Nations in Transit
Population: 4.3 million
Source: The data above were provided by The World Bank, World Bank Indicators 2010.
*Starting with the 2005 edition, Freedom House introduced separate analysis and ratings for national democratic governance and local democratic governance, to provide readers with more detailed and nuanced analysis of these two important subjects.
NOTE: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year.
Georgia’s journey toward democracy started in the late 1980s and went through several major hurdles after the country gained independence in 1991. The civil war and ethnic conflicts shaped a Georgian “failed state” in the early 1990s. The ethnic wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia subsequently grew into the Russian-Georgian conflict that reached its peak in August 2008. The country’s relative stabilization under President Eduard Shevardnadze from the second half of the 1990s was stopped by an emerging corrupt and inefficient hybrid political system. Then in 2003, Georgia’s population seemed to “awaken” with the Rose Revolution: The new government of President Mikheil Saakashvili launched profound reforms in almost all fields of the public and private sectors. Yet the failure of the government to engage the political opposition led to street rallies during the autumn of 2007, culminating in dispersed demonstrations and closure of oppositional television stations. Followed by the early elections of the president and Parliament, the November 2007 events marked a significant setback for Georgia’s democracy. The August war in 2008 further contributed to internal political crisis.
A new political crisis unfolded in 2009. From April to late June, a handful of opposition parties organized protest rallies picketing parliamentary buildings, the president’s office, the public broadcaster’s building, and closing main streets in downtown Tbilisi. The opposition demanded the resignation of the president and new national elections. With some exceptions, both the government and the opposition restrained from violence. President Saakashvili reiterated his offer from the previous year to launch a second wave of democratic reforms: a state commission was created to draft a new constitution, a working group was set up to elaborate a new election code, and local elections were slated for spring of 2010. Further, steps were announced to increase the independence of the media and the judiciary, though by the end of the year it remained unclear to what extent the government would be willing to implement these and other reforms.
National Democratic Governance. The year started with protest rallies organized by the opposition that signaled a political crisis in the country. Both the government and the opposition managed to overcome the crisis without excessive use of force, and several meetings took place between the president and representatives of the opposition. Although no remarkable results were achieved, there was a noticeable change in the political discourse. A state commission including the parliamentary minority and nongovernmental groups was created to draft a new constitution, and a working group with even broader political participation developed improvements to the electoral legislation. A mutiny in a battalion of the Georgian army raised questions about the effectiveness of civilian control over the military. Along the conflict zones a number of kidnapping cases kept the situation strained but without major complications. Georgia’s national democratic governance rating remains at 6.00.
Electoral Process. There were no elections in 2009, but the legacy of the 2008 polls continued to impact national politics. In response, there were street rallies that aimed to compel early presidential and parliamentary elections. In September, Parliament adopted an amendment to the constitution allowing 10 opposition politicians (down from 12) elected by party lists to re-enter Parliament after they had refused to recognize the legitimacy of the elections in May 2008. By the end of 2009, only one politician had taken the offer. The year did, however, feature significant improvements in the electoral legislation: a working group with broad participation of opposition parties elaborated several new rules, including the nomination of a Central Election Commission head and procedures for filing violations. The amendment was approved by Parliament in December 2009 and is significant for the upcoming local elections in the spring of 2010. While positive developments including achieving a political consensus over the direct election of the Tbilisi mayor and amending the electoral code ahead of upcoming local elections marked positive developments in 2009, their impact will only be seen in the coming year. Georgia’s electoral process rating remains at 5.25.
Civil Society. Georgia’s civic sector, which was relatively vibrant prior to the Rose Revolution, now struggles to find its niche. The main challenge is civil society’s limited impact on policy formulation. Authorities are mostly reluctant to accept policy recommendations from NGOs, considering them unprofessional and politically biased. Local funding sources are still limited in the country. The newly founded Civic Institutionalization Development Fund of Georgia aims to support civic activities by offering small grants. This is the first attempt by the state to provide funding for the civic sector on a wide scale. Several organizations and grassroots initiatives propagate anti liberal nationalistic and religious values. Georgia’s civil society rating remains at 3.75.
Independent Media. The Georgian media landscape is one of the most developed in the South Caucasus. There are several independent television stations with news programs, dozens of independent newspapers, and a fast-growing number of online broadcasters and news forums. The media legislation is recognized as fully compliant with international standards. In 2009, one representative of the parliamentary minority was included in the Georgian National Communication Commission (NCCG). However, media independence overall is challenged by an insufficient level of professionalism and editorial independence. The lack of information and transparency about those holding shares in television stations and the frequent rotation of ownership leave room for doubt about their independence. In 2009, two major private television stations changed owners. The Board of Trustees of the Georgian Public Broadcaster was substantially reshuffled and a new general director appointed. Georgia’s independent media rating remains at 4.25.
Local Democratic Governance. Georgia’s legislation outlines three levels of governance—national, regional, and local. Beyond the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia is divided into the Autonomous Republic of Adjara and nine regions governed by presidential appointees. The president also proposes the candidacy of the head of the Adjara government to the local parliament and has the authority to dismiss both Parliament and the prime minister in several cases defined by law. Local governance comprises 64 municipalities and 5 self-governing cities including Tbilisi. In 2009, the Ministry for Regional Development and Infrastructure was established to oversee local self-governance as well as to develop a new local governance strategy. While reform measures are foreseen with the establishment of the new ministry, the actual performance of local self-governance in 2009 did not improve, thus Georgia’s local democratic governance rating remains at 5.50.
Judicial Framework and Independence. The Georgian judiciary still struggles to emancipate itself from political pressure. A new ombudsman was elected by Parliament in September 2009 and described the human rights record in the country as “grave.” The Ministry for Corrections and Legal Assistance was created to improve conditions in prisons as well as the penitentiary and probation system in general. The situation in Georgia’s prisons is improving notwithstanding several reported instances of human rights violations. Georgia’s judicial framework and independence rating remains at 4.75.
Corruption. The perception and experience of corruption appear to have decreased in Georgia since the Rose Revolution. Georgian citizens are confronted less with low-level corruption on an everyday basis. Yet several experts have questioned the potential existence of top-level corruption that may evade solid evidence. The government established a new council to update the anti-corruption strategy and action plan signed by the president in 2005. In addition, the government continued a liberal economic policy during 2009 and announced a new wave of economic liberalization measures. Some legal loopholes remain in the procurement and privatization systems regarding transparency of the process and access to information. Georgia’s corruption rating remains at 5.00.
Outlook for 2010. The coming year will show to what extent the Georgian government is willing to implement all of the reforms pronounced by President Saakashvili. The local elections in the spring will test the president’s resolve, as well as measure the ability of opposition parties to build coalitions and conduct rational dialogue with the ruling party. The effectiveness of Georgia’s internal democratic institutions will be an important factor for shaping the country’s international position as well. Failure to show substantial progress will likely further decrease the international community’s interest and involvement in helping to solve Georgia’s problems.
The Georgian constitution was adopted in 1995 and has since undergone substantial changes. The most fundamental and frequent amendments took place after the Rose Revolution of 2003, with 16 amendments passed between 2004 and 2009. The most controversial among these included an increase in the power of the executive and the president vis-à-vis the Parliament in 2004 and a change to the legislative term of Parliament in 2006. The 2006 amendments also changed the dates of parliamentary and presidential elections so that they would coincide in autumn 2008, reflecting one of the major demands of the opposition during the violent street protests of November 2007. Following that political crisis and the referendum of January 2008, Parliament adopted yet another package of constitutional changes.
In September 2009, Parliament legalized two constitutional amendments. One of the amendments declared Kutaisi, the second largest city in western Georgia, as the new location for the Georgian parliament. According to the amendment, parliamentary sessions will move from the capital Tbilisi to Kutaisi after the next parliamentary elections due in 2012. The opposition and several civil society organizations accused the country’s leadership of deliberately weakening the parliament with this amendment, drawing a parallel with the Constitutional Court’s move to Batumi in 2006. The government argues that these changes would support the country’s decentralization process.
Frequent amendments to the constitution are often explained by the fact that the ruling United National Movement (UNM) party has monopolized Parliament and power in general since 2004. The opposition is weak and marginalized, with no effective tools to check the majority. In 2008, UNM regained the two-thirds majority necessary to change the constitution without the need for political coalitions. Likewise, the ruling party’s control over Parliament undermines the role of the legislative branch to check the executive branch of government. Bills proposed by the government pass without substantial discussion, and overall political debates are rare inside Parliament. At the same time, the opposition is enabled to create factions and a formalized minority, and it occupies two vice-speaker positions and several deputy chairs in all committees.
Many argue that the Georgian constitution, in its current form, has lost its function of setting major rules. The divergence between formal rules enumerated in the constitution and political practice has increased over time; in fact, every new political development in the country requires and sometimes causes minor or major constitutional changes. Many political groups and analysts agree that a new constitution based on consensus between major political players, interest groups, and broad public discussions should be written and adopted.
To this end, President Saakashvili set up the State Constitutional Commission to draft a new constitution in June 2009 and invited the opposition to participate. The parliamentary opposition welcomed the creation of the commission, while most non-parliamentary opposition figures ruled out their participation. In cooperation with several civil society organizations, an alternative public constitutional commission was thus created. Although the state commission has held regular working sessions, no general principles for the new draft have been defined as of yet. The president has voiced his preference for a strong presidential system but also stated that he would be willing to limit his power to dissolve the Parliament. According to President Saakashvili, an effective presidential system is important for Georgia, especially at a time “when a great part of the country is occupied.” On the contrary, the alternative commission supports the parliamentary model. Furthermore, it is still unclear whether there is a deadline for the draft, how the new constitution will be adopted (with or without a referendum), and when it will enter into effect. Many believe that the authorities are envisaging the introduction of the new constitution along with the next national elections in 2012–13.
From April to June 2009, ongoing protests paralyzed several main streets in Tbilisi and held Georgia in continuous political crisis. There were several outbreaks of violence with participation of both the government and the opposition. Opposition parties and some nongovernmental organizations reported human rights violations against street protesters, with attacks by unknown persons and police detentions. The police released video footage showing street protesters engaged in illegal activities. In general the street protests did not reach the level of violence of the November 2007 events, and both the government and opposition managed to restrain from escalating the situation. Several meetings between the president and opposition politicians took place, though it is too optimistic to conclude that cooperation was established.
The president addressed Parliament on three occasions in 2009 and participated in debates, unlike previous years when this particular demand of the opposition was systematically ignored. Beyond constitutional reform, President Saakashvili proposed to hold local elections in spring 2010, reform the electoral code, increase legal guarantees for judiciary independence, and include opposition-supported candidates in the public broadcaster’s board of trustees.
Mistrustful of the president, several groups in the non-parliamentary opposition promised to continue street protests in the spring of 2010, and appeared not to seek participation in the coming local elections. Nino Burjanadze, former Speaker of the Parliament and now leader of the opposition Democratic Movement–United Georgia, claims that the European Union-backed report on the August war is sufficient argument for setting Georgia free from the Saakashvili regime. The EU report has been widely welcomed by Georgian politicians yet with radically different interpretations. The government praised the EU commission for disclosing details about Russian aggression, while the non-parliamentary opposition slammed the president for shelling Tskinvali and triggering the war. The general public’s interest in the report, however, has been rather low, and most believe it will not have a significant impact on the internal political process.
The situation along the de facto borders of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remains tense. Since August 2008 more than 10 Georgian police officers have died while patrolling the border. Although the very presence of the EU-led Monitoring Mission has stabilized conditions on the ground considerably, observers are not allowed to enter into identified conflict zones. Furthermore, the mission led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in South Ossetia and UN-led Observer Mission in Abkhazia ended their operations after a Russian veto. Moscow has continued to insist on separate missions for Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Georgia, and tensions grew during the summer of 2009. With this lack of security, an eruption of new fighting was feared, but these tensions were reduced after the talks between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama in Moscow in July.
Georgian legislation guarantees democratic civilian oversight of the military and security sector in general. A representative of the parliamentary minority is included in the Trust Group of the Parliament entitled to oversee military spending. However, the mutiny of the Mukhrovani tank battalion in May 2009 raised questions about the effectiveness of this control. Over 30 acting and former officers as well as civilians were arrested and charged with organizing the mutiny. Part of the political opposition accused the government of manipulating the mutiny in the battalion to cover the political crisis in the country. The replacement of the defense minister in late August with the newly appointed Bacho Akhalaia, a close ally of President Saakashvili, is most probably aimed at tightening control over the armed forces. Former head of the penitentiary system, Akhalaia is known as a proponent of tough measures. Many civil society and media representatives fear that his appointment will lead to diminished access to information and put an end to the recent, considerable openness in the Ministry of Defense.
Although Georgia continues to participate in international operations and pledged to send a battalion-sized unit to Afghanistan in 2010, the government continued to cut military spending. Reaching an apex of GEL 1.547 billion (US$884 million) in 2008, Georgia’s military budget has been systematically reduced since the August 2008 war. In the 2010 draft budget GEL 750 million (US$429 million) are assigned to the Ministry of Defense. At the same time, the number of armed forces—37,000—remained unchanged for 2010.
The Georgian constitution and election code provide a solid basis for universal and equal suffrage in the conduct of free and secret ballots. The Parliament is elected for a four-year term and the president for a five-year term. However, all major political transitions in Georgia have occurred through the violation of these terms: the first non-Communist president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was ousted from office by a coup d’état in 1992, the next president, Eduard Shevardnadze, had to leave the office after the peaceful Rose Revolution in 2003, and in January 2008 snap presidential elections were held resulting from the November 2007 political crisis, even though the incumbent President Saakashvili remained in power.
The presidential elections of 2008 were followed by parliamentary elections, which were the most competitive since the Rose Revolution. Despite this, the ruling party succeeded in securing a two-thirds majority in Parliament: 119 seats out of 150. Both elections showed major shortcomings mostly in the incumbent party’s use of administrative resources and during the vote counting and appeal process.
Nonetheless, international observers assessed the elections as being in compliance with most international standards. Yet some opposition parties did not recognize the election results and rejected their mandates in the Parliament. Twelve out of seventeen elected members from the opposition bloc United Opposition–New Rights did not take their seats, and four out of six from the Labor party did not participate in the work of the legislation. In September 2009, the parliament adopted amendments to the constitution allowing ten opposition politicians elected through the party list to retake their mandates. Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, head of the opposition Tavisupleba party, agreed to enter the Parliament while most of the other politicians refused the offer.
Frequent changes in Georgia’s election code are a major challenge; adopted in 2001, the current code has undergone essential revisions to its rules and procedures on the eve of almost every election. This puts opposition parties in an unequal position and threatens free and fair competition during the campaign. To address these problems, the country’s leadership formed an election code working group in February 2009 facilitated by the National Democratic Institute with the participation of eight political parties and with the aim to elaborate new electoral rules prior to the 2010 local elections. Later the group was joined by the opposition Alliance for Georgia. In November the group failed to reach a consensus on the rule of electing the Tbilisi mayor. The Alliance for Georgia insisted on introducing a minimum 45 percent threshold for electing a mayor in the first round, while the ruling parties proposed a 30 percent threshold, backed by the parliamentary opposition. The group agreed on other issues, including the rule on electing the head of the Central Election Commission and procedures for filing complaints and violations, and Parliament approved the amendments in late December.
The new rules are essential for the upcoming local elections, which will take place on May 30, 2010. Amidst the street rallies in the spring of 2009, President Saakashvili proposed holding the local self-governance elections in the spring of 2010 instead of the originally planned autumn of the same year. A portion of the opposition plans to participate in the elections, provided that the electoral environment has substantially changed, while some politicians are not enthusiastic about local elections at all. For instance, Nino Burdjanadze vowed to continue to pressure the authorities through all legal means to hold early national elections.
Despite the vivid nature of political life in Georgia, public participation remains low and sporadic. Of the 190 political parties in 2009, most were small and not member-based. The ongoing street protests in Georgia during the year were organized by a loose alliance of a dozen political parties and groups, with the number of protestors varying widely from event to event. There are no legal obstacles to creating or joining parties, except region-based ones. Moreover, public funding is available for political parties that succeed in elections. According to the Central Election Commission, 14 parties were eligible for public funds in 2009 with the UNM receiving GEL 2.2 million (US$1.3 million) followed by the Labor party with GEL 0.6 million (US$0.3 million). The internal democratic structure of political parties remains questionable, though several have made attempts to increase internal competition and open up career paths for party members. Typically, the leadership of most parties remains static despite their political performance, and internal party discussions often end in the splitting up of parties. In essence, the only practicable way for new political leaders to emerge is by founding a new political party. For instance, all former Saakashvili allies—i.e., Nino Burjanadze, Zurab Nogaideli, Irakli Okruashvili, and Irakli Alasania—founded their own parties.
The participation of ethnic minorities in Georgian politics is low. Although ballots and other election materials are now available in major minority languages (Armenian and Azeri), local communities from minority regions are not fully informed about ongoing national political processes. The creation of region-based political parties is prohibited by law, and national political parties do not pay much attention to regions with ethnic minority populations. As a result, minorities are underrepresented in national politics. For instance, there are only six Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives in Parliament. The Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities described the “linguistic rights” of persons belonging to a national minority as “still a major challenge” in Georgia and recommends the government improve facilities for learning the Georgian language. The Concept on Tolerance and Civil Integration was adopted by the government to enhance the civic integration process; however, it is unclear to what extent the government will follow these recommendations.
Georgian legislation guarantees the existence of the independent civic sector, and there are no formal barriers to creating or belonging to interest groups, nonprofit organizations, civic initiatives, and so on. Currently, the taxation office registers civil society groups, and only those that perform some type of financial activity. There are no major restraints regarding funding and fundraising, and grants are exempt from most taxes.
Georgia has witnessed the development of a very active civic sector since the latter half of the 1990s. Many civil society representatives participated in peaceful protests during the Rose Revolution, and some joined politics and assumed positions in the country’s leadership. Although the number of organizations has not decreased since 2003, the quality and influence of the civic sector has suffered. Still, several NGOs have become increasingly professional, especially in areas of public health, the environment, and gender issues, among others. There are several NGOs working on human rights and minority issues, as well as think tanks and consultancy institutions.
The decline in the influence and visibility of the nongovernmental sector during recent years is only partially connected with the shift in priorities of international donors. Although donors allocated a significant portion of funds to government-led projects, sufficient funding was still available for civic activities. The most influential NGOs developed new strategies and succeeded in acquiring new funding sources. Liberty Institute, an organization with close ties to the country’s leadership, was the only influential NGO that nearly closed after 2004.
The main challenge for most NGOs continues to be their limited impact on policy formulation. NGOs frequently organize public policy discussions and issue recommendations, but public agencies are reluctant to accept these contributions. Officials play down the importance of civil society engagement considering their products as unprofessional and politically biased. The media relies frequently on the comments of NGO representatives and academics but rarely uses their policy analyses. At the same time, media outlets tend to only selectively use experts in their news analyses or talk shows. This limits the plurality of ideas in media coverage. In 2009, major international donors started to support several projects aiming to increase the quality of public policy products, ensuring policy oriented debates and pushing issue-based cooperation between NGOs, media, and public agencies.
Local funding sources are still limited in the country. Some Georgian business entities have set up funds, but they are charity-oriented with less interest in civic activity. The philanthropy market is monopolized by the Georgian Orthodox Church, which is the major consumer of state and private funds and provides help for social needs through charity actions. For instance, the 2010 State Budget envisages GEL 25.3 million (US$14.5 million) of direct funding for the Georgian Orthodox Church.
Several organizations and grassroots initiatives (for example, Orthodox Parents Union, Union of Orthodox Parish) propagate anti-liberal, nationalistic, and religious values. These are associated with clerical circles inside the Orthodox Church but have no proven formal connections with the Georgian Patriarchate. The influence of the Georgian Orthodox Church has increased in recent years, directly threatening freedom of expression on several occasions. In January 2009, the church expressed its concerns about the public television show Great Ten, which led first to the show’s suspension by the board of trustees of the public broadcaster and then to a substantial change of format. In October, the Tbilisi-based Kavkasia television reported about video clips posted on the Internet that mocked the patriarch, and several political and Orthodox groups accused the Liberty Institute and “some circles” in the government of campaigning against the patriarch. While the representative of the institute received threats, the president’s administration condemned the clips, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs identified two teenagers as their authors. Even though the church played a positive role in overcoming the spring political crisis, the extent to which both the government and the opposition appealed to the church’s involvement in political processes was viewed as dangerous for the liberalization of politics in Georgia.
The new Civic Institutionalization Development Fund (CIDF) established by the Georgian government is one of the most significant advances in funding for the country’s nongovernmental sector. The CIDF provides small grants for civic activities based on open competition, and in 2009 a total of GEL 800,000 ($ 457,000) were allocated for grants. Beyond established NGOs, unregistered public groups were also eligible for funding, which enabled new grassroots initiatives to emerge and develop. This is the first attempt by the state to provide funding for the civic sector on a nationwide basis.
Although the Georgian Trade Union Confederation, a successor to the Soviet trade unions, claims to have over half a million members and 26 functional unions, none of them are significant players in the public sphere. Only the Free Union of Teachers and Scholars is visible from time to time. Among the main challenges to trade unions are: Georgia’s less developed culture of associations; the Soviet-based antipathy towards all unions in particular; and structural and managerial problems inside the unions.
Reform of the country’s educational system remains incomplete. While there has been significant improvement in national examinations at the higher education level, this has not been accompanied by adequate improvements in public schools. After the initial state involvement in the first stage of reforms, public universities began to practice more real autonomy. Yet, the government’s plans to encourage self-governance of public schools through the creation of school boards partially failed due to limited knowledge and willingness of teachers and parents to take responsibility in running schools. In some instances, this reluctance gave school directors free rein to misuse their power. This problem is more evident in the regions, while some schools in the capital Tbilisi can be regarded as success stories.
The Georgian media landscape is one of the most developed in the South Caucasus. There are several national television stations: four with their own news editions (Georgian Public Broadcaster [GPB], Rustavi 2, Imedi TV, Adjara TV); a number of regional stations and emerging online televisions; and dozens of central, regional, and local newspapers. The country’s legislation guarantees freedom of the press, protects journalists from oppression by state or non-state actors, and is acknowledged as fully compliant with international standards. Electronic broadcasters are overseen by the Georgian National Communication Commission (NCCG). The commission’s five members are elected by Parliament including one nominated by the parliamentary minority.
In Reporters Without Borders’s 2009 Press Freedom Index, Georgia’s position improved from 120 to 81 after being ranked 66 in 2007 and 89 in 2006. For the same period, the country has consistently fallen in position in the Media Sustainability Index of the International Research and Exchanges Board. The major ongoing challenges continue to be transparency in media ownership, editorial independence, and lack of professionalism.
Georgia’s media landscape is overwhelmingly dominated by television. The majority of Georgians receive information through television, and the Caucasus Research and Resource Center (CRRC) reported that 84 percent of Georgians watch television news every day. At the same time, most respondents considered television stations as biased and “one sided,” either towards the government (Rustavi 2, Imedi and GPB) or the opposition (Kavkasia and Maestro). Newspapers play a relatively minor role in providing access to information; however, the role of radio and weekly newspapers is increasing. The question of ownership of major independent television stations remains problematic, even though all legal requirements have been met and data on companies owning stations are made public. The lack of information on those holding shares in companies and their relations with political groups leaves room for doubt about the independence of these stations.
Frequent changes in ownership blur the issue even further. For instance, Imedi TV owned by Badri Patarkatsishvili, a tycoon and opponent of President Saakashvili in 2007, was taken over by his relative Joseph Key through a suspicious deal in February 2008 following the death of Patarkatsishvili. The family of Patarkatsishvili accused Key of illegal appropriation of their property and acting with the government’s backing. In February 2009 Key announced that RAAK Georgian Holding purchased 90 percent of Georgian Media Production Group, which owns 100 percent of Imedi Media Holding (television and radio stations). Giorgi Arveladze, a close ally of President Saakashvili and former Minister for Economic Development, later became head of Imedi Media Holding.
The other largest private television company, Rustavi 2, also changed ownership in 2009. According to the NCCG, Degson Limited, a company registered in British Virgin Islands, holds a 70 percent share. No additional information about the company is available. The remaining 30 percent is held by the Georgian Industrial Group owned by David Bezhuashvili, a member of parliament from the ruling party. The former owner of that 30 percent share, ex-director of the station, Irakli Chikovani, became a member of the NCCG after this deal.
During 2009, the GPB remained at the core of political debates. Street protests organized by a handful of opposition parties between April and June picketed the public broadcaster and blocked traffic with improvised prison cells. The opposition accused the GPB of biased coverage of the protest rallies and demanded the resignation of management and the board of trustees. Five members of the nine member board, including the chairman, resigned. These members were mostly opposition-backed candidates elected by Parliament after the deal made between the government and the opposition in spring 2008. In July 2009, four new board members were elected. However, one position remained vacant. In October, Parliament increased the number of trustees to 15 and in December, filled 7 remaining vacancies. The new board includes at least five trustees supported by the parliamentary and non-parliamentary opposition. In August, former GPB deputy general director Ghia Chanturia was elected the new general director by the board, replacing Levan Kubaneishvili, who resigned in April after only one year in the position.
In 2008, Parliament amended the Law on Broadcasting, obliging the GPB to air regular political talk shows and also to spend no less than 25 percent of its programming budget on minority language and ethnic conflict-related programs. Many experts believe this is an issue of editorial independence that should be determined by the GPB itself and not regulated through the law. In December 2009, the parliament restored the old scheme of funding so that the GPB will be financed with a sum “no less than” 0.12 percent of the country’s GDP.
Regional and local stations were most vulnerable to the country’s economic crises during the year. Television stations in ethnic minority regions could not maintain regular news editions and frequently interrupted programming with rebroadcasts of the central news programs with accompanying translations. In Batumi, capital city of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, Channel 25 was engaged in tax disputes with local authorities that threatened its very existence, according to its owners. Later, the Ministry of Finance agreed to restructure the debt after mediation from the Ombudsman of Georgia.
During the street protests between April and June 2009, journalists were reportedly involved in several eruptions of violence. In May, during the picketing of the public broadcaster, young supporters of the opposition physically assaulted a GPB journalist. The attackers were later arrested by the police but released after the Orthodox Church mediated the matter. Several journalists from major television stations were attacked during street rallies by opposition followers. Also, several journalists were beaten by police officers during the short riot at the Tbilisi Police Headquarters on June 15. The Ministry for Internal Affairs apologized after the incident. Two television channels—Maestro and Kavkasia—suspended broadcasting for 24 hours in protest. In May, unknown persons threw a hand grenade at the office of the television channel Maestro, which is linked to the opposition, causing damage to the building but no casualties.
None of the several existing media associations are strong enough to unite the media community, which is strongly divided along political lines. Most journalists and producers do not have solid employment contracts, which enable media owners or their representatives to easily manipulate editorial independence.
Access to the Internet is increasing, yet remains relatively low. According to the CRRC, 12 percent of respondents access the Internet daily, with 50 percent of these involved in social networking and taking part in online forums. The main challenges to Internet accessibility are technological limitations outside major cities and high service fees. Still, the new trend in Georgian media is the growing number of online television and radio broadcasters.
Georgia’s constitution and corresponding legislation outline three levels of governance: national, regional, and local. The 1995 constitution left the regional level undefined until the restoration of the country’s territorial integrity. According to the Constitutional Law on Autonomous Republic of Adjara Status from 2004, Adjara maintains competences relating to education, culture, tourism, health care, etc. The law gives the president of Georgia exceptional rights in Adjara, including the authority to propose candidates for the government head to the Adjara Supreme Council and to dismiss the local Parliament as well as the government in several cases. The other autonomous republic of Georgia, Abkhazia, is out of the central government’s control and was declared an occupied territory by the Georgian Parliament in 2008. The breakaway region of South Ossetia has the same status of the occupied territory. An interim administrative unit was created in South Ossetia to build up its autonomy in 2007.
The rest of Georgia is divided into nine regions: Samegrelo and Zemo Svaneti, Guria, Imereti, Ratcha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti, Samtskhe-Djavakheti, Mtskheta-Mtianeti, Kvemo Kartli, Shida Kartli, and Kakheti. These regions have no autonomy and are governed by presidential appointees (sakhelmtsipo rtsmunebuli).
There are 64 municipalities (60 without territories in conflict zones and under Georgian central government control prior to August 2008) and 5 self-governing cities—Tbilisi, Batumi, Rustavi, Poti, and Kutaisi. In municipalities and cities, local and city councils (sakrebulo) are elected for four-year terms. Councils elect heads of municipalities (gamgebeli) and city mayors in self-governing cities. The new arrangement introduced in 2006 abolished the first level of self-governance in more than 1,000 communes. Trustees (gamgeobis rtsmunebuli) are appointed by the gamgebeli to act on behalf of the municipality in each commune. Abolition of the first level of self-governance has been criticized for contradicting the citizen-based, bottom-up approach of self-governance. But authors of the reform argued that the sustainability of local entities in financial and economic terms would increase their operational capabilities as well as political weight vis-à-vis the central authorities.
Local elections in October 2006 ended with an overwhelming victory for the ruling party, UNM. Although the elections were mostly free and competitive, the applied multi-mandate winner-take-all system (the party with the majority of votes wins all of the mandates) enabled the ruling party to secure an overwhelming majority and absolute control in all local councils nationwide. Further, UNM won 16 out of 18 seats in the 2008 elections for the Adjara local parliament.
The ruling party’s monopoly on local councils has diminished political competition on the regional and local levels, and opposition parties play almost no role in the decision-making process throughout the country. Their domination of the political landscape contributes to the marginalization of the opposition, which remains without active political functions and involvement. Beyond this, the central government has tight control over local councils and has often intervened in local issues. Regional governors (presidential appointees) often dictate to the local councils and municipal executives under their regional supervision. Governors are legally authorized to supervise local entities by the Law on the Supervision of Local Government adopted in 2007. In many senses, this subordination undermines the very logic of local self-governance.
Georgia’s Ministry for Regional Development and Infrastructure was established in 2009 and deals with the reform of regional development and local self-governance. Under its supervision, the Ministry Municipality Development Fund, Center for Effective Governance System and Territorial Arrangement, and other entities, develop different strategies and policies. The reforms aim at increasing the capabilities of local entities, though no substantial changes are expected to take place until the upcoming local elections slated for the spring of 2010.
The president is required to announce the election date at least 45 days in advance. According to a draft constitutional amendment (expected to be approved by Parliament after public debate in January–February 2010), the elections will be held no later than June 1, 2010. The ruling party has also offered direct elections of the Tbilisi mayor, a request made by the opposition during the previous local elections in 2006 and later reiterated by the president. The opposition welcomed the proposal, but demanded all regional governors, city mayors, and municipal executives be elected directly instead of through local councils or appointed by the president. The Alliance for Georgia proposed to have direct elections, at least for self-governed city mayors, which was rejected by the ruling party.
Nevertheless, Tbilisi, as the capital city and major electoral constituency, has immense weight in national politics. Here, the opposition would be able to challenge the ruling party candidate and build up a critical base for following parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012 and 2013. The Alliance for Georgia, consisting of Georgia–Free Democrats, the Republican Party, and the New Rights Party, nominated its leader, Irakli Alasania, for mayor, and Sozar Subari, former public defender of Georgia, for city council chairman. However it is unclear whether this duo can rely on the support of other opposition parties. The proposal for holding primaries to select a single opposition candidate for the Tbilisi mayoral elections seems to have failed due to a lack of support from all major opposition parties. Likewise, Alliance for Georgia and the parliamentary Christian Democratic Movement also rejected the proposal. Without a common candidate, the chances of the opposition winning the Tbilisi mayoral race are slim.
The constitution and national legislation of Georgia guarantee fundamental political, civil, and human rights, as well as provide the legal tools for the independence of the judiciary. Yet judicial independence, along with the protection of human rights, continues to be a widely discussed and controversial issue in the country. Some improvements have been reported by the government since the Rose Revolution, while opponents argue that there has been an overall backslide in these areas in recent years.
In July 2009, the parliament adopted amendments to the Law on Rallies and the Law on Police. Punishments were increased for administrative offenses, as well as allowing police to use non-lethal bullets (widely criticized by the ombudsman after their use in the riots of November 7, 2007, and May 6, 2009). These changes arose from the street protests and additionally included prohibiting the blocking of streets if the number of protesters did not require it. The amendments also increased imprisonments and fines for several administrative offenses and overall drew criticism from the opposition and civil society groups. On November 23, three activists of a pro-opposition youth group were arrested and fined GEL 500 (US$285) on the basis of the new law for standing in front of the parliament building. The ombudsman criticized the arrest and the court’s decision as a violation of freedom of assembly.
In September 2009, the ombudsman Sozar Subari, who had been very critical of the government, ended his five-year term and joined the opposition Alliance for Georgia. George Tugushi, a lawyer with experience working within the OSCE and EU on human rights issues, was elected by Parliament to replace Subari. Tugushi was quoted as saying to lawmakers that the “ombudsman should be regarded as an assistant to these [state] structures in order to, on the one hand, prevent violation of human rights and laws by the state institutions and, on the other hand, help restore violated rights of people… [The ombudsman] should not refrain from confronting those who violate human rights.” Although many doubted that Tugushi would dare to criticize the government, his first biannual human rights report described the human rights record in the country as “grave.”
The opposition and some human rights groups have claimed the existence of political prisoners in the country, who were arrested for political activities under the pretext of administrative or criminal offenses. Subsequently, the Conservative Party listed 67 political prisoners as of October 2009, and the Human Rights Center studied 8 pilot cases with alleged political motives. According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2008 Human Rights Report: “The public defender’s office identified five political prisoners….They were convicted in connection to their participation in antigovernment rallies in November 2007. Local NGOs alleged there were political prisoners, but often could not agree on how they defined political prisoner, nor on the number of persons who qualified. The parliamentary Human Rights Committee claimed that there were no political prisoners in the country.”
In recent years, several measures aimed at increasing the independence of the judiciary have contributed to consecutive improvements in the system. The High Council of Justice now appoints judges and is independent from the president; it also includes a representative of the parliamentary minority. The introduction of jury trials was postponed several times, but gradual implementation is expected to start in the autumn of 2010, according to the new criminal procedure code adopted by the Parliament in October 2009. The new code contains other notable features and will come into force on October 1, 2010.
Improvements are mostly visible in the infrastructure and equipment of the courts, and financial and social guarantees for court personnel. Judicial authorities spend a considerable amount on improving the competence of candidates, believing that material guarantees and enhanced professionalism are essential prerequisites for judicial independence. The country’s human rights groups acknowledge these improvements and emphasize the growing independence and professionalism of courts in civil law cases. However, they point to continuing pressure from the prosecutor’s office in some criminal and administrative cases.
In February 2009, the Ministry for Corrections and Legal Assistance was created, and Dimitri Shashkin, former director of the International Republican Institute, was appointed its minister (he later became Minister of Education). The goal of the ministry is to improve prison conditions, as well as the penitentiary and probation system in general, and the ministry was quickly confronted with a riot in a women’s prison in April. The new leadership succeeded in putting an end to the riot without the use of excessive force. The situation in prisons is improving, notwithstanding the several instances of human rights violations mentioned by the new public defender in his biannual report.
Several hundred inmates were pardoned between January and October 2009, which raised questions about the policy on pardons. Four former Ministry of Internal Affairs officers convicted in the Girgvlianis case were released under probation terms. This case of a killing involving high officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs became the key political issue in 2006 and was the first blow to the post-revolutionary government. President Saakashvili vowed to review the policy on pardons, as one of the pardoned inmates killed a police officer and injured two others. The official Pardon Commission, influenced by the president, can also act independently relying on other state agencies such as the prosecutor’s office. In March, in a public letter to the president, the outgoing ombudsman Sozar Subari called for increasing the role of the commission, saying, “There is complete chaos in the sphere of pardoning.”
The fight against corruption is one of the most recognized and frequently quoted success stories of the acting Georgian government. Since 2004, low-level corruption involving public services has been effectively eradicated. This became one of the most visible improvements for ordinary citizens. In June 2009, 97 percent of Georgians said they could not remember a situation where they had to pay a bribe over the past 12 months. According to Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index, the level of corruption fell only slightly in Georgia, which was ranked 66 out of 180 countries with a score of 4.1 (3.9 in 2008).
The Georgian government pursues a liberal economic policy and continues to reduce regulations and simplify procedures for starting and doing business in the country. In its 2010 estimations, the Business Environment and Enterprise Performance Survey study produced by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and World Bank and International Financial Transparency International placed Georgia at 11 compared to 16 the previous year. In this regard, Georgia is the leader in the post-Soviet world. In October 2009, President Saakashvili proposed a new wave of economic liberalization. In his speech to Parliament he presented the Act on Economic Freedom, which included a compulsory referendum on tax increases, a ban on the setting of new regulatory agencies, a ban on increasing the number of licenses and permits, and setting the limits for public expenditure-to-GDP ratio at 30 percent, debt-to-GDP ratio at 60 percent, and state budget deficit at 30 percent of GDP. Later in December, the Parliament approved the corresponding amendment to the constitution in its first hearing. The parliamentary opposition criticized the amendment as a “purely populist act.” In October 2009, the government announced the start of the next wave of privatization aimed at selling some of the remaining state properties, likely including the Georgian Post.
In January 2009, the Georgian government established a new anticorruption council led by influential Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili. So far, the council is tasked with updating the government’s anticorruption strategy and action plan signed by the president in 2005. Beyond these improvements, civil society groups and some experts point to the potential existence of elite corruption. According to them, low-level corruption has virtually disappeared due to the fact that all decisions are made on the top level where room for corruption continues to exist. However, it is hard to present evidence that proves the existence of elite corruption.
The procurement system remains a problematic area in all levels of state agencies. Frequent use of direct dealing and the force majeure provision, as well as a lack of information about procurement competition, undermine confidence in the system. While some experts support tightening procurement rules, others argue for a more flexible and outcome-oriented approach. Problems regarding access to information also tarnish the privatization system.
Public opinion in Georgia takes a strong position against corruption, and the media is free to report on corruption issues. There have been extensive reports about arrests of low- and middle-level officials accused of corruption or abuse of office, but investigative journalism has almost disappeared in recent years (though it appeared to be reemerging and receiving more attention from the major television media in the second half of 2009). The Open Society Georgia Foundation supports a weekly investigative program on Kavkasia TV, and investigative programs appear on Maestro TV and online. In November 2009, GPB announced the start of media investigations with the new television season, but has postponed this until the following year. CRRC research showed that 75 percent of respondents would welcome investigative reports on different issues.
 “On account of the ‘Tagliavini Commission’ report, Nino Burjanadze demands Saakashvili to bear responsibility,” Official Party Webpage, October 01, 2009, http:// www.democrats.ge (accessed October 24, 2009).
 Advisory committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection on National Minorities, Opinion on Georgia, Adopted on 19 March 2009, (Strasbourg 2009).
 CRRC, Georgia Comprehensive Media Research: Summary Findings, August–November, 2009, http://www.epfound.ge/files/geo_media_research_report_en.pdf (accessed January 8, 2010).
 Transparency International Georgia, Television in Georgia: Ownership, Control and Regulation, November 30, 2009, http://transparency.ge/sites/default/files/Media%20Ownership%20November%... (accessed April 28, 2010).
 “Opposition Says Georgia Has over 60 Political Prisoners,” Civil Georgia, October 9, 2009, http://www.civil.ge (accessed October 24, 2009); HRC/FIDH, After the Rose, the Thorns: Political Prisoners in Post-Revolutionary Georgia, http://www.humanrights.ge/admin/editor/uploads/pdf/georgie528a2009.pdf (accessed October 24, 2009).
 Department of State, 2008 Human Rights Report: Georgia, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/http/2008/eur/119080.htm, (accessed October 31, 2009).
 HRC, Trial Monitoring Report Judiciary and Human Rights, http://www.humanrights.ge/admin/editor/uploads/pdf/report-ENG.pdf (accessed October 24, 2009).
 Public Defender of Georgia, State of Human Rights in Georgia, 2009y/1 half (available in Georgian), http://www.ombudsman.ge/files/downloads/ge/mrdgeisbslxrlgajxhkx.pdf (accessed April 28, 2010).
 Transparency International Georgia, Anti-Corruption Policy: Recommendations by Civil Society Representatives and Experts, March 30, 2009, http://www.transparency.ge/files/215_490_158736_Anti-Corruption%20Policy... (accessed October 24, 2009).