Exclusive interview with Lincoln Mitchell, American political analyst and Georgia expert
03 December, 2018
More than 20,000 people responded to the appeal of the opposition and gathered in front of the former parliament building in downtown Tbilisi last Sunday. They protested against the results of the presidential runoff, claiming that the runoff had been rigged. Last week, the candidate backed by the ruling party Salome Zurabishvili won the presidential elections and defeated her competitor Grigol Vashadze of the United National Movement (UNM) party.

The opposition party organized the Sunday’s protest in order to enforce their
demands to conduct early parliamentary elections and to set up a working group. " Let’s talk about how to come out of this political crisis in a civilized, legal and European manner, under the supervision of the civil society and within the constitution," Grigol Vashadze said yesterday at the rally.

Read more: 100% of the ballot counted: Salome Zourabichvili wins

The National Movement does not recognize the results of the presidential elections and is going to demand from the court that the election results be declared void. Former president Mikheil Saakashvili joined the rally via video from his Exile in the Netherlands. He called on the protesters not to give up and defend their votes.

Mikheil Saakashvili talks to the protesters via video

International observers, OSCE mission and the National Democratic Institute described the presidential elections as competitive, but criticized the misuse of administrative resources by the ruling party Georgian Dream. Furthermore, the observers highlighted breaches and violations during the second round of the presidential elections.

Read more: National democratic institute publishes their findings about the presidential elections in Georgia

In an exclusive interview with Georgian Journal, the American political analyst and Georgia expert Lincoln Mitchell explains why he was expecting demonstrations.

Lincoln Mitchell is an accomplished scholar and writer about the political developments in Georgia

Georgian Journal: How would you assess the decision of the “United Opposition” not to recognize the results of the elections?

Lincoln Mitchell: The decision of the United Opposition not to recognize the results of this election should not surprise anybody. They indicated all along that they would respond to a defeat this way. Moreover, it is their right to protest peacefully and to say what they want to about the election. But I think most Georgians know that Zurabishvili is the real winner of the election.

How do you think, did those violations that international observers, NGOs and the OSCE mission stated, have an impact on the final results of the elections?

Election violations are a problem, whether or not they have a direct impact on the final result of the election. A government must always work to make elections better, freer and more fair. This is essential for the consolidation of democracy because unless that happens the outcome of the election will always be doubted by some.

I am not asserting that there was widespread election fraud in this election, but just that all election fraud is a problem regardless of the impact it has on the outcome. With that in mind, it is also very important to note that the runoff was not particularly close. So in this case I do not think that whatever election fraud occurred was enough to change the outcome.

How would you assess Saakashvili’s call for general disobedience after the second round runoff?

Saakashvili has the right to call for civil disobedience; however, I do not expect much to come of it. He still has a very loyal following in Georgia, but he has an even larger group of Georgians who oppose him. This is one major reason why Grigol Vashadze lost.

Grigol Vashadze does not accept the results of the presidential elections

How comes?

Because of Saakashvili’s support, the UNM are well-positioned to be the second largest political force in the country. That is why Vashadze made it into the runoff easily defeating other opposition candidates. However, the identification with Saakashvili also severely limits their ability to grow beyond their base because a majority of Georgians sees a return to power by Saakashvili as disastrous.

If Saakashvili were a good strategic thinker and genuinely wanted the Georgian Dream out of power, he would simply be quiet for a year and let a third force emerge. His ego and false belief that he will return some day and lead Georgia make that impossible.

What lessons did the Georgian Dream learn from this presidential race?

There are several lessons the Georgian Dream should take away from this election. The first is that the strongest opposition force in Georgia is still anti-regime. This means that elections are still not about policy or vision, but about the fundamental legitimacy of the government. Because most Georgians see the government as legitimate, the Georgian Dream keeps winning elections, but the dynamic is not good for the polity or the nation.

Second, the Georgian Dream should be grateful that Saakashvili is still out there making noise and scaring many Georgians back to the Georgian Dream. This was hugely helpful in this election. The Georgian Dream needs to redouble efforts to address Georgia’s problems and accelerate reform, but also needs to more effectively communicate its work and accomplishments and not just during election season.

Mr. Mitchell, thank you for this interview.