack of big personalities in the race. Campaigning has been calmer[11] than in previous elections and in the immediate pre-election period there was little sign of campaigning, despite the pre-election day campaign silence rule that applies only to the media outlets. Outside of the capital Tbilisi, where candidate posters and billboards lay sparsely distributed, one could barely notice there was an election upcoming. This was also reflected in the low level of voter turnout which was 46.95%[12] in comparison to 61% in the parliamentary elections in 2012 and the lowest in Georgian history.

Despite of the tense political situation, the elections were well administered with few cases of procedural violations[13]. According to Transparency International, there were also “far less instances of the misuse of administrative resources for electoral purposes” in comparison to 2012[14].  The media environment was less polarized than in the past and it covered the candidates and events in an inclusive manner[15].

The results of the elections were only somewhat surprising. Public opinion polls in the pre-election period showed Margvelashvili and GD being preferred over the other main candidates. What was surprising was that Margvelashvili won in the first round and with an amazing 62.12%, leaving Bakradze behind with a mere 21.72% and Burjanadze with 10.19%. Natelashvili and Targamadze received 2.88% and 1.6% respectively. In September, when asked who would they would like to see as the next president, 39% of pollsters answered Margvelashvili, 18% Bagradze and 7% Burjanadze[16]. The figures present a 10%, 8% and 2% increase for Margvelashvili, Bakradze, and Burjanadze respectively, from June polls[17]. However, 16% of respondents remained undecided; enough to make a difference on whether there would be a second round.   Party preference is a better indicator of understanding voting patterns, for despite of the candidates the electorate voted along party lines. Of the respondents asked which party is closest to them, 50% stated the GD as being their first choice, 12% answered UNM and 4% DM-UG, while 16% answered ‘none’[18].

Following the elections, Bakradze conceded defeat, concluding for the second time a peaceful transfer of power in country. The election results were a reflection of the popular dissatisfaction with the long reign of the UNM and Saakashvili. They mark the end of the cohabitation between the UNM and GD and will surely make easier the coexistence between the presidency and government, and increase stability. Cohabitation between the two political forces however, although difficult, could ensure a higher degree of checks and balances on the government’s activities. Relations between GD and UNM are likely to remain tense especially if prosecutions of UNM members continue.  Following the GD victory, relations with Russia are likely to improve but this will be difficult as long as Russia continues to build fences in South Ossetia.

In May 2014 Georgia will hold local elections. It remains to be seen whether the Georgian Dreamwill dominate the political scene in local government, and whether the coalition will survive or the parties will run individually.  At the local level, there have been many changes with officials being replaced; some having been pressured to leave and others have switched sides. Fifty six of 69 gamgebelis (local executives) and 31 of 69 sakrebulo (local council) chairs have been replaced with GD appointed people and the UNM no longer chairs the 64 local self-government units.[19]It would be important for the Georgian democracy to have a balanced representation in local government instead of the local government units being overly represented by one party; 81% of Georgians believe it is important or very important to have a strong opposition party[20]. Georgian democracy still has a long road ahead.

Election results

Name of candidate Nominated by Percentage of votes received
1 Giorgi Margvelashvili Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia 62.12%
2 Davit Bakradze United National Movement 21.72%
3 Nino Burjanadze Democratic Movement-United Georgia 10.19%
4 Shalva Natelashvili Labour Party of Georgia 2.88%
5 Giorgi Targamadze Christian-Democratic Movement 1.06%
6 Koba Davitashvili People’s Party 0.6%
7 Tamaz Bibiluri Initiative Group 0.04%
8 Giorgi Liluashvili Initiative Group 0.12%
9 Sergo Javakhidze Justice for Georgia 0.13%
10 Akaki Asatiani Union of Georgian Traditionalists 0.1%
11 Nino Chanishvili Initiative Group 0.14%
12 Teimuraz Bobokhidze Initiative Group 0.02%
13 Levan Chachua Initiative Group 0.19%
14 Nestan Kirtadze Initiative Group 0.05%
15 Giorgi Chikhladze Initiative Group 0.05%
16 Zurab Kharatishvili European Democrats of Georgia 0.23%
17 Mikheil Saluashvili Initiative Group 0.08%
18 Kartlos Gharibashvili Initiative Group 0.03%
19 Mamuka Chokhonelidze Initiative Group 0.02%
20 Avtandil Margiani Initiative Group 0.04%
21 Nugzar Avaliani Initiative Group 0.04%
22 Mamuka Melikishvili Initiative Group 0.06%
23 Teimuraz Mzhavia Christian-Democratic People’s Party 0.08%


  1. The Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia is a coalition consisting of six political parties: Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia, the Conservative Party, Industry will Save Georgia, the Republican Party, Our Georgia-Free Democrats, and National Forum. The Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia was formed in April 2012.
  2. International Election Observation Mission Georgia — Presidential Election, 27 October 2013, Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions, last viewed on 4 November 2013
  3. An initiative group consisting of five voters has the right to nominate a candidate for the presidency. The nomination must be certified by the signature of no less than 0.75% of the total number of voters (Article 97).  The Election Code of Georgia
  4. The President is elected for a term of five years and for no more than two consecutive terms (Article 94). The Election Code of Georgia.
  5. Giorgi Margvelashvili Election Program, last viewed on 4 November 2013
  6. Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty,  Candidate Says Saakashvili Would Be Jailed If She Won Georgian Presidency, 10 July 2013 last viewed on 4 November 2013
  7. about elections, Programs, viewed on 4 November 2013
  8. National Democratic Institute, ‘Public attitudes in Georgia: Results of a September 2013 survey’, 23 September 2013, last viewed on 4 November 2013
  9. News Online, Ashton Meets Saakashvili, Ivanishvili in Tbilisi,29 November 2012, Swedish FMs Hail Georgia's Progress, Warn Against Selective Justice, 23 October 2012 last viewed on 4 November 2013
  10. News Online, Key Points of Newly Adopted Constitution,15 October 2010, last viewed on 3 November 2013
  11. OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission, Georgia,Presidential Election, 27 October 2013, Interim Report 19 September – 11 October 2013, last viewed on 5 November
  12. Central Election Commission of Georgia, last viewed on 29 October 2013
  13. Transparency International Georgia, ‘Final assessment of the October 27, 2013 presidential election’, 28 October 2013, last viewed on 4 November 2013
  14. Transparency International Georgia, ‘TI Georgia releases a new monitoring report on the misuse of administrative resources ahead of 2013 presidential elections’, 24 October 2013 last viewed on 3 November 2013
  15. International Election Observation Mission Georgia — Presidential Election, 27 October 2013, Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions, last viewed on 4 November 2013
  16. National Democratic Institute, ‘Public attitudes in Georgia: Results of a September 2013 survey’.
  17. National Democratic Institute, ‘Public attitudes in Georgia: Results of a June 2013 survey’ ,12 July 2013, viewed on 4 November 2013.
  18. National Democratic Institute, ‘Public attitudes in Georgia: Results of a September 2013 survey’.
  19. Data reported by International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) in‘Statement of the NDI Election Observation Delegation to Georgia’s 2012 Presidential Election’ by National Democratic Institute, 28 October 2013 last viewed on 5 November 2013.
  20. National Democratic Institute, ‘Public attitudes in Georgia: Results of a September 2013 survey’.
  • by Arba Murati

    Arba Murati is an election expert. She has worked in election observation missions and electoral assistance projects in Albania, Bulgaria, Kenya, Egypt, Congo DRC and Guinea Conakry.

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