Nations in Transit
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Democracy Score(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Electoral Process(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Society(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Independent Media(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Judicial Framework and Independence(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Corruption(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Governance(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Democratization in the Republic of Georgia has been impeded over the last decade by frequent challenges to the viability of the state. The early 1990s in particular were marred by ethnic territorial wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a successful armed rebellion against the country's first democratically elected government, and an interval of warlordism and semianarchy. The legacies of this period include the internal displacement of 264,000 people, a general environment of instability in the country, and the rise of two self-proclaimed states that cover some 15 percent of Georgia's territory and function as centers for violence and organized crime.
Georgian partisans in Abkhazia continue to destabilize this self-proclaimed state and neighboring regions. Likewise, since the influx in 1999 of refugees from the war in neighboring Chechnya, the small region of Pankisi has become a safe haven not only for an illicit drugs and arms trade, but also for Chechen fighters and their supporters from Muslim countries--some with alleged links to international terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda. Although this situation led to occasional bombings and open threats of military invasion by Russia in 2002, the Georgian government succeeded in improving the situation in Pankisi by year's end. Nevertheless, a sense of volatility remained.
The level of democratic freedoms enjoyed in Georgia proper is uneven. The country has made considerable progress in liberalizing its economy and guaranteeing the rights of political parties, civic organizations, and the media to function freely. However, corruption is widespread, and an ongoing fiscal crisis undermines the government's ability to address the most significant problems facing the country. In addition, Georgia lacks an effective system of democratic governance, and the fairness of elections is widely questioned. Electoral violations and infringements on civic freedoms tend to be higher outside the capital city. In the autonomous region of Adjara, for example, leader Aslan Abashidze has consolidated a one-man autocracy that prohibits independent civic and political activities. Violence against religious minorities is also on the rise in Georgia.
The most significant political event of the last two years was the breakup of the Citizens' Union of Georgia (CUG), a party that was founded in 1993 to support President Eduard Shevardnadze and enjoyed a firm parliamentary majority from 1995 to 2001. In 2001, tensions between the reform-minded wing of the coalition and members of the former Communist nomenklatura (state bureaucracy) finally came to a head, and the coalition divided. Although President Shevardnadze had acted as an arbiter between the two factions, the so-called reformers who remained in the CUG also expressed disagreement with the president. The CUG's parliamentary majority collapsed in September 2001 after Shevardnadze resigned from the party's chairmanship. In May 2002, a court ruled in favor of the president's loyalists in a battle for control of the party.
Three outspoken opposition groups emerged after the CUG's breakup: the United National Movement (led by former minister of justice Mikheil Saakashvili), the United Democrats (led by former Speaker of Parliament Zurab Zhvania), and the New Rights Party (led by a group of young politicians with business backgrounds). After the CUG suffered a crushing defeat in the June 2002 local elections (winning less than 2 percent of the vote nationwide), it began to reconsolidate under the leadership of Avtandil Jorbenadze, the minister of state and the second-highest-ranking person within the executive. The rump CUG largely became the party of the ruling bureaucracy. The Tbilisi City Council, chaired by former minister Saakashvili since November 2002, became the most important government body controlled by the opposition. In late 2002, opposition parties were involved in negotiations over possible coalitions to challenge the incumbent power in the 2003 parliamentary elections.
The breakup of the CUG has resulted in a general opening of the political fight in Georgia and, though accompanied by violence, an increase in competition during elections. In 2005, President Shevardnadze's term in office will end, and elections that year are being viewed as a major test for Georgia to consolidate its democratic institutions and carry out an orderly and fair change of power. At the same time, Shevardnadze's potential exit raises fears of further destabilization, for he has long positioned himself as the indispensable final arbiter among Georgia's rival political groups. Shevardnadze has stated publicly that he will not seek another term--a step that would require a constitutional amendment--but some opposition leaders have expressed doubts that the president is truly ready to step down.
Elections in Georgia are based on a multiparty system. The Constitution and the electoral code guarantee universal suffrage, equal electoral rights, and the right to a direct and secret ballot. Under the country's new Constitution, enacted in 1995, parliamentary elections are conducted every four years and presidential elections every five. Elections to Parliament are based on a mixed system in which national party lists compete for 150 seats in proportional voting and individual candidates vie for 85 seats in single-mandate constituencies. The threshold for party lists to gain seats in Parliament increased from 5 to 7 percent in 1999 as part of an effort to encourage larger coalitions. Since the self-proclaimed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are outside the government's control, their populations do not take part in Georgian elections. However, the mandates of 13 members of Parliament elected from Abkhazia in 1992 were extended for additional terms in 1995 and 1999.
The manner in which electoral commissions are appointed is the most controversial issue surrounding Georgia's Law on Elections. Since the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) consists of representatives of political parties and different branches of power, it is essentially a political body that encourages backroom deals. Although a new election code enacted on August 2, 2001, provides for the creation of nonpartisan electoral commissions whose members would be nominated by coalitions of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the provision met strong resistance from political parties and was suspended for the 2002 local elections. The current electoral administration has lost credibility with all political actors and the public. Lack of reliable voter registers is another significant problem that has grown worse over time.
Georgia's new electoral code does contain some positive provisions. These include increases in the right of domestic election observers and the introduction of transparent ballot boxes and envelopes for ballot papers. The new code also assigns individual responsibilities to precinct-level commission members by lottery in order to reduce the risk of their deliberate participation in electoral fraud.
Local elections in June 2002 became the central political event of the year. While the powers of sakrebulos (elected local councils) are quite limited by law, political forces invested heavily in these elections, which were considered a prelude to parliamentary elections in 2003 and presidential elections in 2005. City council elections in Tbilisi became a government-bashing contest, with the Laborist Party and the United National Movement delivering the most radical messages and sharing the victory with 25.5 percent and 23.75 percent of the vote, respectively. The CUG scored very poorly with only 1.45 percent of the vote nationwide. Outside the capital, the New Rights Party and the Industrialists Party, two business-oriented groupings that portrayed themselves as more moderate opposition groups, were the most successful. Observers from the Council of Europe (COE) considered the elections "a step backward rather than forward for democracy in Georgia." The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, a local monitoring organization, accused the government of intentionally sabotaging the electoral process.
The 2002 local elections were initially scheduled for November 2001, but the president postponed them at the request of the Central Electoral Commission owing to a lack of funds and resulting logistical difficulties. However, Georgia's electoral authorities failed to use the time to prepare properly, and the elections devolved into chaos. First, many voters could not find their names on registration lists. Second, when campaign rallies in the cities of Zugdidi and Poti turned violent, the government did nothing to punish the individuals who attacked supporters of the opposition United National Movement. Violence and other irregularities in three electoral districts and several precincts resulted in postponements of voting for one or more weeks. Despite its relatively strong showing, the United National Movement demanded a recount of votes to the Tbilisi City Council; other parties contested the election results in court. Although a recount did not lead to significant changes in the election results, the Tbilisi City Council still failed to assemble until November.
The most recent parliamentary and presidential elections took place in 1999 and 2000, respectively. In the former, only three parties met the 7 percent threshold needed to enter Parliament: the CUG with 41.75 percent, the Revival Party with 26.58 percent, and Industry Will Save Georgia with 7.08 percent. Voter turnout was 67 percent. The observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) noted a number of irregularities but concluded that "Georgian voters were generally able to express their will."
By-elections to Parliament in November 2002 were invalidated in two out of four districts owing to voter turnout of less than 33.3 percent. In the district of Rustavi, however, considerable controversy arose when the Central Electoral Commission approved the results of a by-election in which independent observers said voter turnout was no more than 12 or 13 percent. Even after the Supreme Court declared the CEC's decision void, the commission reconfirmed the election results and Parliament approved them.
In the 2000 presidential elections, President Shevardnadze proved victorious with 78.82 percent of the vote. His major rival, former Communist leader Jumber Patiashvili, took 16.66 percent of the vote. Voter turnout was 76 percent. Both the OSCE and the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly noted serious irregularities, including media bias, ballot box stuffing, and a lack of transparency in the counting and tabulating of votes.
The worst election-related abuses consistently take place in the Autonomous Republic of Adjara. There, with opposition parties facing severe restrictions on their ability to campaign, the ruling Revival Party usually wins 95-98 percent of the vote; turnout figures are nearly the same. In June 2002, the COE observers' delegation declined an invitation to observe local elections in Adjara, since it did "not wish to, with its presence, legitimate such non-pluralistic elections as the ones held in Adjara, even if the elections [were] carried out in a technically satisfactory manner."
Outside Adjara, there are no serious barriers to the formation and activities of political parties. To contest elections, parties that are not represented in Parliament must obtain 50,000 signatures to register a party list and 1,000 signatures to register a candidate in a single-seat district. Presidential candidates must obtain 50,000 signatures. As of November 2002, Georgia had 156 registered parties, but just a few are active and known to voters. Only 2 parties have been denied registration in the last decade. In 1999 and again in 2001, Virk, a group based in an ethnically Armenian region of Javakheti, was denied registration based on a provision of the 1997 Law on Citizens' Political Associations that bans religious-based parties. (The group applied in 2001 under the name Zari.) In 2001 and in 2002, the Ministry of Justice denied registration to Mkhedrioni (in 2002 it applied under the name Georgian Patriots' Union), most of whose members were part of a powerful militia in the early 1990s and later served prison terms. The Ministry of Justice alleges that the organization is still terrorist in nature.
Organizational weakness, rather than state repression, is the main problem facing political parties. Parties are usually created as vehicles for personalities or small groups to gain power and lack distinct agendas or ideologies. As a result, they are highly unstable and weakly anchored in the broader public. Coalitions among parties tend to be purely opportunistic and do not last long. Before each election, the party landscape changes dramatically. In the 2003 parliamentary elections, the Laborist Party, the United National Movement, the New Rights Party, and the United Democrats are expected to be major challengers to the incumbent powers, whether separately or in a coalition.
Voter turnout figures have been quite stable throughout independence. Official data show turnout between 60 and 70 percent in national elections and 55 and 60 percent in local elections. There are no separate data on women voters, but there are no grounds to believe that voter participation differs considerably according to gender. In the 2002 local elections, the number of female candidates in each city ranged from 5 to 20 percent.
Ethnic minorities, which account for 15-20 percent of the population, tend to support government candidates and are largely passive in the country's political life. The current Parliament has 14 ethnic minority representatives, all of whom were part of the parliamentary majority that collapsed in the fall of 2001. The highest executive positions held by minorities are two deputy ministerial posts. Insufficient knowledge of the official Georgian language and fear that one's ethnicity could become an issue in political fights are among the reasons minorities do not get more involved in politics. There is evidence to suggest that minorities are daring more to join opposition parties.
Compared to other areas of Georgia's post-Communist, democratic development, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) sector represents a relative success story. In recent years, NGOs have grown more vibrant, diverse, influential, and aggressive. In particular, NGOs are having a greater impact on Georgia's political agenda by interacting with the media and political parties, lobbying for important legislation, and, overall, shaping public opinion. Arguably, NGOs help fill a void left by political parties by offering clear agendas and substantive ideas for change--and political actors are taking notice. The 2001 electoral code, for example, gives NGOs the exclusive right to submit candidates to the Central Electoral Commission.
Following the breakup of the CUG, the ability of NGOs to influence legislation did decrease. Most active groups worked through reformist members of the CUG, and their political clout declined when these politicians went into opposition. Nevertheless, NGO activism has not receded and, perhaps signifying the sector's growing maturity, an important debate is taking place about the appropriate role of NGOs in politics: Should nongovernmental groups serve as nonpartisan arbiters in intense political fights, or should they side openly with pro-democracy opposition parties against the incumbent government, whose autocratic tendencies are said to be growing?
In 2002, the increasing influence of Georgia's nongovernmental sector produced a backlash that manifested itself in attacks against NGOs by government-related, ethno-nationalist, and fundamentalist religious groups. In July, for example, members of Jvari, a fundamentalist Christian organization, vandalized the offices of the Liberty Institute, a leading pro-democracy group, and severely beat several of its activists. After the breakup of the CUG, some of the president's loyalists considered NGOs the principal allies of "reformist" factions and attacked them both in Parliament and in the media by accusing them of being stooges of foreign influence and misappropriating grant moneys. There also were demands from the rump CUG and the Revival Party to more tightly regulate foreign grants to NGOs, but this did not lead to any specific action. On a more positive note, Minister of State Jorbenadze initiated several meetings between leading NGOs and major government figures during the second half of 2002. At these gatherings, NGOs were able to push for their reform agendas.
Civil society's fundamental shortcomings are its weak social base and its underdevelopment outside the capital. The number of community-based organizations is small, though growing in some regions. Although most NGOs are based around small groups of activists and have no inherent structure, many NGOs have developed fairly strong organizational capacities. The best organizations have regular staffs and are well equipped with information technology. The Horizonti Foundation and the Center for Training and Consultancy are the most active in conducting training programs on NGO management issues. These and several other organizations have published advisory materials for NGOs in the Georgian and Russian languages.
A limited tradition of volunteerism and a scarcity of domestic resources make Georgian NGOs highly dependent on foreign assistance. Membership dues, voluntary contributions, and income from activities account for only a small portion of their funding. The Georgian government does not provide financial support for NGOs, and patronage from Georgian businesses is negligible. The business community's rare efforts to create local foundations that support civil society included the opening of the Cartu Foundation in 1997 and the New Georgian Foundation in 2001. However, such ventures typically are either short-lived or have limited resources and scope. (The New Georgian Foundation underwrites education and sports programs.) Businesses are most likely to engage in charitable activities that require a limited, one-time commitment.
Georgia's civic code, passed in 1997, defines two legal forms of noncommercial organizations: foundations and member-based associations. Although organizations may choose not to register, the civil code makes registration fairly simple. The law denies registration to NGOs that call for the violent overthrow of the political regime, violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, propagate war, or incite hatred on ethnic, regional, religious, or social grounds. Only courts have the right to suspend or ban NGO activities for the above offenses, but so far there have been no such incidents. There is no special tax status for NGOs, but the 1996 Law on Grants exempts revenue from grants from all taxes except income tax. The law does not give Georgian businesses a tax incentive to donate money for charitable purposes. NGOs are obliged to disclose their revenue sources to tax authorities, but only a few make such information public.
Although new organizations are created every year, many cease to exist after one or several projects. Some never become active at all. According to the Horizonti Foundation and the International Technical Information Center, there were 3,848 associations in Georgia as of December 2001. By July 2002, the Ministry of Justice, which registers only foundations, officially recorded 859 such groups (compared to 571 one year before). Several hundred organizations can be described as quite active. Courts are responsible for registering associations.
A stable umbrella association for NGOs does not exist in Georgia, but many groups are demonstrating an increasing willingness to act in coalitions. Democracy promotion groups and human rights organizations, for example, frequently unite in ad hoc or issue-based coalitions. There are also solid coalitions based on broad sectoral interests in such areas as human rights, the environment, or women's rights.
NGO membership for the most part includes younger and more educated members of society. According to polling data released by the Institute of Polling and Marketing in December 2001, 94.1 percent of respondents to a survey said they did not take part in NGO activities. Nearly 80 percent thought NGO activism was meaningless and would not lead to any improvement in their lives. Independent media are largely sympathetic to NGOs and use them as their main source for expertise.
Many women are active in or even lead NGOs, and some 60 groups work specifically on women's issues. Experts estimate the total number of active members in these NGOs at 600 to 700, though their formal membership is much higher. The number and activities of ethnic-based community organizations has increased significantly in recent years, particularly in Azeri and Armenian ethnic enclaves. Some 60 groups work in this field, with a total of 400 to 500 active members. The combined formal membership of these groups is reportedly around 50,000. The Public Movement Multinational Georgia includes 27 groups, and its objectives are to encourage minority participation in civic and political life, influence legislation affecting minorities, and protect minority cultures.
The mainstream Georgian Orthodox Church is involved in charitable work. Through its Lazarus Foundation, it cooperates with the International Organization of Christian Churches in several regions of Georgia. International organizations that have religious affiliations, such the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Caritas, and the Salvation Army, are active in Georgia as well. However, against the backdrop of increasing religious intolerance, these agencies are sometimes harassed because of their alleged hidden agendas to proselytize and convert believers.
Trade unions in Georgia are weak. The successors to the Soviet-era unions belong to the Georgian Trade Unions Amalgamation. Their membership has declined from 1.4 million workers in 1996 to around 675,000 in 2001, out of a total workforce estimated at 2.3 million. The most viable and active independent trade union is Solidaroba, a schoolteachers union that was established in May 2000 in Kutaisi, Georgia's second largest city. By the end of 2001, it had opened a number of branches throughout Georgia and its membership had reached 4,000. There are several farmers groups. The largest, Memamuleta Kavshiri, counts 25,000 members.
Business associations are weakly developed, but their number is growing. While large businesses often defend their interests through backroom and usually corrupt deals, some interest groups organize themselves as public associations. The Industrialists' Union, the most successful and conspicuous among them, created the Industry Will Save Georgia electoral bloc, which placed third in the 1999 parliamentary elections. Other important interest groups include the Large Taxpayers' Union, the Bankers' Association, the Union of Petrol Importers, the Insurers' Association, and the Union of the Disabled. In 2002, the Council of Business Associations, comprising about 30 organizations, was created. The Union of Kiosk Owners and Small Entrepreneurs was also established in an attempt to defend the interests of small businesses.
The 1998 Law on Lobbyist Activities allows any legal entity or group of 50 people to take part in the legislative process through a hired lobbyist. However, Georgia has very few registered lobbying organizations, which may suggest that businesses prefer to influence legislation through less transparent means. Of Georgia's several public policy institutes, the most developed are the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy, and Development; the Center for Strategic Studies; and the Center for Strategic Research and Development. Some policy institutes have experience drafting policy documents for the government, but in general there is little cooperation of this type between them and the government. Instead, institutes like these tend to focus on working with international organizations and trying to influence public opinion.
Private educational institutions have proliferated since independence, especially at the university level. According to the Ministry of Education, there are 220 private and 24 state universities; however, some 60 percent of university students are enrolled in the state schools. For the most part, the quality of Georgia's new private universities is low. Schools that set high educational standards tend to be those that have Western ties. Some of these include the European School of Management, the Caucasian Business School, the Georgian Institute for Public Affairs, and the Black Sea University. At the secondary level, 350 out of the nation's 3,170 schools are private. State educational institutions suffer from corruption and insufficient funding, but they are not subject to political influence.
Article 24 of the Constitution states that "the mass media are free" and that "censorship is impermissible." It also defends the rights of citizens "to express, distribute, and defend their opinions via any media, and to receive information on questions of social and state life." The Law on the Press and Other Mass Media, which was enacted in 1991 and later amended several times, regulates the media. In 2002, the Liberty Institute and other civic organizations were lobbying a new and very liberal draft bill, On Freedom of Speech and the Media. At year's end, the bill had passed in its first reading.
Although the current legislation does not challenge media freedom directly, it contains some provisions that may be misused against the media. For instance, Article 4 of the law stipulates that "the mass media are forbidden to disclose state secrets; to call for the overthrow or change of the existing state and social system; to propagate war, cruelty, racial, national, or religious intolerance; to publish information that could contribute to the committing of crimes; to interfere in the private lives of citizens or to infringe on their honor and dignity." Media outlets also are required to register and obtain a license from the state (Article 7), and if the registration body considers the goals of the applicant to be in contradiction with the law (Article 10), it may deny registration to the media outlet. On the same grounds, this article may be applied retroactively and a licensed outlet's activity suspended for a year without any legal proceedings.
The Law on State Secrets, adopted by Parliament in September 1996, may also be a tool for media restriction. The attachment to the law, which contains a list of state secrets developed by the National Security Council, is extremely broad and is close to Soviet standards. Specifically, public servants responsible for leaking state secrets and journalists who disseminated the information may be held legally responsible. In practice, however, the government has been reluctant to use these provisions against the media.
Given that television is the principal source of news and information for the majority of the country's population, regulations on the distribution of broadcasting frequencies is a critically important issue. The passage in 1999 of the Law on the Post and Communications was an important positive step. This law removed direct control over the licensing process in telecommunications from the Ministry of Post and Communications and passed it to the National Regulatory Commission for Communication, an autonomous licensing commission created in May 2000.
Although most public officials choose to ignore negative media reporting even if it contains allegations of criminal activities, many favor antidefamation over libel as a legal tool to counter criticism in the media. In cases of libel, the burden of proof lies on the plaintiff, while in cases of defamation, the media company must prove the accuracy of its information. The efficacy of pressing charges is mixed. In many cases, plaintiffs indeed lose. And when they win, courts often impose symbolic sanctions on the media outlets and journalists involved rather than the substantial fines plaintiffs seek.
The most publicized defamation case of 2002 was that between Vano Chkhartishvili, a banker and former minister of economy, and Levan Berdzenishvili, a prominent NGO figure who publicly called Mr. Chkhartishvili a "thief." Mr. Berdzenishvili's lawyers insisted that his statement constituted an opinion that did not require specific proof. Lower-level courts denied Mr. Chkhartishvili's suit, and while the Supreme Court directed Mr. Berdzenishvili to apologize, it refused to award over 1 million Georgian lari (about US$450,000) in damages.
Members of the political elite, including high-level government and ruling party figures and occasionally the president himself, sometimes make statements that are hostile to the independent media, consider independent media "antistate," and advocate more restrictive legislation. Calls to put limits on media freedom also originate from within the Revival Party faction. Although legal measures to safeguard the dignity of public officials have been introduced in the past, such attempts have failed. However, they have created a sense of insecurity within the journalistic and NGO communities. Rustavi2, the most influential independent TV station and a frequent object of government wrath, survived an attempt to close it down in 1997. In 2001, a raid by the Ministry of Security on the offices of Rustavi2 (based on alleged tax evasion) led to a large public demonstration and sparked a political crisis that was defused only after the firing of the cabinet and the resignation of the Speaker of Parliament.
The media face greater restrictions outside the capital. In Adjara, for example, there are no independent broadcasts on political issues. When Channel 25, the only independent television company in Adjara, began to broadcast news programs in February 1999, three of its four owners were forced under threat to cede 75 percent of the company's shares to a local Mafia boss. In the self-proclaimed Abkhazian and South Ossetian Republics, a few independent outlets have appeared, but the authorities control most media there as well.
In other regions, journalists often become targets for harassment after exposing official corruption. In June 2002, for example, the mayor of Bolnisi physically assaulted a female journalist who tried to publicize local election violations. In September 2002, more than 20 police officers raided a local television station in Zugdidi, beating staff and smashing equipment. The station had cooperated with the 60 Minutes television program on Rustavi 2 on a report about police involvement in gasoline smuggling from Abkhazia. There were other instances of abuse in 2002 in Kutaisi, Telavi, and elsewhere.
Although independent media dominate major segments of the market in Georgia, the government maintains control over strategic outlets such as television's Channel 1 and Channel 2 and the Georgian Radio. These are the only electronic broadcasting companies with nationwide coverage, and no steps have been taken to transform them into public broadcasting corporations. In public statements, President Shevardnadze has projected such reform for 2005, which happens to be the last year of his presidential term.
Competition from independent channels has pushed state-owned electronic media toward more pluralistic programming, but they are still far from enjoying editorial independence in news and political programming and continue to favor the government's views. There are also formally independent but de facto government newspapers such as Sakartvelos Respublika and its counterparts in Russian, Armenian, and Azeri languages. The government subsidizes these newspapers through the Information Publishing Corporation for publishing the texts of laws and other official information and by obliging state agencies to subscribe to them. Although these papers serve as mouthpieces of government propaganda, they have rather small circulations and little impact.
Rustavi2, the main independent channel, broadcasts in Tbilisi and a handful of other regions. Although it is the strongest channel in Tbilisi, state television dominates elsewhere. Rustavi2's local affiliates rebroadcast Rustavi2 news shows and some other programming. Despite allegations of bias, in general it tries to balance its political coverage. A number of other independent TV stations operate in the capital and outside, but they are financially much less viable and are easily dominated by different economic interests and political agendas. According to the media research group Georgian Opinion Research Business International, 90.4 percent of the Georgian public watches Channel 1 on state television; 65 percent watches Rustavi2; 42.9 percent watches state Channel 2; 25 percent watches Adjara-TV (the official channel of the Adjaran autonomous region); and 20 percent watches Channel 9.
Independent newspapers dominate the press market. However, their circulation and influence are quite low. Accurate figures of newspaper circulation are impossible to obtain, as newspapers tend to conceal them, but it is clear that the newspaper market is particularly volatile. Experts estimate that newspaper circulation dropped in 2002, after increasing slightly in 2001.
Many independent radio stations operate in Tbilisi and some in the regions. As a rule, they offer musical programming with short news broadcasts at the top of the hour. The independent channels Fortuna and Fortuna+ (the latter broadcasting partly in Russian) lead the radio market as whole, and state radio maintains its strongest influence outside the capital. Radio Green Wave and its regional partners constitute the Georgian Radio Network. This network offers musical, political, and social programming and depends primarily on international donor support for funding. The new Imedi radio station, financed by Badri Patarkatsishvili, a controversial financial tycoon from Russia, provides greater political programming but commands a small fraction of the country's listenership.
Out of six major information agencies, one, Sakinpormi, is government controlled and serves as the president's press center. In addition to government subsidies, it enjoys privileged access to official information. Gea, Iprinda, and Prime News are oriented mostly toward the Georgian-language information markets, while Black Sea Press and Caucasus Press cater mainly to international organizations and embassies in Georgia.
Regional electronic and print media exist but struggle financially, making them easily susceptible to local authorities or influential financial groups. In lieu of local advertising markets, funeral and wedding announcements constitute their major independent sources of income. Some regional television stations have joined the Rustavi2 network; others have formed the United Television Network as a means of pooling advertising revenues.
Only three out of eight distribution agencies are still state owned. Press Distribution Service Ltd., established by four independent newspapers in 1996, is the largest distributor in Tbilisi. The state agency Sakpresa and the private Presinfo agency dominate distribution outside the capital. In Adjara, authorities at times have restricted the distribution of national media when it contains especially sharp criticism of them.
Independent media outlets are quite aggressive in criticizing the government, and journalists have few taboos in this regard. The industry's main problems are a lack of quality journalism and financial sustainability. Journalists usually do not draw a line between reporting, analysis, and opinion, and their materials often have insufficient informative value. Print media is especially weak, as it cannot afford to attract good journalists. Journalists themselves and experts allege that there are frequent instances of "commissioned journalism"--that is, political and economic interest groups paying for reports that discredit their opponents and competitors.
The Internet is a growing source of information in Georgia, especially among young people. According to the Institute of Polling and Marketing, 4.9 percent of the population has access to computers, but only 1.9 percent uses the Internet. In Tbilisi, the figures are 11.4 percent and 5.3 percent, respectively. Sanet, Caucasus Network, and Georgia Online are the major Internet providers in the country. There are many areas where the Internet can be accessed only though mobile phones. However, thanks mainly to donor support, Internet cafes and NGO-run Internet centers are emerging in more and more areas of the country. There are some regular Internet publications, but their influence is still negligible. There are no legal restrictions on Internet access.
A number of journalists associations and NGOs promote media issues, but none play a leading role or serve as a self-regulating body for the journalistic community. Media rights are more effectively promoted by ad hoc coalitions of NGOs and journalists. In 2002, several television companies formed the new Association of TV Broadcasters. There are no figures on the number of female journalists who belong to press associations, but a majority of Georgian journalists are indeed female. The majority of editors are male.
In 2002, Freedom House's Survey of Press Freedom rated Georgia "Partly Free."
The Georgian Constitution calls for the separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Both the president and Parliament are elected by direct popular vote. The president may not dissolve Parliament and must secure its agreement on the main provisions of his budget before passage. However, Parliament may not introduce any changes to the president's budget; rather, it must accept or reject it in its entirety. Parliament confirms or rejects the president's ministerial nominations but may not initiate bills on the structure and regulation of the executive.
Under Article 73 of the Constitution, the president issues decrees and orders on the basis of the Constitution and other legislation. According to the 1996 Law on Normative Acts, laws adopted by Parliament take precedence over presidential decrees. However, contrary to this law, some government agencies still give precedence to internally issued regulations over laws.
Parliament is legally independent in its legislative activities. In practice, the parliamentary leadership exercises considerable autonomy in legislative activities and takes advantage of its rights of supervision over the executive. Despite having a pro-government majority until 2001, Parliament rejected some presidential nominees to executive positions or created problems for others during confirmation hearings. Setting up investigative commissions and inviting ministers to hearings are also routine procedures. The recent fragmentation of Parliament has led to its decreased influence.
Chapter 2 of the Constitution provides for the defense of basic human rights and freedoms. It guarantees freedom of speech, movement, and assembly as well as freedom from torture, inhumane punishment, and discrimination based on race, language, religion, or gender. Article 21 guarantees the right to own and inherit property, and Article 30 requires the state to foster conditions conducive to the development of free enterprise. Business rights are further elaborated in the 1994 Law on Entrepreneurs, the 1996 Law on the Promotion and Guarantees of Investing Activities, the 1997 civil code, and other legislation. Article 43 of the Constitution establishes the post of public defender, who is nominated by the president and elected by Parliament to a five-year term but is not accountable to either. In May 1999, Georgia ratified the European Convention on Human Rights.
While the constitutional protection of human rights and freedoms is quite satisfactory, legislation that is supposed to elaborate specific mechanisms to protect these freedoms may in fact introduce restrictions. For instance, Article 25 of the Constitution requires only prior notification to authorities of plans for a public assembly, but the 1997 Law on Meetings and Manifestations requires special permission to hold public rallies on streets and near government offices. In practice, this law is most often enforced against the most radical opponents of the regime, such as Zviadists, who are followers of the deposed president Zviad Gamsakhurdia.
The judiciary has undergone greater changes than other elements of the law enforcement system. It consists of common-law courts (local and district courts and the Supreme Court) and a separate Constitutional Court. Judges are appointed according to procedures that imply balance among the Parliament, the executive, and other courts.
According to Article 90 of the Constitution, "The Chairman and judges of the Supreme Court of Georgia, on the President's nomination are elected for a period of not less than ten years by the Parliament by the majority of the total number of deputies." Out of nine Constitutional Court judges, three are appointed by the president, three are elected by Parliament with a three-fifths majority, and three are appointed by the Supreme Court. Reforms in 1998 and 1999 provide for the appointment of common-law judges by the president upon the nomination by the Council of Justice, a consultative body whose members are appointed and elected in equal numbers by the president, Parliament, and the Supreme Court.
Judicial reform also led to the introduction of meritocratic criteria in the appointment of judges and an increase in the professionalism and independence of courts. However, since judicial reforms were not followed, as had been planned, by improvements in the procuracy and the police, courts have still displayed some susceptibility to political pressure or the pressure of public opinion. Some legal experts considered as politically biased a May 2002 ruling by the Supreme Court allowing the pro-presidential wing of the CUG to run in local elections.
Although direct invocations of constitutional norms are rare in civil cases, in a number of cases the Constitutional Court has ruled against the state in favor of individual citizens and organizations. For instance, the Constitutional Court agreed with the opposition Laborist Party that the mkhare, the regional territorial unit established by presidential decree, is unconstitutional. However, out of 33 cases filed in the Constitutional Court since September 2001, claimants have won none. In a highly publicized case in February 2002, Parliament refused to comply with a Constitutional Court decision invalidating the elections of three members of Parliament in 1999. In addition, a low rate of enforcement of court decisions, especially in civil cases, remains a significant problem. During the first eight months of 2002, for example, only 6,755 out of 17,422 decisions sent to the ministry by the courts were actually enforced.
The 1998 criminal procedures code, which was adopted prior to Georgia's accession to the Council of Europe, was meant to demonstrate Georgia's readiness to comply with international human rights standards. The new code contained many positive elements, such as restricting the issuance of search and arrest warrants to courts and providing defendants more extensive access to lawyers. However, immediately after the COE formally admitted Georgia in 1999, Parliament adopted more than 300 amendments to the code that the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch described as "backtracking on reform."
Of particular concern is a provision in the code that allows officials to detain suspects for up to 72 hours without charge or access to counsel. In practice, detainees are frequently denied access to counsel even after spending 72 hours in detention. Similarly, a suspect may be remanded for up to nine months in pretrial detention, and this period is often exceeded in practice. Police continue to carry out searches without warrants and to make unregistered arrests, usually to extort money. Defendants often state during court proceedings that the use of physical and psychological pressure led them to confess to crimes they did not commit.
The death penalty was abolished in November 1997 and the penitentiary system removed from the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in January 2000. Since then, reforms to the law enforcement system have largely stalled. In November 2001, though, the president created the Interagency Commission on Institutional Reform of the Law Enforcement System, which is under the auspices of the Security Council but led by the chairman of the Supreme Court.
The commission has recommended simplifying the criminal investigation process by placing a case under the jurisdiction of a single organization or agency until it is sent to court. Military rather than civilian leaders typically run Georgia's so-called power ministries, including the Ministries of Defense and Internal Affairs. However, a civilian minister of security was appointed in November 2001. The army steers clear of political life, but the Ministry of Internal Affairs is considered the bulwark of political stability and has much greater political clout. Namely, it is widely believed to influence electoral processes by exerting pressure on voters or facilitating electoral fraud in favor of the incumbent government. The presence of the police in electoral precincts is a widespread violation during elections. However, the police's political influence has decreased since November 2001, when Kakha Targamadze, the powerful minister of internal affairs from 1995 to 2001, was forced to resign under public pressure. Georgia's declaration in November 2002 of its intent to join NATO should pave the way for civilian leadership to take over the Ministry of Defense in the next two or three years.
The state provides public defenders to criminal defendants who cannot afford an attorney. The role of defense attorneys in court proceedings has increased considerably in recent years, but professional and ethical standards are often low. However, the Law on the Bar, adopted in June 2001, was intended to create a mechanism for self-regulation and enforcement of professional and ethical standards by requiring all lawyers to pass exams administered by the Georgian Bar Association. Although lobbying efforts to encourage Parliament to dilute the law failed, the overall reform process was slowed.
Georgia has no specific legislation on minority and gender rights. Religious minorities, particularly members of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Baptist-Evangelical Church, and the Pentecostal Church, are regular targets of harassment. So-called traditional religious minorities such as Muslims, Catholics, Jews, and Armenian Apostolics do not face the same problems.
Since 1999, Jehovah's Witnesses have filed more than 700 legal complaints regarding violent attacks, property destruction, book burning, and other assaults against them. In January 2001, the Georgian Supreme Court revoked their registration. Three legal cases related to the Court's decision, in addition to 32 instances of physical assaults, are pending before the European Court of Human Rights. In 2002, the number of cases of physical violence against religious minorities receded, and the Jehovah's Witnesses won their first court case, which involved a claim against Georgian customs officials who seized their literature.
In October 2002, Parliament approved a constitutional agreement between the state and the Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Georgia. This was preceded by a March 2001 amendment to the Constitution that defined a special relationship between the two institutions. These decisions followed several years of public discussion about threats from proselytizing sects to the church's historical place in society and its role in maintaining the nation's identity and values. Although human rights groups and liberal-minded politicians felt the proposals would threaten religious freedom in Georgia, public support was too great to prevent their passage. Lengthy negotiations did result in the elimination of language in the constitutional agreement that directly endangers freedom of conscience, but the church's monopoly over the use of Orthodox "symbols and terminology" remained. This provision is aimed directly at minority Orthodox groups, which now fear prosecution for their liturgical practices.
There is a strong consensus in Georgia that corruption has become a major obstacle to political and economic development. According to the public opinion research group GORBI, 21 percent of individuals polled in 2002 considered corruption to be one of the most significant problems in the country. Corruption was second only to poverty and unemployment (22 percent). While the government recognizes the scope and urgency of the problem, it has taken no effective measures to remedy it. The problem of graft has become a central issue in political struggles, most notably during the 2002 local elections.
The government's largest anticorruption initiative began in July 2000 when President Shevardnadze created a seven-member working group to launch a national anticorruption program. In spring 2001, the group presented its recommendations, which focused on liberalizing the business environment, improving the management of public finances, increasing the general efficiency of governance, reforming law enforcement bodies and the educational system, and tackling political corruption. Following the group's recommendation, the government established a coordinating body under the president's authority called the AntiCorruption Bureau (ACB). The ACB's purpose is to elaborate further anticorruption policies and monitor their implementation. In 2001 and 2002, the president issued decrees containing specific measures aimed at increasing transparency in key government institutions, reducing excessive government control over business, and improving the monitoring of public officials' income and expenses. The ACB has proposed a number of specific legislative initiatives addressing the same issues.
To date, the government's anticorruption initiatives have not produced tangible results. The goals of presidential decrees remain largely unmet, and the prosecution of corruption cases is extremely rare. However, the government's efforts--coupled with those of the media, opposition parties, and NGOs--do serve to raise public awareness of the problem. In 2002, five high-ranking public officials (among them Bardi Khatidze, the influential head of the regional management office in the president's chancellery) were fired or forced to resign over allegations of corruption, mainly conflict of interest or failure to declare their incomes.
Corruption is one of the most popular subjects in the Georgian media. The television program 60 Minutes, which appears on the Rustavi2 channel, is dedicated to exposing the corrupt practices of public officials. Many NGOs also function as anticorruption watchdogs.
The root of Georgia's problem can hardly be sought in the lack of anticorruption legislation. According to the 1997 Law on Corruption and the Incompatibility of Interests in the Public Service, high-ranking public officials (including members of Parliament, ministers, and their deputies) and members of their families may not hold positions in commercial agencies whose activities are supervised by the government agency for which the said public official works. Officials also must submit public declarations of their property and income. This requirement was extended by presidential decree to all civil servants. The administrative code also provides a reasonably good foundation for ensuring transparency in public institutions.
While opinions vary over which political leaders are personally involved in corruption, there is little doubt that the existing style of governance is largely responsible for its scope. Weak state institutions force the government to balance the interests of competing groups, including Mafia-style organized crime groups. In addition, the political and economic interests of politicians and government officials are not sufficiently divided. For example, two factions in Parliament, the Industrialists and New Rights, consist mainly of businessmen. Likewise, several close relatives of President Shevardnadze run successful businesses and are widely believed to enjoy unfair advantages over their competitors.
In Adjara, most high-ranking officials are related to the republic's leader, Aslan Abashidze, and much of the regional economy is believed to be under the direct control of the Abashidze clan. Territories outside government control (Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and, until recently, the Pankisi Gorge) provide a safe haven for smuggling and an illegal drug and arms trade in which law enforcement bodies are believed to be involved. The U.S. State Department considers Georgia a secondary route for the transport of heroin from Afghanistan to Europe.
Nearly 80 percent of individuals polled by GORBI in 2002 said that bribing a public servant was likely assist them in resolving a problem; however, the same percentage considered taking bribes unacceptable. Seventy percent of respondents believed the customs service to be corrupt; 65 percent, government ministers; 63 percent, Parliament; 37 percent, businessmen and bankers; 30 percent, NGOs; and 11 percent, journalists. The Tbilisi-based Institute of Polling and Marketing has established that the amount of bribes routinely paid to public servants by small-business and middle-level entrepreneurs exceeds the amount of formal taxes.
In 2001, an anticrime and anticorruption education program was started in 20 public schools in Tbilisi and Batumi. In 2002, the number of schools involved was increased and the program expanded to include religious-based schools. Participating schools provide anticorruption education as part of the obligatory curriculum. There are also several optional courses.
Georgia was rated 85th out of 102 countries in Transparency International's 2002 Corruption Perceptions Index. The country received a score of 2.4 on a scale of 0 to 10, with a 10 indicating the lowest levels of perceived corruption. In 1999, Georgia received a score of 2.3. Transparency International did not rate Georgia in 2000 and 2001.
Georgia's governmental system, defined under the 1995 Constitution, is fairly stable. However, since 1990, when the Communist Party lost elections to representatives of the national independence movement, there has been no peaceful rotation of executive power. The last handoff was achieved in a 1992 coup. Since then, stability has been ascribed more to the balancing skills of President Shevardnadze than to the institutional foundations of the political regime. The forthcoming parliamentary elections in November 2003 and presidential elections in 2005 are anticipated with some anxiety.
In the wake of mass protests in October and November 2001 that led to the government's resignation, the possibility was openly discussed that President Shevardnadze, whose public approval rating was below 10 percent, could be forced to resign. However, the prospect of a disruption of stability proved even more unpopular, and Shevardnadze remained in power. Although some parliamentary factions expressed their intent in 2002 to initiate impeachment procedures against the president and the state minister, they never made formal motions. Even discussion of the president's resignation diminished as the country's major political actors oriented themselves firmly toward the pursuit of their political goals through electoral means.
Between 1995 and 1999, Parliament enacted important legislation that established the foundation for reforms in many areas of life in Georgia. The Parliament elected in 1999, however, proved particularly unproductive owing to internal divisions within the majority CUG faction. Since the CUG's breakup in September 2001, no new majority has emerged and Parliament has been unable to pursue a coherent legislative agenda.
The branches of power in Georgia differ with regard to openness and transparency. Part 3 of the July 1999 administrative code requires government officials to make available to the public at no cost original versions of public documents. Although this law effectively increased access to public information, some government agencies are still reluctant to comply with these requirements. Parliament may be the most open public institution. Save for special hearings devoted to security issues, NGOs, interest groups, and other individuals regularly take part in Parliament's plenary sessions and committee hearings.
While Georgia's national system of state power is relatively clear and stable, its territorial administration is not. The territory of Abkhazia and most of South Ossetia, both of which were autonomous regions under the Soviet Constitution, are outside the central government's control and do not participate in Georgia's political life. The only exception is the Tbilisi-based Abkhazian government in exile, which is recognized by the Georgian government as the sole legitimate representative of Abkhazia and handles issues involving internally displaced persons.
The third autonomous territory within the country is Adjara. Though its special autonomous status was never contested, the respective clause was only added to the Constitution in April 2000. However, no specific legislation clearly defines the separation of powers between the center and Adjara. In 2001, the region adopted a new Constitution that introduced a two-chamber Parliament and the position of head of the republic. In practice, the Adjaran leadership often defies Georgian legislation, in particular by refusing to pay taxes to the central government.
In the rest of the country, the system of government is strongly centralized. In 1994, President Shevardnadze created a new level of governance between the district and the national levels called the mkhare. Under this arrangement, Georgia is divided into 12 mkhares, each led by the president's rtsmunebuli (representative). However, since this level of government exists only by presidential decree, its constitutionality is contested.
At the raion (district) level, the key levers of power belong to presidentially appointed leaders called gamgebeli. Until 2001, the president also appointed the mayors of Georgia's seven largest cities. In smaller towns and villages, leaders were locally elected. Amendments in 2001 to the Law on Local Self-Government and Government led to a modest increase in local powers and paved the way for the first direct popular elections of all mayors, except in Tbilisi and Poti, in June 2002. The president selected the heads of district-level administrations from sakrebulos. Another important change affecting local elections was the replacement of proportional voting from party lists with a first-past-the-post system of simple majority voting in single-member constituencies.
In practice, however, the powers of sakrebulos and mayors are very limited. For example, if a local council fails to approve a budget submitted by gamgebeli in the first two months of the year, the president may dismiss it. Indeed, local administrations depend on transfers from the center; local taxes provide for only a small fraction of government expenses. Key governance functions such as police, health care, and education are formally the responsibility of both local administrations and the central government, but federal bodies have greater influence.
A 1997 law gives local governments responsibility over local civil servants. Incoming heads of state agencies generally conduct major staff overhauls motivated more by political loyalty and personal connections than by professional competence. Moreover, the extremely low salaries paid to civil servants make it difficult to attract honest and competent personnel. The U.S.-funded Georgian Institute for Public Affairs and the Office of Regional Management under the president's chancellery conduct training for civil servants.