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Do Voters Really Know What They Are Voting For?

Tuesday, October 15
A Comparison of Social and Economic Programs of the Three Leading Candidates

Under Georgia’s new constitutional model, the President does not have the authority to exercise full political power or to set his or her own policy agenda. Nonetheless, the President remains a significant actor in foreign and security policy-making, along with the Prime Minister and the Parliament. (See Foreign and Security Policy: Comparative Analysis in Vol.1 Issue 78 of CGS Group’s Weekly Report on Georgia/Caucasus The President will have no direct access to other than foreign and security policy spheres of the Government’s activities. However, the President’s high legitimacy derived from being elected by direct popular vote, makes him/her an important political figure with the ability to have a strong voice in setting the Government’s agendas. Furthermore, the role of the President in adopting a new government, where the President has obvious potential to obstruct, affords an important lever for shaping a political agenda beyond the foreign and security policy. (See Georgia Elects: Analysis of General Political Landscape and Institutional Changes in Vol.1 Issue 74 of CGS Group’s Weekly Report on Georgia/Caucasus

With this in mind, the campaign programs, visions and beliefs of the three key presidential candidates, and their similarities and differences, are worth analysis.

It is essential to have an understanding of what a new political player in Georgian politics, the new presidency with its reduced rights, would add to the political process, and what policy issues he or she would prioritize. At the same time, it is interesting to examine how far the candidates’ programs are coherent and consistent.

The majority of voters in Georgia are still more focused on the personalities of the candidates and their general messages that in current campaigns is definitely a driver. But do voters really know what they are voting for? What are the political programs of the presidential candidates?

While the political parties have not devoted much attention thus far to written platforms, the recently launched web portal by the Netherlands Institute of Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) offers an excellent opportunity to highlight and compare central elements of the programs of the candidates.

Rather than attempting to compare the programs of all 23 registered candidates, we will look into key elements of the programs provided by the three leading candidates: Mr. Giorgi Margvelashvili, Georgian Dream (GD); Mr. David Bakradze, United National Movement (UNM) and Ms. Nino Burjanadze, Democratic Movement – United Georgia (DMUG).

All three candidates show a clear understanding of the importance of social issues in Georgia, as each underlines the need for reducing poverty and developing the economy as a political imperative. However, looking more closely at the candidates’ visions on how to deal with painful problems such as unemployment, we are not readily able to identify their visions for solving these problems. Burjanadze and Bakradze both adhere to traditional market-oriented approaches: Burjanadze emphasizes international trade as the key to develop industry that will, at the same time, foster job creation. Bakradze argues meanwhile, that lowering taxes are the key to increasing the investment flow that in turn means generation of more jobs. Margvelashvili, for his part, sees the route to solving the issue as being through education and re-training the workforce.

In healthcare, the programs of the candidates also seem lacking in detail. GD’s Margvelashvili gives a general discussion in this respect, stressing the need to strengthen government’s ongoing reforms, meaning the development of a universal healthcare system, and further improvement of medical insurance system in Georgia with increased role of the State in this process.

Burjanadze also emphasizes universal healthcare, but with more focus on preventive medical services and supply of medicines to patients. Her program does not address the method of financing a universal healthcare system, whether it should be funded through private insurance system or by the State.

Bakradze’s program spotlights the need for further development of medical infrastructure and modernization of private and state insurance systems. However, his program lacks elaboration on the ways this system can be affordable to everyone.

As to education, Margvelashvili and Burjanadze both underline the importance of reforms in Georgia’s education system. However, each fails to provide a clear picture of the mechanisms and components of the education system that they propose. Instead, they both emphasize the need for improvement of quality of education, and importance of the role of the State in setting standards and programs, as well as to keep the State’s role as regulator.

Bakradze’s program for education is more detailed, but does not present a full conceptual picture of the education sector either. He classifies education into three segments, of secondary, higher, and professional-technical education. The role of the State in education is determined in Bakradze’s program as setting standards and programs, but reserving administrative and academic autonomy for educational institutions. The Bakradze program also emphasizes the need for retaining the system of grants for funding educational institutions while pointing out the necessity of increasing the grant amounts.

The candidates’ proposed social policy programs, indeed, fail to clearly delineate how each sees the development of this or that sector. The discussions are not in-depth, making it a challenge to evaluate to what extent they reflect the reality and needs.

The candidates’ respective economic programs are similarly general and for the most part bear out popular trends in the Georgian society. For instance, Nino Burjanadze suggests that an economic agenda should be defined, but does not provide her own vision of what its priorities should be. She suggests fiscal approaches such as progressive taxation on higher incomes and tax breaks for certain sectors.

The core of Bakradze’s economic policy is to lower taxes and attract foreign investments. He underlines the geo-economic function of Georgia, with Georgia as a transition area for transporting energy resources as part of the core process of economic development. At the same time, Bakradze considers intensification of cooperation with the EU as a strong incentive for stimulating foreign trade of Georgia with the European States, and as an important factor to increase Georgian exports to Europe.

Margvelashvili’s program prioritizes the development of new technologies, attraction of new investments, promotion of Georgian products in international markets, increase of industrial, energy and transport potential, and Georgia’s participation in global economic projects. In addition to this, Margvelashvili’s program features the importance of human capital and development of intellectual potential as a key factor to rapid and effective economic growth. His program also emphasizes sustaining the ongoing programs and reforms conducted by the current government, which means the support to entrepreneurship and development of agriculture sector in Georgia.

Reviewing the program outlines of the leading presidential candidates, therefore, one gains the impression that these programs rely on various concepts generally popular within Georgian society. Indeed, a lack of public demand for political debate has allowed the candidates to get by with a relatively shallow approach in presenting their political platforms. There is no attempt to blame only the candidates or their parties for such perfunctory political communication, but rather voice a desire that Georgian society be more serious and critical toward the political actors. Voters should demand explicit and thoughtful answers to the challenges faced by Georgia and its people.

Next week, the TV debates are scheduled to be conducted between the candidates, where each of the qualified political subjects will have an opportunity to communicate their political positions and present their visions to the voters. We doubt these debates will cause any significant shift or changes in distribution of votes, but expect this will at least help voters be better informed on whom they vote for, what they vote for, and what they might expect after elections. In our next issue of the Report, we will feature these pre-election debates and provide an in-depth analysis of the statements made by each candidate, as well as evaluate possible outcomes of the debates.
Note: From September 24 through October 31, as part of its Weekly Report on Georgia/Caucasus published on Tuesdays, CGS Group will offer the independent analysis on the upcoming presidential elections in Georgia being held on Sunday, October 27, 2013. We will be reviewing local and international media, and providing in-depth analysis of political stands and policy programs of the candidates, as well as including official statements, campaign speeches and information distributed by campaign teams of the candidates. This analytical report will also be regularly reprinted every Tuesday in Georgia’s English daily - The Messenger.