Couldn’t resist the Rose pun.
So the Georgian Dream has become a reality. It looks like they’ll take 80-84 seats in Parliament, based on the current numbers, but everyone agrees they’ll have a small Parliamentary majority. Last week I was convinced that the UNM would win Parliament, but they will be the minority party.
I want to focus on where my predictions went wrong.
For one thing, I overestimated third party votes. None of the other parties crossed the 5% threshold needed to be seated in Parliament. I had thought at least two would, but instead all of the current Parliamentary opposition parties were swept out by GD. It seems that most of the people who would have voted for a minority party voted for GD instead. If those votes had gone to third parties rather than GD or UNM, GD and UNM would be much closer and a third party would likely end up getting to play kingmaker in a coalition government.
I also overestimated Misha’s regional support. This might be in part because of vote-rigging in the last election making the UNM look stronger than it actually way. It might also mean that media penetration to the regions is better than we thought it was. I suspect a lot of it was also that GD’s socialist overtures and nationalism appealed to a lot of Georgia’s poor rural population.
I probably relied too much on polls. I probably underestimated the amount of “undecided” and “refuse to answer” voters who ended up voting GD, and also didn’t take into account that voters may have lied to pollsters when they said they’d vote UNM, out of fear of reprisal.
Finally, I definitely underestimated the impact of the prison abuse videos. Perhaps it’s because I’m a cynical American, but I can’t actually imagine a country caring so much about their prisoners. The vast majority of Americans don’t really care about prisoner abuse, prison rape, torturing prisoners, or even killing prisoners – or if they do “care”, it’s certainly not enough to swing an election – and so as an American it is hard for me to comprehend a whole country of people who do care about those things.
Or perhaps it’s because until three weeks ago Georgians were content to let the abuse go on. While Americans are apathetic about their own moral failings, Georgians are more prone to be in denial about theirs, so no one really talked about the prison conditions – at least, not publicly – and Georgians allowed the government to get away with denying the reports. So perhaps the reason I underestimated the impact of the prison abuse scandal is because Georgians themselves let it go on for so long that it didn’t make sense for them to get so angry when it was exposed and ended.
But maybe the prison abuse videos weren’t a scandal because of what they were – depictions of awful but highly commonplace and unsurprising practices in prisons – but because of the role they filled in the Georgian political consciousness. I think the thorny side of the Rose Revolution – the claims of intimidation of businesspersons, the fear of reprisals for opposing the government/ruling party, the apparent lack of rule of law or justice at the high levels of government, the public perception that elections would be a farce – I think those things left Georgians feeling frustrated because no matter how deeply any one person felt wronged, the facade, like Aghmeshenebeli Street in Tbilisi, just covered over the structural defects in the system. I think the prison videos tore through that facade, and gave Georgians something substantial to be angry at – something you could point out, something you could articulate, something that couldn’t be denied or refuted or blamed on Russia. Something that couldn’t be seen through Rose-colored glasses.
I think the Georgia disillusionment with the UNM needed a symbol, and the broom became that symbol. Would the election have swung without its symbol? Who knows? Symbols are powerful things.
And finally I have to admit to a certain amount of apprehension going forward. I’ve joked to my friends and family that if TLG comes to an end, the vacuum in the market for native English teachers will be quite a business opportunity for those of us who choose to stay in Georgia. That’s semi-serious, though: I don’t know whether, or how long, TLG will last. I do know that I want to stay in Georgia for at least another year, if not more. If my job disappears, I’ll be okay – there really is a lot of opportunity for a native English speaker in Georgia – but I’ll lose the TLG benefits: the health insurance, the flights, the support structure, the steady (if small) paycheck.
It’s not just the money, though – Georgian Dream troubles me with its xenophobic elements and its constant mixed messages about whether there will be retaliation against UNM supporters. It’s no secret that every TLGV is here as Misha’s guest. Even if Ivanishvili himself claims to want to move towards the West, that doesn’t mean his party won’t dismantle as many of Misha’s programs as they can, out of spite. Say what you want about Misha’s governing style, but a lot of his programs have been really good for Georgia. I just hope that each program is evaluated on its merits, and that things like infrastructure, transportation, and user-friendly government services remain a priority.
It’s funny – I’ve never been this nervous about a US election. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.
[Video: Buffalo Springfield: Stop Children What’s That Sound]