Local elections

What Lies Behind Garibashvili’s “Arithmetic”?

Zurab Chiaberashvili
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The days following the local elections of 15 June 2014 have been marked by a number of hopeless attempts of Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili to persuade society that the low turnout in the elections, the disillusionment of the population with the Georgian Dream, and the retention of political pluralism in the country is not the reality, but merely the propaganda of the United National Movement (UNM).

Here is the evidence:

• Around 175,000 fewer voters turned out for the local elections as compared to the recent presidential election.

• The number of votes received by the Georgian Dream nationwide according to the proportional system, i.e. the party list, was 293,153 less than in the presidential election – and, let me reiterate, this was when voter turnout in the local elections was down by 175,000 people.

• In Tbilisi, the Georgian Dream candidate for the position of Mayor received 152,004 votes in total, i.e. half of the votes President Giorgi Margvelashvili received in Tbilisi in the 2013 presidential elections (286,049 votes).

• The United National Movement – despite facing open and well documented persecution, arrests, physical violence, and retaliation undertaken against its leaders, candidates and supporters; alongside well recorded instances of vote rigging on the election day – strengthened its position.

Such numbers and especially the runoff elections that are required in 19 cities and regions of Georgia definitely do not speak in favor of the Georgian Dream. Where then should we seek the origins of Garibashvili's "arithmetic"?

Before answering this question, let us recall that we have already observed a "new arithmetic" in two crucial spheres for quite some time now: in the indicators of economic growth and crime statistics.

Having come to power, the UNM came to face the Shevardnadze government's practice of distorting crime statistics, which was directly linked to corruption. In the period of Shevardnadze's rule, high ranking police officers and prosecutors could take bribes in exchange for hiding crimes simply because it was possible for crimes to go completely unregistered. The government was interested in reporting low crime figures, whilst police officers and prosecutors were interested in taking bribes. Moreover, a large part of those bribes flowed upwards to line the pockets of top officials.

What Garibashvili did when he served as the interior minister was to restore this very practice. While criticizing the UNM, he encouraged lower-level officials to avoid registering crime and, in so doing, he did not even realize that he was creating the possibility of corruption: if a high ranking police officer or prosecutor detains an offender but does not register the crime, why should they release him/her for "free"?

The problem with Garibashvili's "arithmetic" is that it is wedded to the logic that the most important thing is to respond to the UNM's criticisms and to be able to boast in any such debates with the Georgian Dream's political opponents. It does not matter at all what the reality of the situation is – whether crime increases or not. After all, it should not be forgotten that it was his "guru," Bidzina Ivanishvili, who told the population that they "must treat the rise in crime with understanding."

The situation is the same with regard to economic growth indicators, but these tend to come with a higher dose of political cynicism. According to Finance Minister Nodar Khaduri, the low economic indicators of April were a result of the reduced turnover of casinos and gambling businesses.

Pay attention to what Khaduri's statement is directed towards. He wants his statement to be read by people like this: "true, economic growth is low, but the good thing about this is that people no longer visit casinos. We might become worse off during the rule of Mr. Bidzina Ivanishvili, but the key thing is that we care for moral order."

Garibashvili's "arithmetic" can also be seen in his juggling with election results: Ivanishvili, Garibashvili, Khaduri and people of their ilk all think that because they managed to deceive people once they will always be able to do that.

Many people wonder whether the leader of the Georgian Dream coalition and his milieu really believed in the promises they made to the population in the run up to the parliamentary elections of 1 October 2012: that the price of petroleum would fall by one lari, that the electricity tariff would be cut to 5 tetri, whilst that of natural gas to 25 tetri, or that pensions would increase to 220 lari.

I think they really believed that they could do that. The opposition of the time was so obsessed with their hatred towards President Mikheil Saakashvili that it took everything, without exception, that the UNM government said as a lie – even Georgia's entirely unprecedented leap from 117th to 11th place in the Ease of Doing Businesses Index within a record period of time.

When you refuse to conduct constructive criticism against a political opponent, when you refuse to use facts and numbers (like, for example, the UNM now does when in opposition) and when you are driven only by hatred and loathing, you first create a fake parallel reality and then you start to believe in the stereotypes of that same reality.

For example, you start to believe that one lari from the price of petroleum was lining the pockets of Saakashvili and his milieu; that the UNM government did not want to increase pensions; that it was possible to decrease the price of electricity to 5 tetri. (We are talking about numbers here and not touching on other topics, but the same mechanism is at work, for example, when a politician comes to believe that the war in August 2008 was launched by Georgia, not Russia.)

What Ivanishvili, Garibashvili and Khaduri say or think is not, however, the key issue. The key thing is that they think that the citizens of Georgia will believe that. They think that because the UNM succeeded in convincing people of its truth for nine years, we will also succeed in doing that. They think that people judge the government not by deeds but by words.

The main thing that lies behind Garibashvili's "arithmetic" is that the young prime minister views people as a "mass" that can be made to believe anything.

In this regard, Garibashvili is a genuine successor of his guru. Let me recall a news conference that Bidzina Ivanishvili gave on 5 February 2013 in which he provided grounds for the conclusion that he has his own special concept about Georgia and the Georgian people. This concept can be conveyed in one phrase: "let people do nothing."

During that news conference, Ivanishvili called on people to put up with two things that must become matters of concern. First, he told us that we must put up with nepotism as it will remain the main principle for determining the employment of people in public service. He also said that taking into account the possible time span for the Georgian mentality to change to a "proper" extent, the Georgian population will not be ready to join the European Union until at least 20 years from now.

The results of the 2014 local elections and the facts outlined above make it clear that Ivanishvili's 20-year plan, which has Garibashvili as its implementer, is a stillborn idea. I do not think that Garibashvili's "arithmetic" will change, either as a way of viewing political opponents, as a style of management, or as a method of communicating with people.

This promises nothing good for the country.

We can see what stands behind Garibashvili's "arithmetic," but now it is more important to see what stands ahead of it.

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