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The renewed budget and upcoming rally

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wednesday, June 17
One of the highlights of last week was the government's presentation of an updated version of the 2020 budget, which drew strong criticism from the opposition. Other political issues have been overshadowed by expectations of June 20th, when the opposition plans to hold a protest rally after a long pause caused by the epidemic.

On June 9th, the draft budget for 2020 adjusted by the government was submitted to the Parliament of Georgia. Instead of a 4.5% increase in the budget due to the global crisis caused by the global pandemic, now a 4% drop is expected. Budget revenues are reduced by ?GEL1.8 billion. The budget envisages ?GEL3.4 billion for anti-crisis measures promised by the government. To fulfill these promises, the government borrows ?GEL650 million, while loans from international partners amount to ?GEL4 billion 470 million. Budget expenditures 1 billion. It will increase by ?GEL491 million and will reach 15 billion 924 million ?GEL in total.

Parliamentary discussions on the draft budget are still ahead. However, opposition officials have already said that the draft budget does not contain a specific plan for overcoming the country's economic crisis, or even a general vision. According to the opposition, the government's anti-crisis promises are aimed at the Georgian Dream's party goals and election campaign. Prime Minister Gakharia does not share the criticism of the adjusted version of the budget, saying the criticism is ‘fake and propaganda.’

The results of a public opinion poll commissioned by Transparency International Georgia coincided with the presentation of the draft budget in parliament, which showed that the previous government was able to achieve the fight against corruption - to eliminate corruption at the current level (only 1% of respondents have encountered such a fact in the last 12 months), but elite corruption remains a serious problem (63% of respondents think so). These people are not mistaken. In 2015-2017, only 1,740 corruption cases were registered, of which only 12% were opened.

A few opposition members claim that the tender offers announced by the government contain high risks and that only government-affiliated companies tend to win. According to Giorgi Kobulia, former Minister of Economy of the Georgian Dream, Bidzina Ivanishvili could have eliminated the corruption schemes in the Georgian government, but he did not wish to do so. According to him, there are 4 main problems in the country's governance system: 1 / low-skilled and demotivated state machine, 2 / biased transactions in state structures; 3 / Reputable severely damaged court system, which prevents foreign investment in the country; 4 / Absolutely collapsed foreign policy, both in the West and in Russia.

The united opposition is preparing for the first protest rally after the pause caused by the epidemic, which will be held on June 20th. The opposition intends to commemorate last year's bloody events and on this day symbolically intends to nominate common candidates in 8 majoritarian constituencies in Tbilisi. If the united opposition really manages to do so, it will be a significant success for the opposition. However, much will also depend on the scale of the upcoming rally. Authorities are planning to count the "heads" of those who came to the rally and suggest about 200 people will come. The small number of protesters will be a ‘visible confirmation’ of the weakness of the opposition.

The issue of June 20th became another reason for the government and the opposition to make mocking statements. Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia considered the opposition political spectrum "toxic", while former parliamentary speaker Irakli Kobakhidze compared the opposition to a cow.

The opposition continues to call on the government to abide by the March 8 agreement, and G. Rurua's release, however, is still being ignored by the authorities. If this demand is not met, opposition representatives are not going to support the constitutional changes, the public discussion of which has formally begun, and ,therefore, the government will have to mobilise its forces to get it.

The June 8th visit of US Ambassador Kelly Degnan to the Prosecutor's Office and her statement that ‘voter bribery and intimidation are unacceptable’ caused a variety of reactions. According to the unanimous explanation of the opposition, Georgia's strategic partner directly pointed out to the government that the upcoming parliamentary elections should be held fairly and transparently. Such an interpretation of the ambassador's visit irritated the government. Prime Minister Gakharia said such an explanation was not true. However, it is clear that the upcoming elections will be of great interest to the West in defending democratic standards.

Georgian Dream does not intend to ‘hand over power’ and considers its own government as an alternative. The government is also facing the need to form its own electoral list. The issue of who was at the top of the Georgian Dream list became the subject of discussion last week. Irakli Kobakhidze, Giorgi Gakharia and former Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze were nominated. As Bidzina Ivanishvili determines the electoral list of the government, the remembering of the former Prime Minister is connected with it.
(Translated by Mariam Mchedlidze)