Weekly Highlight: As Georgia Picks Government-Backed Front-Runner President, Armenia Goes To The Country

Fuad Muxtarlı Analysis 29 November 2018
Weekly Highlight: As Georgia Picks Government-Backed Front-Runner President, Armenia Goes To The Country

Several pivotal political developments that will certainly go down in history have already taken place or are in the pipeline. The 28 November Georgian presidential runoff will certainly leave a large footprint on the sands of time - more specifically in the relations of South Caucasus republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia above all.

The Georgian voters on November 28 elected the first ever female president with symbolic powers in the history of the country. She is poised to win with around 59% of the vote, and her opposition rival Grigol Vashadze of the United National Movement got 40% after nearly all ballots are counted in Georgia - the only South Caucasus nation with access to the Black Sea and a conduit for gas and oil from the Caspian littoral states to Turkey and onwards Europe.

The ruling Georgian Dream party celebrated the victory of presidential candidate Salome Zourabichvili it supported, while the opposition said that the election was not democratic and the country made a step back. The former president of Georgia and leader of the opposition United National Movement Mikheil Saakashvili said immediately after the voting that the election results were rigged and urged his supporters to show up and demand early parliamentary elections though his call was not met with much enthusiasm among his supporters.

Grigol Vashadze and Salome Zourabichvili went into the runoff contest after emerging as the most popular candidates in the first round of voting in October.

Grigol Vashadze of the Georgia’s main opposition United National Movement (UNM), founded and led by the nation’s most popular ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili, who was sentenced in absentia for abuse of power earlier this year. Had Vashadze won, it would likely mean Saakashvili would have attempted to return to Georgia from exile in the Netherlands. Vashadze was quite likely to pursue Saakashvili policies, a pro-EU and pro-NATO course and pardoning people who are sentenced under the current government, including pardoning Saakashvili, according to many experts.

Tbilisi-born Vashadze, an ex-foreign minister, also served as a diplomat in Moscow during the Soviet period, won 37.7% of votes in the first round and was boosted when third-placed candidate Davit Bakradze announced he would be supporting him in the run-off.

Some said Zourabichvili, another former Georgian foreign minister, was the favourite to win the race to be the country's next president. Officially she was independent but her cause could have been helped by the endorsement she received by the ruling Georgian Dream party, founded by former Georgian Prime Minister and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili and this was despite courting controversy by claiming that Georgia started a war with Russia a decade ago. She narrowly emerged as the most popular candidate in the first round of the election, netting a 38.6% vote share.

Georgia’s choice is Europe

While other countries on the fringes of the EU are a battleground for influence between Brussels and Moscow, Georgia has made up its mind long ago. After 2008 war Georgia fought with Russia over its failed attempt to regain breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the country’s ambition is to join pan-European organizations and become a NATO member. Tbilisi signed an association agreement with Brussels in 2014 but is yet to request full membership. It's unlikely that Georgia will be pushed off its pro-EU, pro-NATO pathway.

Today is a very significant day and a principled choice of huge importance for the current and future Georgia has made, presidential candidate Salome Zourabichvili was quoted as thanking her voters. She added that they all jointly rejected finally and firmly the past which could have enormously delayed the strengthening and progress of society and its liberation. She vowed to establish dialogue with her opponents and with those who did not vote for her. "We are all citizens of one country, a small country, we live in one state and should do so and unite it," she said.

Georgian voters made history on 28 October when they failed to elect a president in the first round of the election. The ruling Georgian Dream's endorsed candidate, Salome Zourabichvili, failed to secure enough votes to win outright, forcing the race into a second round. This is the first time the country held a presidential runoff since it restored its independence in 1991.

Russia-Ukraine standoff: Georgian presidential hopefuls blame Russia over Kerch incident

The standoff in the Black Sea between Russia and Ukraine is also an important development for Europe and littoral states. On November 26, Georgia's two presidential candidates condemned Russia's actions in a maritime incident in the Kerch Strait between Russia and Ukraine.

Salome Zourabichvili said that Russia's yet another aggressive step against Ukraine was concerning. This flagrant violation of international law, first and foremost, threatens Ukraine's sovereignty as well as stability and security in the region, she said, declaring her full solidarity with the Ukrainian statehood and people. She hoped the West will not leave this challenge by Russia unanswered because the preservation of security on the Black Sea, regional stability, Ukraine's sovereignty, and peace is in their interest and their responsibility.

Georgian opposition presidential candidate Grigol Vashadze said that Russia was seeking to acquire ownership over the Kerch Strait. Nothing can be surprising from a country whose government's true nature is imperialism, he opined.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry also expressed profound concern over the attack on Ukrainian navy vessels by Russia.

After Georgia, Armenian is slated to hold a snap parliamentary election on December 9 to decide which political party will lead the country after this May’s velvet revolution under now acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

Pashinyan is now campaigning for his My Step bloc in this tiny South Caucasus republic and hopes to get majority, whereas the former ruling Republican Party said it would not hold large rallies. At this stage, the former ruling party realizes well that it is out of question for it to gain backing of voters when the acting prime minister is in the peak of his popularity.

Another surprise of the Armenian parliamentary election, in which elements of force and radicalism are always there – is Sasna Tsrer, the armed group that seized a police station and took hostages in 2016. Two alliances, including My Step and 9 political parties are standing in the vote and competing for the 101 seats. The majority in parliament will have the most powerful post in the government.

Armenia test fires Tochka missile system

Less than two weeks to go to the crucial voting, Armenia said it had successfully test fired Tochka missile. This is not by chance as the care-taking Armenian prime minister wanted his supporters and people from all walks of society as well as Azerbaijan know that Yerevan has Russia-supplied weapons at its disposal ready for use.

The armed forces of Armenia have successfully test fired its Tochka Tactical Ballistic Missile System. The missile hit its designated target from 65 km, Pashinyan said.