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Freedom House downgrades Georgia to non-electoral democracy

By Mzia Kupunia
Wednesday, January 14
US-based human rights group Freedom House has listed Georgia as a “partly free” country in its annual report but downgraded it to a “non-electoral democracy”, along with the Central African Republic, Mauritania and Venezuela.

“Georgia declined due in part to growing authoritarian tendencies in the governing style of President Mikheil Saakashvili,” the report reads.

Freedom House says the decline of the mentioned four countries “is significant given their regional importance and the fact that two, Mauritania and Georgia, were previously hailed as new additions to the democratic world. Georgia was the site of the first in the recent spate of colour revolutions and represented one of the few bright spots in the former Soviet Union; its erratic course, including a state of emergency in 2007 and war with Russia in August, ranks among the more disturbing developments of the past two years.”

The report outlines several reasons why Georgia has received a downward classification. It cites “flaws in the Presidential and Parliamentary election processes, including extensive reports of intimidation and the use of state administrative resources, which resulted in a markedly unequal playing field in favour of the ruling United National Movement party.”

Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia was also ranked in the Freedom House report. “For the first time, South Ossetia was included in the roster of territories evaluated separately in the Freedom in the World index. It received a designation of Not Free and ranks among the world’s most repressive regimes,” the report reads.

Georgian Government officials say Georgia is a “young democracy” which needs to take “more steps” to become a Western-standard democracy. National Movement Party MP Goka Gabashvili says the Government has already undertaken several steps in this direction, supported by Western states. “Usually international NGOs are quite strict in their assessments, and we should take their recommendations into consideration, not just to claim a higher ranking in their reports, but for the well-being of the Georgian people” Gabashvili told The Messenger.

Some analysts link the report criticizing Georgia’s electoral system to the change of US administration. Political commentator Ramaz Sakvarelidze suggested the problems with democracy in Georgia could have been highlighted earlier by international organizations, but “US censorship has been working” to prevent this. “The US administration has been trying to avoid its “successful project,” the Rose Revolution, being criticized,” Sakvarelidze said, adding that probably, with the arrival of the new administration in the USA, problems related to the state of democracy in Georgia will be brought to the surface by international organizations.