2012 could be a crucial year for Georgia. In October, parliamentary elections will take place, which may lead to new civil rivalry. The 2012 elections are considered to be significantly more important than the 2013 presidential elections, as the new constitution states that the next presidential elections will turn the country into a parliamentary republic. As such, Georgia’s new head of State will have to cooperate closely with a powerful parliament.
Almost a year ago, in October 2011, Georgian Dream, a new opposition coalition with unprecedented financial backing appeared on the political scene. The coalition’s leader, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, is the richest person in Georgia. Some main opposition parties have joined this coalition, and for the first time in several years a real electoral alternative to the governing United National Movement party is available. However, since Bidzina Ivanishvili announced the establishment of his opposition party, political pressure on this party has increased, and room for freedom of expression in Georgia, which was already under threat, has shrunk dramatically.
A number of election-related human rights abuses have been recorded since December 2011. These include politically motivated pressure, persecution and threats, the hindering of pre-election meetings and journalistic activity, and pressure on businesses and private owners. The government has also introduced new legislative amendments on the funding of political parties, allowing extremely wide interpretative discretion and potentially selective application against political powers opposing the government.
In its interim report covering the period between 22 August and 5 September 2012 the OSCE election observation mission highlighted Georgian Dream’s lack of trust in the electoral process.The political environment in Georgia is clearly polarized and the electoral process is often conducted against a backdrop of radical confrontation. While government bodies reportedly use administrative resources to destabilize the political opposition and deprive citizens of their rights, they have failed to address other situations of serious concern, such as the treatment of Georgian prison inmates and the situation of 246,000 internally displaced persons awaiting adequate housing solutions. When these continued failures are no longer possible to ignore, as with the recent weeks revelations regarding torture in Georgian prisons, the government’s response has tended to minimise the dramatic and systematic character of these violations – denounced for years by the human rights organisations – and rather to use them in political rhetoric.
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