As 2016 nearly comes to an end, Tabula offers you a look at some of the most significant events this year in Georgia and Georgian politics. Here is a list of the most important and interesting events that took place throughout 2016 in Georgia:
1) Bidzina Ivanishvili transports enormous tree by Sea
Billionaire and former Prime Minister of Georgia, Bidinza Ivanishvili, transported a 100 - year - old tulip tree along the Black Sea coast, from where it was then transferred to Ivanishvili’s dendrological park in Shekvetili. In November, Bidzina ivanishvili bought another tree which was worth 45,000 USD.
2) New Prime Minister of Georgia
Former Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili was replaced by Giorgi Kvirikashvili. In 2013 - 2015 years he served as the Vice Prime Minister of Georgia and since 2012 he was also the Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development. Kvirikashvili was appointed on the position of Prime Minister on December 30, 2015. Big part of society believes that Bidzina Ivanishvili is still the informal leader of Georgian Dream. Even though Ivanishvili isn’t involved directly in governmental work, he was on press tour leading up to the 2016 parliamentary elections.
3) Hidden Surveillance Tapes Leak Private Footage of Politicians and Journalists
On March 11, 2016, sex tapes revealing the private life of several politicians was released on the internet. The video threatened several other government members [of whom similar footage existed] to leave their posts. Several politicians and journalists spoke out against hidden surveillance tapes afterwards. The same month, campaign “This Concerns You” held several demonstrations against hidden surveillance tapes in March. So far, no one has been arrested for the release of these videos.
4) Opposition Member Aleksi Petriashvili Shot
On February 26, the former Secretary General of the Free Democrats, Aleksi Petriashvili was shot while at the gravesite of former diplomat, Levan Mikeladze. Petriashvili was at the cemetery with his three other friends. Petriashvili was operated on twice after the attack. The Ministry of Internal Affairs arrested one suspect in the case in March.
5) Vegan Cafe in Tbilisi Attacked by So Called Far-Right Extremists
On May 29, a vegan cafe in the center of Tbilisi, Kiwi Cafe, was raided by a group of more than a dozen men throwing sausages and other types of meat at restaurant customers and staff. Minor injuries were reported after the attack and no arrests were made. Several days after the incident, Kiwi cafe made an official statement saying that the same people had visited the neighbourhood earlier and asked nearby shopkeepers whether there were any foreigners or LGBT individuals who frequently visited the cafe.
6) Pressure on Constitutional Court
The Constitutional Court has been at the center of a number of ongoing, high-profile cases over the past year, such as Gigi Ugulava’s trial, the Cables Case and the Rustavi 2 dispute. The international community, diplomatic representatives and civil society groups have continuously urged the Court to make decisions based on law and not as a result of political pressure. The parliament of Georgia enacted juridical changes regarding the Constitutional Court, which as many believed was aimed at discrediting the court.
At a briefing on July 21, the Chairman of the Constitutional Court, Giorgi Papuashvili, announced that judges are being pressured in the form of threats and surveillance. The Constitutional Court plenum chose Zaza Tavadze to be the new chairman of the court. Tavadze was elected with five votes, whilst the other candidate Irine Imerlishvili received only three.
7) Pope Francis’ Visit to Georgia
Pope Francis arrived in Tbilisi on September 30th. During his visit, he held mass at the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium, and met with Georgian religious leaders, members of the Assyrian-Chaldean assembly as well as the President and the Patriarch. The Pope’s arrival in Tbilisi was also met with protests. Orthodox priests and activists gathered by the road from the airport in protest of his arrival. The group has claimed that the Pope is a “spiritual aggressor” and is at odds with orthodox values.
8) MP Assassination Attempt
On October 4, a bomb detonated within the vehicle of a UNM leader in central Tbilisi, close to Freedom Square. MP Givi Targamadze and his driver were in the vehicle at the time, however sustained only minor injuries. Five in the vicinity of the blast were injured and hospitalized, one in serious condition. Targamadze recently told reporters that he still has a number of questions which have remained unanswered, including the motive behind the attack.
9) 2016 Parliamentary Elections
On October 8, 2016 parliamentary elections were held throughout the country. According to the Central Electoral Commission, three parties crossed the 5% threshold - Georgian Dream with 48.65% (856,762 votes), United National Movement with 27.12% (477 596 votes) and the Patriots’ Alliance with 5% of the vote (88,109 votes). Several international organisations monitored the pre-election and even though feedback was generally positive, there were many cases of voter intimidation and electoral incidents reported, including one in Kortskheli. Additionally, audio recordings of politicians’ phone calls were leaked right before the elections.
The head of the European Parliament’s Elections Observation Mission in Georgia, Ana Gomes, issued a statement in the wake of runoff vote on October 30 saying that the mission was concerned by reports of "alleged voter intimidation”.
10) Brawl at 48th Electoral Precinct in Marneuli
The 2016 parliamentary elections didn’t pass without incidents, however. The situation was most tense when special ops arrived at the 48th electoral precinct in Marneuli. An attack on the precinct started in the evening on October 8 when protesters started throwing stones at the building and fighting between each other. On the day of the elections, several opposition activists attempted to steal the ballot box from a polling station in the 48th electoral district, threw stones at the building and clashed with the police.
The results from 48th polling station of Marneuli were subsequently annulled. On October 13, law enforcement authorities arrested six individuals in relation to this case. The precinct in Marneuli was not the only case of such an incident. The controversy also occurred in a number of the districts where opposition members were most likely to win.
11) New Government of Georgia and Appointment of Ministers
After Georgian Dream gained a constitutional majority in the 2016 parliamentary elections, the 9th Parliament of Georgia approved a list of the country’s ministerial candidates. The Prime Minister of Georgia, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, and other ministers of Justice, Education and etc. retained their positions.
There are only three new faces in the government: the Minister of Economy - Giorgi Gakharia, the State Minister for Euro-Atlantic Integration - Viktor Dolidze and the Minister of Regional Development - Zurab Alavidze.
12) Irakli Alasania and Davit Usupashvili Leaves their Parties
In the aftermath of the 2016 parliamentary elections, Irakli Alasania, Leader of the Free Democrats, announced on October 10 that he was to leave politics temporarily. Irakli Alasania did not run in the runoff elections for a single-mandate seat in Gori on October 30.
Davit Usupashvili, also left the party. He named the same reason for his departure. The Republican Party of Georgia decided to run independently for the 2016 parliamentary elections, and thus left the Georgian Dream coalition. Members of Free Democrats (FD) were not the only ones to leave their party. On November 1, Members of the Republican Party Vakhtang Khmaladze and Tina Khidasheli decided to leave the FD because of their differing opinions on the future work of the party.
Neither Alasania’s nor Usupashvili’s parties managed to pass the 5% threshold during the 2016 parliamentary elections.
13) Free Democrat Leaders Leave the Party and Come Out in Support of Georgian Dream
2 days after Alasania’s notice, members of the Free Democrats party, Zurab Abashidze, Viktor Dolidze, Davit Onoprishvili and Giorgi Tsagareishvili left the party. On October 25, the same members announced that they planned to cooperate with Georgian Dream. Viktor Dolidze was even appointed as the new State Minister for Euro-Atlantic Integration.
14) Controversy Within the UNM after 2016 Parliamentary Elections
After the results of the October 8 elections came in, a rift emerged in the UNM with some leaders [including former President, Mikheil Saakashvili] calling for a full boycott of the parliament and participation in the runoffs, whilst others cautioned against hasty decisions. A difference of opinion in this matter further divided the party into two factions, one of which considers Mikheil Saakashvili as the unconditional leader and the second which thinks that party should be governed by local management.
Since the October 8 elections, Roelofs announced that she didn’t want to participate in the runoff vote and that she refused to enter the parliament as well. Her MP status was eventually suspended by the Parliament of Georgia
On December 24, the leader of the parliamentary minority, Davit Bakradze, confirmed that there is a difference of opinion within UNM. .
15) Rustavi 2 Case
On November 22, the Grand Chamber of the Supreme Court of Georgia began hearings concerning the ownership dispute of Rustavi 2 television channel. Rustavi 2 and several opposition parties (namely the United National Movement and the Free Democrats) see the ownership dispute as a political move as the channel has been known to be critical of the Georgian Dream government. The Rustavi 2 Case was one of the highest public interest cases which was heard by the Constitutional Court of Georgia this year.
16) Lari Depreciation
On December 20, Georgian lari hit a historic record low, dipping to 2.783 GEL to the US dollar. According to the National Bank of Georgia, throughout 2016, the GEL was the strongest against USD on June 10, when the exchange rate of 1 USD against the GEL was 2.127. NBG also said that these processes can be ascribed to the combination of the dollar’s rise in value and the depreciation of the Turkish lira. The Georgian lari has consistently depreciated throughout the year.
17) Rise of Excise Taxes
On December 7, the Government of Georgia announced that it would raise all tax brackets by 2017. This information was conveyed by the policy change package of the 2017 budget proposal, which also involves the introduction of higher excise taxes on car oils, which will now be twice as high. Excise taxes for 1 ton of car oils will now be 800 GEL. Next year, the government is counting on a total generated revenue of 681 million lari, which is 300 million GEL less in comparison to 2016. This decision received a lot of criticism from the opposition members, namely UNM member Giga Bokeria, who stated that the rise of excise taxes would result in a rise of prices on many products. Bokeria also stated that the government lied as this decision wasn’t presented in their electoral programme.
18) Visa Liberalization
Georgia made several steps forward in terms of EU Integration and more specifically in the process of visa liberalization. The European Parliament will most likely discuss visa liberalization for Georgians at the plenary session on February 2, after which it will be sent back to the Council of the European Union for approval.
The European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, also urged the European Council and European Parliament to decide on visa liberalization as soon as possible. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia hopes that the legislative procedure will come to an end in the near future, and all Georgian citizens with biometric passports will be able to travel to EU member states for short - term visits of 90 - 180 days.