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On the escalating pandemic, upcoming elections and the Karabakh conflict

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wednesday, October 7
Parliamentary elections are nearing as the pandemic, and economic issues escalate daily. Facts of violence have increased during the election campaign. Against this background, the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia has sharply deteriorated.

The Covid-19 epidemic has been on the rise since the beginning of September, with the daily number of new cases exceeding 300.

Previously, the authorities regarded this number as difficult to handle.

The epidemic was previously viewed as a ‘favorable’ factor for the government - the government boasted that it had managed to deal with the epidemic and demonstrated its effectiveness. Referring to the epidemic, the government started providing large-scale social assistance to the population in the run-up to the elections, which would otherwise have led to protests due to the attempt to bribe voters.

However, the increase in the scale of the epidemic already raises numerous doubts - has the government lost control of the epidemic? It is clear that in such conditions the epidemic will be more dissatisfying for the government and will reduce the authority of the government.The introduction of the type of restrictions that the government imposed in the spring could lead to a social explosion today.

The renewed war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Karabakh has been in the spotlight in recent days. The hostilities began on September 27th and have already exceeded the scale of the ongoing hostilities between these countries in April 2016. The parties blame each other for the resumption of hostilities. Some believe that Azerbaijan carries out a “policy of small victories,” when as a result of hostilities, the enemy will at least seize some territory in Nagorno-Karabakh. It is also a psychological pressure on Armenia, a demonstration of its strength and a demonstration to the Azerbaijanis that billions have not been spent on military armament in vain over the years.

The escalation of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan poses 'usual' problems for Georgia, including possible arms transit to the warring parties, possible pressure and provocations from Russia, and maintaining peace among its ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani citizens, among others. But this time a new topic has emerged, which could lead to a strain on Georgian-Azerbaijani relations during the ongoing hostilities in Karabakh. Georgian prosecutors, based on maps brought from Russia, have launched an investigation into the possible crime committed by the ‘previous government’ while demarcating the border with Azerbaijan.

In particular, according to this version, Saakashvili ceded the territory of Georgia to the section of the Davit Gareji monastery complex. This topic was first made public by the head of the ‘Main Channel’ Nika Gvaramia. According to him, the Georgian Dream was going to start talking about this issue a few days before the elections, as if the named maps were accidentally found in the Ministry of Defense. One way or another, the prosecutor's office has started to clarify the case. Authorities say the issue is too important for the country's interests and cannot be ignored, while the opposition says the issue is absurd and the government is trying to use it for elections, which could strain relations with Azerbaijan. Involvement of Davit Gareji in the pre-election period, according to the opposition, is a non-state action and a betrayal of the country's interests.

The ‘main news’ of the last days of the current election campaign is the escalation of violence first in Bolnisi, then in Gldani, and finally in Marneuli. As a result, opposition members and supporters, as well as journalists, were injured. The opposition sees in the chain of violence a deliberate attempt by the government to intimidate voters, members of the opposition and thus prevent defeat in the elections.

Against this background, Georgian political parties are joining the initiative of the Alliance for Democracies, an international foundation founded by former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, to “participate in elections in good faith.” Election parties and candidates vow not to do anything that harms democracy. However, they have already made a similar reservation under the recently signed Code of Ethical Conduct.
(Translated from Georgian by Mariam Mchedlidze)