Say Misha is a dictator.
The moment I wrote that phrase, it flashed through my mind how opposition politicos will cut out the word “say” and spin this phrase around all Internet forums rejoicing: “Even Ghia Nodia can feel which way the wind is blowing and is switching over to ‘our side.’” Whatever. I am not going to stay silent for fear of certain people who are not terribly honest or terribly clever.
Why do I make such an assumption? Many of those who consider Mikheil Saakashvili to be a dictator also believe that Georgia will become a democracy only if the Georgian Dream political coalition wins the parliamentary election. I write this column for those very people, although I understand perfectly well that those who bellow most about “dictatorship” in reality want to establish their own dictatorship of like-minded people.
Experts who claim to be impartial studiously avoid this issue because they fear being labeled as “latent Mishists.” But most open-minded voters indeed wonder: “Sure the government makes a lot of errors, but how do we know that ‘those others’ will be better?”
Lack of Logic and Responsibility
In addressing that very question, let me first point out a logical inconsistency which seems to escape everyone’s notice. If Georgian Dream wins the elections (let me emphasize the word “if” here for those not terribly honest or clever people who might otherwise insinuate that I expect their victory), that will be conclusive evidence that Georgia is not a dictatorship. People who maintain that (1) Georgia is a dictatorship and (2) Georgian Dream will win the elections do not understand the meaning of “dictatorship.” We have seen in Arab countries how true dictatorships end.
But let’s assume that people are speaking with usual Georgian hyperbole when they toss around the word “dictatorship” and what they really mean is that Georgia is an imperfect democracy. (I agree with them on this latter point.) Then, just what is it that makes them believe the Georgian Dream will transform Georgia into a perfect democracy?
Many of those who now hold steadfast to that belief about the Georgian Dream were no less enthusiastic in supporting the Rose Revolution back then. Supporters of the Revolution knew full well then that they were bringing Mikheil Saakashvili and his team to power. Intelligent representatives of the Republican Party, for example, are often asked, “Why do you call Saakashvili and his team ‘a gang of criminals’ when you brought them to power?” To that question, they begrudgingly reply: “We still feel we took the correct position; Shevardnadze’s era was a stagnation.” In other words, their principled position is that a gang of criminals is better than “stagnation.”
The problem here is not so much the fact that politicians do not like to admit their mistakes. Rather, it is that their sense of political responsibility has atrophied. That enables them to side with a politician who adheres to the tabloid values of Asaval Dasavali and openly threatens to create an environment in which no one will be able publicly to “lie” or “engage in demagogy” – that is, criticizing his personality will be verboten. Then, in that imaginary situation in which Ivanishvili is given a chance to implement his real program, Republican Party members who are asked why they facilitated Ivanishvili’s rise to power will be able to say: “What else could we do? It is not our fault! We only wanted to do something good.”
One argument I hear time and again is that a Georgian Dream victory is good for democracy because it will mean the transfer of power through elections and not through revolution. For me, that is a serious argument and I always commend Mr. Bidzina for distancing himself from revolutionary methods. (No one ever gives me credit for that, but that’s OK too.) Experience does show that chances are high that a democratically elected government will abide by the rules of democracy.
Democratic elections do not always guarantee democratic governments, however. The best example of that is our former strategic ally Ukraine. When the “orange” government there lost the elections, everyone pointed that out as a frame of reference for Saakashvili: “See, Ukraine is a democracy whereas Georgia is a dictatorship.” But the victor of those elections – Viktor Yanukovych – has scaled the country’s freedom ratings back to such a degree that Ukraine today is no longer regarded as more democratic than Georgia.
That is not by any means meant to suggest that that we must not allow the opposition to win elections. But, in a country like ours where the rules of democracy have yet to be established, we must look very attentively at what values the opposition cherishes and what exactly it intends to do after its victory. We should not have any overblown illusions of democracy if the leader of that opposition repeats like a mantra “I must come to power with a qualified majority and then revise the Constitution to my tastes” or “I alone am the true opposition” or “Any journalist who criticizes me has to be a paid agent of the government” and so on and so forth.
Mirage of Coalition Democracy
An oft-repeated argument of oppositional democrats is that their imaginative new government will bring democracy to Georgia because it will be a coalition. Republican Party representatives still find it hard to forget that, after the Rose Revolution, the United National Movement did not enter into a formal coalition with them and offer to enter the Parliament on a joint list. That is what the Republican Party counted as the first sign of authoritarianism on the part of the United National Movement.
(I keep mentioning the Republican Party because this party makes most of the efforts intellectually to support opposition aspirations.)
Some countries are ruled by coalition governments and other countries are run by single-party governments. Which one is the better of the two is a topic of debate among theoreticians though all agree that both forms are fairly democratic.
In the case of Georgian Dream, however, debating that issue is a waste of time. That is because the Georgian Dream is only a pseudo-coalition. A coalition is supposed to be a union of members who enter with their own forces, resources and take part in decision-making accordingly. Naturally, the main resource in politics is voter support. In democratic countries, coalitions are usually formed after elections in which no one party wins a decisive victory. Thus, one party may bring in, say, twenty-five percent of the votes; the second party – fifteen percent, the third one – five percent, and so on until voter support for the coalition exceeds fifty percent.
A pre-election coalition is more characteristic for transitional, undeveloped democracies in which political systems are still very raw. But even there political coalitions are formed to unite human and financial resources.
Recently, Republican Party leader Davit Usupashvili stated proudly that decisions for the Georgian Dream are made by Bidzina Ivanishvili. Usupashvili said that to deflect those who blamed his party for imposing its will on Ivanishvili. With that statement, though, Usupashvili effectively admitted that the Georgian Dream is not a coalition at all. The controlling shareholder in that “coalition” is a single person who makes decisions unilaterally. Ivanishvili may listen to others and may even take others’ advice into account (I have no clue what and how things are done there), but those are only management tactics. The head of the “Dream” firm hires employees (such as, say, Zviad Dzidziguri) and turns away others (such as Kakha Kukava) strictly according to his own whim.
That does not mean that Bidzina Ivanishvili is a bad man or a poor manager. What it does mean, viewed objectively, is that it is a legal fiction to consider the Georgian Dream to be a coalition. It is impossible in principle to view the Georgian Dream as internally more pluralistic a political force than the United National Movement. Those who wish to convince us that Georgian Dream will act in a more democratic way after coming to power should not rest that argument on its “coalitionist” nature.
This article first appeared in Tabula Georgian Issue # 104, published 11 June 2012.