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On floods in the regions, increased crime and elections

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wednesday, August 5
Natural disasters caused by bad weather in the regions of Georgia, increased crime in the country and the upcoming parliamentary elections were the three main topics that the Georgian media has been actively discussing in recent days.

As a result of the overflow of mountain rivers, the mountainous part of Racha, one of the corners of western Georgia, found itself in a particularly difficult situation. The floodwaters swept away sections of the road, bridges, villages were cut off and people were evacuated by helicopters. The developments in Mountain Racha are also interesting in that the government has issued a permit to build a cascade of hydropower plants on the Rio River in the region. The local population opposes the start of construction, which will be followed by flooding of a large area. What happened to them will be another argument against the construction of hydropower plants.

The public is concerned about increased crime. According to official statistics, up to 23,000 crimes have been committed in the last five months, of which only 7,000 have been solved. Of particular interest are the two criminal cases that led to the deaths of 19-year-old Giorgi Shakarashvili and 23-year-old Tamar Bachaliashvili. Independent journalists are trying to find out about these cases. Many distrust the investigation and believe that it is "protecting from the perpetrators."

The opposition sees the reason for the increase in crime and especially the lack of investigation of high-profile cases in the government. According to them, the police became an instrument of political tasks, the police were demoralized - because of the ‘social contract’ concluded by the government with the criminal."The criminal world is intertwined with the state structures, it is most clearly expressed during the elections, when criminal authorities, in fact, campaign and help the Georgian Dream to stay in power," said Levan Bezhashvili, one of the leaders of the United National Movement.

Such accusations by the opposition are especially important in the run-up to the elections, when they say the government will continue to mobilize the criminal world to influence voters. The opposition in general suspects that the government will try to rig the elections and considers the support of Western friends as one of the ways to prevent this.

It was with their help that the electoral system was changed and the number of government representatives in the Parliament was reduced to 30.

Our country's strategic partners also insist on holding the upcoming parliamentary elections in accordance with democratic standards. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia on July 27th. This conversation was followed by different comments from the Georgian government and the opposition. According to officials, the conversation was a demonstration of the US’s support for Georgia and that there were no problems with its strategic partner, while opposition officials said Pompeo's goal was to warn the Georgian authorities about the upcoming elections. The need for free and fair elections in Georgia was stressed.

The same statement was made by US Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan. As he told reporters, "now it is important that the election law is enforced in practice during the elections, so that voters can go to the polls freely, without intimidation or other obstacles, and have confidence in the results that will be determined."

Opposition groups called for the beleaguered PM to resign, saying that sanctions would not be imposed on Western parties for violating democratic standards. 15% of the US aid to Georgia has already been officially frozen, and the condition for its receipt will be the steps towards democracy in Georgia.

But even if the democratic standards of the elections are met, the opposition will need to make great efforts to win. First, the opposition political spectrum that is presented to the voters is becoming very wide. The 1% threshold in 2020 parliamentary elections gives many small and new parties a chance to get into the Parliament. It also increases the temptation of major political forces to include satellite parties in Parliament. 68 parties that do not have representation in the Parliament have already applied to the election administration with a request to register as an election subject. Such a plethora of parties will clearly confuse the electorate.

Secondly, the more or less well-known opposition parties, which are gathered in the coalition Strength is in Unity’ can no longer reach an agreement on joint candidates in other cities and regions of Georgia. This, of course, benefits the Georgian Dream. Talk about the final configuration of the opposition will be possible in a few days, when the legal deadlines for registration expire.
(Translated from Georgian by Mariam Mchedlidze)