IVANISHVILI’S POLITICAL TEAM STARTS PRE-ELECTION BATTLE IN GEORGIA
The Georgian Dream coalition led by tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili started a vigorous election campaign in May to beat the ruling United National Movement in the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for October. On behalf of three opposition parties (Georgia-Free Democrats, Republican Party and National Forum) and individual politicians united under the coalition, Ivanishvili outlined political priorities to thousands of Georgians at large demonstrations held in Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Ozurgeti in May and June. At the rallies, the billionaire-turned politician outlined the policies of Georgian Dream in case they win the parliamentary elections. The coalition aims to reduce unemployment rate “to a minimum level in the shortest period of time.”
“We’ll make no promises on which we cannot deliver,” Ivanishvili said, adding that the welfare of each Georgian citizen could be achieved through renewed agricultural, healthcare and education policies. Addressing the agricultural sector, Ivanishvili restated the creation of a GEL 1 billion investment fund to boost agricultural potential that, from his point of view, would significantly contribute to the economic growth of the country. He also pledged to deal with monopolies in the healthcare system and provide free health insurance packages for every Georgian citizen rather than for “every second citizen” as proposed by ruling party earlier this year.
The retirement system reform outlined by Georgian Dream would increase pensions from the current GEL 100 to GEL 220, an amount that would cover the minimum monthly subsistence of retirees allowing them “to live in dignity,” Ivanishvili said. Opposing the government’s optimization policy, which has resulted in the liquidation of small schools in some Georgian villages, the coalition leader pledged to provide access to quality education for every citizen and maintain “schools in each village.”
Ivanishvili stated that while it is impossible to solve all problems at once, some problems only require political will to be settled. He vowed that after coming to power his political team would ensure the independence of the judiciary and police systems and exempt them from political influence. The times when criminal bosses were controlling the country will never return but we should also not allow the authorities to act like “thieves in law,” he said.
Ivanishvili generally focused on internal affairs though he slightly touched upon foreign and reintegration policies as well. He said that Georgian Dream started the struggle to reunify the country to make it “a full-fledged and dignified” candidate for EU and NATO membership. This statement was likely made in an attempt to dismiss the speculations on his linkages to the Kremlin and to declare the continuation of the current Western course in Georgia’s foreign policy with Georgian Dream in power.
The absence of a detailed plan for dealing with the breakaway regions or manage the process of reunification prompted the critics of the coalition to attack its relatively clearly defined socioeconomic agenda. The former Economy Minister Kakha Bendukidze, who laid down Georgia’s liberal economic policy after the Rose Revolution, claims that the economic priorities proposed by the Coalition are unfeasible and largely based on pure populism.
The health insurance packages for every Georgian citizen, the increase in monthly pensions and the investments in the agricultural sector will need another GEL 2.4 billion that cannot be added to the budget without deepening the deficit, which would in turn cause inflation and increased consumer prices, Bendukidze told Russian Daily Kommersant on June 18.
At present, the government provides targeted assistance for those who are socially vulnerable. This group is not limited to retirees, hence the increase in pensions will not directly address the needs of all those belonging to the vulnerable category. Another important factor is that the aid the government allocates for these people amounts to only GEL 24 (US$ 15) per month. Therefore, from Bendukidze’s standpoint, if Ivanishvili wants to improve the conditions of poor people, it is reasonable to continue the targeted assistance and increase the amounts paid rather than making uncalculated and irrational promises for increased pensions and health insurance packages.
In response to Bendukidze’s interview, the Republican Party leader Davit Berdzenishvili said that the promises of Georgian Dream are realistic as Ivanishvili has a lot of money and will be able to establish various funds in order to raise pensions and provide interest-free credit for farmers.
Although the coalition’s political agenda lacks articulation, the proposed priorities would imply increased state interventions into the market and subsidies for certain economic sectors. Such an approach encourages protectionism to the detriment of the economic competitiveness.