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No charismatic leaders anymore

Friday, December 13
Since the recent presidential election, Georgia has found itself in a situation unprecedented since the country regained independence in 1991. There are no charismatic leaders left on the country’s political scene.

One can only guess if the current situation is an aberration or a sign of the future. Will there be a growth of civil institutions, political parties, and public awareness? Or will Georgia again give birth to yet another charismatic leader?

Charismatic politicians have dominated Georgian politics over the past 22 years. First there was Zviad Gamsakhurdia, then Eduard Shevardnadze, followed by Mikheil Saakashvili and finally Bidzina Ivanishvili’s brief time on the scene.

Ivanishvili received considerable public support and could have easily remained in charge until at least 2016. But it was his promise and decision to step down after little more than a year in charge.

Now Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili and President Giorgi Margvelashvili are the leaders of the country. Neither of them were politicians as recently as a year ago.

Saakashvili, whose personality dominated Georgian politics for nearly a decade, is unlikely to return to power as he is highly unpopular among a large segment of the population.

The international support that Saakashvili still receives does not mean a whole lot. His predecessor Eduard Shevardnadze, widely acclaimed in the West for his role in bringing a peaceful end to the Cold War when he was Soviet foreign minister, was forced to resign from the presidency during the Rose Revolution of November 2003. The West allowed it to happen without objection.

The United National Movement (UNM), now without Saakashvili at the helm, is trying to maintain its position as the major opposition party. The UNM is bringing new faces into Georgian politics. The UNM has also admitted that it made mistakes when it was in power and will do its best to correct those mistakes. These moves are undermining what influence Saakashvili still has in the UNM.

We can thus assume that Georgia has truly reached period in its history when the political arena is devoid of larger than life personalities. Is this good or bad? From an objectively democratic point of view it is good, but how does the situation fit the Georgian character?

Georgia is still keen on having tribal leaders. To give an example, there has been a recent move to restore Georgia’s monarchy. Only time will tell if Georgia has matured enough to move beyond a personality dominated political culture.