Nations in transit 2004

Executive Summary: 

In terms of the viability and development of Georgia's democratic institutions, the country's record is rather mixed. Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the first popularly elected president, was accused of dictatorial aspirations and militarily ousted in 1992. Wars for secession from 1991 to 1993 brought some 15 percent of the country's territory under the control of unrecognized governments in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Aslan Abashidze, leader of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, consolidated a one-man autocracy and has continuously defied the central government.

Since a new Constitution was adopted in 1995, the country has made considerable progress toward the free operation of political parties, civic organizations, and the media, as well as privatization. However, no workable democratic system of governance has been created. Fairness of the election process has deteriorated over time. Rampant corruption has undermined public institutions, turning them into instruments of extortion. And the majority of the population, especially ethnic minorities, have been effectively excluded from the political process.

Fraudulent parliamentary elections on November 2, 2003, and the ensuing political crisis that culminated in President Eduard Shevardnadze's resignation may constitute a turning point in the development of Georgian democracy. According to many commentators, the event qualified as nothing less than a nonviolent democratic revolution. Although this extraconstitutional change of power demonstrated the fragility of Georgia's democratic institutions, the November events also showed the readiness of the people to mobilize in a peaceful and organized way to defend democratic values. This, as well as strong leadership by the opposition, the independent media, and civil society, factored heavily in the success of the revolution. These events have led to an unprecedented level of popular enthusiasm and optimism, but also to unrealistic expectations for rapid change. In contrast with the aftermath of the 1992 coup, however, the incoming government was indeed fast to reestablish public order, working within the limits of the Constitution.

Electoral Process. The 2003 November elections were notable for massive disenfranchisement of the public due to faulty voter lists and subsequent large-scale electoral fraud. During the 1990s, the political process was fairly pluralistic, and political parties were not impeded in spreading their message to most of the country (save for specific areas). However, no stable political party system was created, and public trust in the electoral process was extremely low. Ballot stuffing and fraud constituted typical violations, and their severity tended to increase over time. In 2002-2003, as the popularity of President Shevardnadze plummeted and the opposition strengthened, there developed a trend toward alleged government-instigated violence against opposition parties and candidates and possible tampering with the electoral registry. Greater transparency in the electoral process spurred by improvements in legislation and more effective monitoring made violations only more blatant. Georgia's rating for electoral process remains 5.25. Although the elections were marked by fraud and voter disenfranchisement, they were open to greater competition and were guided by legislation that opened electoral processes to greater transparency.

Civil Society. The development of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Georgia is a qualified success. Relevant legislation is rather liberal, and impediments to NGO activities are relatively rare (save for in Adjara). NGOs are especially influential in promoting democratic governance and human rights and have developed a considerable capacity in other areas as well. In the late 1990s, NGOs exercised significant leverage on the lawmaking process, and in the last few years, they have successfully mobilized public support for resisting the authoritarian trends of the government. This, in turn, has led to episodes of retaliatory violence. However, the public outreach of NGOs is still insufficient, and civil society groups are weak outside the capital. The role of trade unions is insignificant. In 2003, the government became more hostile to the civil society sector but failed to impede its activities in a serious way. Civil society, for its part, demonstrated greater strength, maturity, and vibrancy. Owing to the strong response of civil society to the fraudulent parliamentary elections in 2003, and its role in leading nonviolent protests to declare the elections void, Georgia's civil society rating improves from 4.00 to 3.50.

Independent Media. Media legislation is mainly liberal. Independent newspapers fully dominate the print market. Independent TV and radio companies dominate the airwaves in the capital and increasingly compete with state-run broadcasting in the provinces. The government does not impede access to the Internet, and the number of users grows steadily. However, the majority of the public still cannot afford Internet access, and in many regions there are no service providers. Competition from independent broadcasters has forced state-run TV to make its programming somewhat more pluralistic, but it continues to serve as an outlet for government propaganda. There is no state censorship of independent media. Programming content on independent media is pluralistic but often skewed by the interests of specific oligarchic groups. Outside the capital, journalists have often been intimidated by the government. In 2003, the government's attitude toward the media grew more hostile but did not effectively curb media freedom; indeed, media pluralism actually increased. Given the mixed nature of these developments, Georgia's rating for independent media is unchanged at 4.00.

Governance. After turmoil in the early 1990s, Georgia's system of governance consolidated in the second half of the decade and maintained a reasonable level of stability until November 2003. In the 1990s, there were notable improvements in the transparency of public agencies, especially the Parliament. However, the system of governance as a whole was overcentralized, ineffective, and inefficient. Reforms have stalled in the last four to five years, and the executive branch has failed to formulate and follow a unified and coherent policy. On the subnational levels of government, either locally elected bodies do not exist or their powers are limited. There is no common set of political rules for the entire country, with a mixture of liberal and autocratic enclaves existing across Georgia's territory. The law provides for a politically neutral civil service, but in practice it is highly politicized. In 2003, the Georgian system of governance deteriorated further, and public protests led to its implosion. For this reason, the rating for governance worsens from 5.50 to 5.75.

Constitutional, Legislative, and Judicial Framework. The Georgian Constitution is based on the separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government and modeled after the U.S. Constitution. However, this balance is skewed in favor of the executive branch both in law and in practice. For instance, the Parliament is limited to either accepting or rejecting a budget submitted by the president and cannot initiate bills on the structure and regulation of the executive branch. The Constitution provides a high level of protection for human rights and freedoms. But in practice, torture--especially during pretrial detention--discrimination, and violence against religious minorities are acute problems. Judicial reform in 1998 led to limited progress in the independence and competence of judges, but the record for political impartiality in court decisions has remained mixed. Despite disruption of the constitutional process during the forced resignation of the president in 2003, there were no new negative trends in this area; therefore the rating stays the same at 4.50.

Corruption. Corruption is widespread in Georgia. While the government has acknowledged the importance of the problem, it has done little or nothing to tackle it. Salaries in the overbloated state apparatus are extremely low, and the policy of former president Shevardnadze was to buy the loyalty of public servants and law enforcement by tolerating corrupt practices. Although the president had an Anticorruption Bureau to give him advice on anticorruption policies, the bureau was rarely consulted in practice and mostly ineffectual. The only good news of the last few years was that the opposition took up corruption as its major campaigning issue, and with the help of the media and watchdog NGOs, public tolerance toward corruption has receded significantly. Owing to the government's continued failure to address rising levels of corruption, the rating in this category falls from 5.75 to 6.00.

Outlook for 2004. The new generation of leaders that came to power in 2003 is widely expected to replace the country's liberal oligarchic system of governance with genuine democracy. Cracking down on corruption, reforming law enforcement, decentralizing governance, and making government more efficient are all recognized as priorities. The resolve of the new authorities and increased activism in society give hope that there will be achievements in these areas. But there are concerns as well: the political groups that have come to power have so far formulated no coherent reform strategy; they may lack the administrative expertise and human resources to implement them; and while the new leaders are extremely popular, all other political parties are in shambles and there is real danger that the new Parliament (presumably elected in spring 2004) will contain no viable opposition.

Electoral Process: 

In Georgia, the Constitution and 2001 unified election code (UEC) guarantee universal suffrage and the right to a direct and secret ballot. Except in Adjara and ethnic minority areas such as Kvemo Kartli, political parties are generally active and free to campaign without significant interference. According to the Constitution, parliamentary elections are conducted using a mixed system: national party lists compete for 150 seats in a proportionate system, while 85 seats go to single-mandate constituencies. The threshold for party representation in Parliament increased from 4 percent in 1990 to 5 percent in 1995 and to 7 percent in 1999 in an effort to encourage larger coalitions.

However, the fairness of the political process has been in decline for several years. The government has used fraud and voter intimidation to undermine opposition parties and candidates. In fact, the level of fairness in elections deteriorated as the political stakes for the sitting government escalated. Thus, opposition parties and candidates were allowed to win in local elections and gain seats in the Parliament--though not a majority--but had little chance in presidential elections. As the popularity and organization of the opposition parties increased over the last two years, at the same time that the government's popularity was sinking, the government's attitudes and tactics led to conflicts.

The November 2, 2003, parliamentary elections were the nadir in this trend. New legislation attempted to increase the transparency of the electoral process with safeguards against fraud, which only made efforts to falsify elections all the more blatant and obvious. Most disturbing was the denial of voting rights to a large portion of the electorate owing to widespread inaccuracies in the voter registry. The preelection campaign was notable for frequent episodes of violence against opposition parties. These crimes were usually perpetrated by local gangs, but the police failed to intervene or punish the offenders.

Threatened with their jobs, employees of state-funded organizations were pressured by local authorities to support pro-government parties. The International Election Observation Mission, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (CE), and the European Parliament concluded that the elections "fell short of a number of OSCE commitments and other international standards." The elections were harshly criticized by other internal and foreign observers, including the U.S. government.

The official election results crowned the pro-presidential For New Georgia bloc the victor with 21.32 percent of the vote, followed by the Adjaran leader's Democratic Union of Revival with 18.84 percent. The National Movement--the strongest opposition party--came in third place with 18.8 percent. Other parties that passed the 7 percent threshold included the Labor Party (12.04 percent), the Burjanadze-Democrats (8.79 percent), and the New Rights Party (7.35 percent). These percentages revealed a discrepancy on the order of 12-15 percent in favor of Tbilisi and Batumi government parties.

Parallel vote tabulations were conducted by the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy. Exit polls were carried out by the Global Strategy Group, a respected American company, in cooperation with several Georgian polling firms. Both groups confirmed a strong first place for the National Movement, followed by For New Georgia. The Democratic Union of Revival came in fifth, after the Labor Party and the Burjanadze-Democrats.

As public protests erupted in the wake of these findings, the opposition demanded that their victory be recognized or that the government nullify the election results. President Shevardnadze refused the appeals, and the protests broadened and radicalized throughout the country. On November 22, protesters occupied the buildings of the State Chancellery and Parliament, disrupting the first session of the new Parliament. The president resigned the following day. On November 25, the Supreme Court of Georgia nullified the results of the proportional vote owing to excessive fraud. In the majoritarian elections, the results were nullified in only a few districts, so that the number of parliamentary members elected in November will still serve in the new Parliament.

In the 2000 presidential election, Shevardnadze won with 78.82 percent of the vote, versus 16.66 percent for his main rival. Voter turnout was 76 percent. Both the OSCE and the CE's Parliamentary Assembly noted serious irregularities, including media bias, ballot box stuffing, and a lack of transparency in the counting and tabulation of votes. The June 2, 2002, local elections also confirmed this negative trend. CE observers described these elections as "a step backward rather than forward for democracy in Georgia."

The most controversial provision of Georgia's electoral legislation stipulates that the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) will consist of representatives from the political parties. This effectively turns parties into governing bodies and encourages backroom deals. Ten of the 15 members of the new CEC created in August 2003 were either appointed by the president or belonged to the moderately pro-government Revival Party or Industrialist Party, contributing to a less than fair-minded electoral administration.

Political parties do not usually encounter registration difficulties, and only two parties were recently denied registration. In 1999 and again in 2001, Virk--a group based in the ethnically Armenian region of Javakheti--was denied registration because its charter violated the 1997 Law on Citizens' Political Associations, which banned the creation of parties based on region. In 2001 and 2002, the Ministry of Justice denied registration to Mkhedrioni (in 2002, it applied under the name Georgian Patriots Union). Most of its members were part of the powerful militia in the early 1990s and later served prison terms. The Ministry of Justice claimed that the Mkhedrioni was still a terrorist organization.

Political parties are organizationally weak and consolidated around individual leaders rather than distinct agendas or values. They do not generate mature policy debate. In the last two years, the strongest opposition parties, such as the National Movement, the Labor Party, and the United Democrats, have shown higher levels of organization and an increased capacity to mobilize popular support.

Owing to frequent ballot box stuffing and the poor condition of voter registries, official data on voter turnout (usually between 60 and 75 percent) may be unreliable (particularly in the presidential elections of 2000). Qualitative data such as long lines in electoral precincts and voter protests at the challenge of electoral rights suggest that the general public is eager to participate in elections when given a genuine choice.

Ethnic minorities constitute some 17 percent of the population, the largest groups being Azeris and Armenians with 6.51 percent and 5.69 percent, respectively. Though regions with a concentrated minority population usually have high official voter turnout, ethnic minorities tend to be largely passive in political life and support government candidates as a way to show national loyalty. The current Parliament has 14 ethnic minority representatives, all of whom were part of the parliamentary majority that collapsed in the fall of 2001. Minority participation in opposition parties is very low, though it increased in the 2003 elections. Insufficient knowledge of the official Georgian language and a fear that ethnicity may become an issue in political debates are chief reasons minorities are less likely to get engaged in politics.

Civil Society: 

In Georgia, a vibrant "third sector" exists and has a significant influence on public life and discourse. In the latter half of the 1990s, a number of leading nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as the Institute of Liberty and the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, were successful in lobbying for important legislation in the areas of civil rights, transparency, and governance. As the reformist part of the ruling Citizens' Union of Georgia party broke away from the government in 2001, NGOs lost much of their lobbying power, but they became more conspicuous in public life. NGOs actively cooperate with independent media, and a number of civil society activists have become leading commentators on public and political issues. NGOs play an important role in generating agendas for change and mobilizing public support for democratic reforms.

The number of NGOs in Georgia is steadily increasing. According to research conducted by the Georgian Business Law Center, there were at least 3,948 public associations in Georgia by January 2002; in addition, as many as 1,000 foundations are registered. Yet many of these exist on paper only. According to expert estimates, some 600 to 800 NGOs have carried out at least one project based on grant funding, and about 200 are relatively stable; however, only 20 to 30 groups have permanent staff and boards. A small number of organizations survive on private donations, volunteer work, or services provided by other organizations. Several service groups provide training programs to increase the organizational expertise of NGOs. Many are especially active in democracy and human rights protection, legal reform and governance, environmental protection, conflict resolution and citizen diplomacy, civic education, and support of the disadvantaged.

There has also been an increase in the number and capacity of independent think tanks. Community-based organizations are less developed, but their numbers are growing. In recent years, the activism and number of women and minority organizations have proliferated. The role of women in the third sector is obviously greater than that in politics or business. There is a considerable gap in development between NGOs operating in the capital and those located in the provinces. Attempts to build bridges between civil society and business have not been particularly successful.

Trade unions are free to organize, but so far few viable unions have materialized. The most important are active in education and health care. The Solidarity trade union of schoolteachers claims several thousand members and is the strongest among them.

While Georgian NGOs initially tended to distance themselves from politics, some groups have become more involved in public protest activities in recent years. In the spring of 2003, a network of NGOs created around the Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF), financed by the American philanthropist George Soros, was strongly critical of the government. A youth protest movement called Kmara ("Enough") formed with the help of these senior groups and modeled itself after the Otpor movement in Serbia. In October 2003, Kmara had 3,000 to 4,000 members but grew much larger during the November protests. This movement organized a number of public antigovernment actions before the elections and played an important role in bringing about the "velvet revolution." In October 2003, the network of NGOs drafted a program statement, "10 Steps to Liberty," that included specific measures to be supported by political parties once they are in Parliament. Major opposition parties signed this declaration.

Other NGOs, such as Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights, denounced any actions that ran contrary to the presumably obligatory "political neutrality" of NGOs. As an example of a "neutral" civic initiative, this group led a successful signature-gathering campaign calling for a referendum to reduce the number of parliamentarians, arguing that the current body of delegates is a burden on the nation.

The 1997 civic code defined two legal forms of noncommercial organizations: foundations (registered with the Ministry of Justice) and associations (registered with local courts). Organizations can also choose not to be registered, though there are usually no obstacles to doing so. The civil code does, however, deny registration to NGOs that call for 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-mentioned offenses, but so far there have been no instances of this. There is no special tax status for NGOs, but the 1996 Law on Grants exempts grant revenue 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 have made this information public. Legislation gives citizens free access to public information, though it may be hindered in practice through the arbitrary actions of public agencies.

In 2002-2003, government attitudes grew hostile as the NGO sector became increasingly perceived as supportive of the opposition. Activist organizations such as the Liberty Institute or Kmara were subject to physical harassment by third parties and on some occasions by the government directly. In June 2003, President Shevardnadze publicly threatened to close down the OSGF for "intervening into Georgia's domestic political life" and threatened to persecute the director of the OSGF during the November protests.

Media coverage of NGO activities has increased considerably over the last few years, but the political slant varies depending on the source. Democratic-oriented media usually have viewed NGOs favorably, while opponents of the democratic opposition (not exclusively state-run media) portrayed NGOs as greedy "grant eaters" and pernicious agents of foreign influence.

The state-run education system is not free of political influence. It is a largely overcentralized system that has changed little since the Soviet period. Rectors of state universities are approved by the president and required to demonstrate their loyalty. They frequently attend government sessions and accompany the president at public events. Private education institutions have proliferated since independence, especially in the field of higher education. According to the Ministry of Education, there are 220 private and 24 state universities. The quality of instruction in most private schools is low, but a few institutions have succeeded in developing relatively high standards.

Independent Media: 

Article 24 of the Constitution states that "the mass media are free; censorship is impermissible" and that "citizens of the Republic of Georgia have the right to express, distribute, and defend their opinions via any media, and to receive information on questions of social and state life. Censorship of the press and other media is not permitted." The media are regulated by the Law on the Press and Other Mass Media, which was enacted in 1991 and amended several times since then. 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."

The Law on State Secrets, adopted by the Parliament in September 1996, may be used as a tool to restrict the media. The list of state secrets developed by the National Security Council is extremely broad and resembles Soviet standards. Public servants who leak state secrets--and the journalists who disseminate them--may be held legally responsible. In practice, however, the government has been reluctant to use these provisions against the media.

The 1999 Law on the Post and Communications transferred the regulation of telecommunications licensing to the National Regulatory Commission for Communication (NRCC), an autonomous licensing commission created in May 2000. As political tensions grew in recent years and the government's popularity diminished, the NRCC blamed its low approval ratings on negative media coverage. Rhetoric from high-level officials, including the president, grew hostile toward independent media and called for more restrictive legislation. In October 2001, a raid by the Ministry of Security at the Rustavi-2 TV broadcasting station (for alleged tax evasion) triggered large demonstrations and led to the dismissal of the entire cabinet and the resignation of the Speaker of Parliament.

While most public officials choose to ignore negative media coverage even when it alleges criminal activity, officials have been known to evoke defamation of character charges rather than accusations of libel to challenge media criticism. In libel cases, the burden of proof rests with the plaintiff, while in defamation cases it is the media company that must prove the accuracy of its claims. In June 2003, the Parliament enacted amendments to the criminal code during the first reading that instituted more severe penalties for libel. More important, it also introduced the legal category of "insult," which would effectively move defamation cases from civil to criminal law. However, the bill failed to progress further in the Parliament.

In general, the courts have tended to look favorably on the media--either acquitting them of charges or imposing symbolic sanctions rather than the large fines often sought by plaintiffs. More recently, though, this practice began to change. In summer 2003, the district court imposed the sanction of 1 million GEL (approximately US$475,000) on Rustavi-2 TV for defaming Akaki Chkhaidze, the State Railways Department chairman and Shevardnadze's close ally. The amount of the fine, extremely high by Georgian standards, was obviously intended to force the channel out of business. The Supreme Court will hear an appeal of this case in January 2004.

In May 2003, the Office of the Prosecutor-General and the court refused to accept information exposing corruption of public servants obtained through hidden camera by the 60 Minutes program of Rustavi-2. Moreover, the Supreme Court asked the prosecutor-general to investigate Rustavi-2. The International Press Institute and the organization Article 19 protested the activities of the Supreme Court as attempts to curb investigative reporting.

In the last two years, cases of journalists being physically harassed by the government or by third parties became more frequent and went unpunished. Such incidents occurred mainly outside the capital. In March 2003, a fanatical group destroyed the broadcasting antenna of Dzveli Kalaki radio in the town of Kutaisi, accusing it of damaging citizens' health through radiation and promoting Catholicism and the Jehovah's Witnesses. The radio station was able to restore its antenna thanks to support from international organizations, but the culprits went unpunished.

The independent sector fully dominates the print media market. There are also formally independent but de facto government-subsidized newspapers, such as Sakartvelos Respublika, and its counterparts in the Russian, Armenian, and Azeri languages. However, the circulation and impact of these newspapers are small. In general, print media are poorly developed; TV is by far the more important source of information for the public.

In the broadcasting sector, the picture is mixed. The government maintains control over some strategic outlets, such as the First TV and Second TV channels and Georgian Radio. Until 2003, they were the only electronic broadcasting companies with nationwide coverage. Owing to competition, the government-controlled media have introduced some elements of pluralism, but by and large they have continued to be mouthpieces for official propaganda. Rustavi-2 served as an icebreaker in the development of independent TV broadcasting in the late 1990s and grew into the most financially successful TV company in Georgia. It broadcasts mainly to Tbilisi and a few other locales, but its news programming is rebroadcast in many other regions through local partner companies.

In spring 2003, two new TV channels were launched by two financial groups--Imedi-TV, started by Badri Patarkatsishvili, a former Russian "oligarch" of Georgian origin who returned to Georgia; and Mze, created by banker Vano Chkhartishvili. Imedi-TV broadcasts over a large part of the country. Both TV stations were formed in time to influence the 2003 elections, but neither could effectively compete in ratings with Rustavi-2. Despite presumed political preferences, these companies have tried to maintain pluralistic coverage of political events and give equal time to the country's different political players. In the preelection period and especially during the November protests, Rustavi-2 shed its balanced image and sided more openly with the opposition. Even in independent media, owners tend to intervene in editorial policies.

Georgia's independent media outlets have been quite aggressive in criticizing the government, and journalists vouchsafe few taboos. The main problems are mediocre journalism and weak financial sustainability. Journalists usually do not draw a clear line among reporting, analysis, and opinion. Journalists and experts allege that there are frequent instances of "commissioned journalism," when political and economic interest groups pay to discredit their opponents and competitors. The media face greater restrictions outside the capital. In Adjara, for example, no independent broadcasts cover political issues. However, a new independent newspaper, Batumelebi, began operations in 2003.

Regional media exist--both electronic and print--but they struggle financially and are vulnerable to local authorities and influential financial groups. In lieu of local advertising, wedding and funeral listings constitute their major independent source of income. Some regional television stations have joined the Rustavi-2 network.

Distribution of the media is mainly in private hands, but three out of eight agencies are still state owned. Press Distribution Service Ltd., established by four independent newspapers in 1996, is the largest distributor in Tbilisi, while the state agency Sakpresa and the private Presinfo agency dominate distribution outside the capital. In Adjara, there have been cases of restrictions on the national media when it published especially sharp criticism of Adjaran authorities.

The Internet is a growing source of information, mainly for the young, though still only a small fraction of the population has access. There are no legal restrictions to Internet access. All providers are private.

The Association of Free Press and the Broadcasters Association are major journalistic associations, though their influence is still weak. In 2003, the Institute of Liberty initiated a Standard of Professional Ethics. Most of the influential press and broadcasting companies pledged to uphold the standard.

Judicial Framework and Independence: 

The Georgian Constitution calls for the separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Both president and Parliament are elected by direct popular vote. The president cannot dissolve the Parliament and must secure its approval for the main provisions of his budget. The Parliament cannot introduce any changes into the budget; rather, it must accept or reject the budget in its entirety. In addition, the Parliament confirms or rejects the president's ministerial nominations but cannot initiate bills on the structure and regulations of the executive branch. In its legislative activities, the Parliament is legally independent. Setting up investigative commissions and inviting ministers to hearings are also routine procedures.

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 the Parliament take precedence over presidential decrees. However, contrary to this law, some government agencies still give priority to internally issued regulations.

On November 2, 2003, the day of parliamentary elections, a referendum was held on the issue of reducing the number of parliamentarians to not more than 150. A considerable majority supported the proposal. This was the first popular referendum held in Georgia since the 1991 referendum for independence. However, no provision in the Constitution defines a mechanism for amending the Constitution through referendum, and in practice members of Parliament may ignore the results.

The judicial system has undergone greater changes than other elements of law enforcement. It consists of a system of common-law courts and the separate Constitutional Court. Judges are appointed according to procedures that imply a balance among the Parliament, the executive, and other courts. Common-law judges are appointed by the president upon nomination by the Council of Justice. This is a consulting body whose members are appointed or elected, in equal numbers, by the president, the Parliament, and the Supreme Court.

Reforms have increased the professionalism and independence of courts. Their record concerning politically sensitive cases in Georgia has been mixed. While both common-law courts and the Constitutional Court have made a number of rulings in favor of the opposition and individual citizens against the government, in some cases courts still display a vulnerability to political pressure and public opinion. As the political fight intensified in 2003, pressure on courts became more blatant. For example, President Shevardnadze publicly chastised judges who ruled in favor of the opposition's demands to reimburse pension arrears.

Execution of court decisions continues to be a problem in the judicial system. In a highly publicized case in February 2002, for example, the Parliament refused to comply with a decision of the Constitutional Court that invalidated the election of three members of Parliament in 1999.

Georgian legislation provides a fairly high level of protection for basic human rights and freedoms. Chapter 2 of the Georgian Constitution is based on the text of the European Convention on Human Rights, which the Georgian Parliament also ratified in May 1999. Article 43 of the Constitution creates the post of public defender. The office is nominated by the president and elected by the Parliament to a five-year term, but it is not accountable to the president or Parliament. The death penalty was abolished in November 1997.

However, some laws tend to restrict freedoms stipulated by the Constitution, and in actuality human rights may be widely abused. For instance, while Article 25 of the Constitution requires only the prior notification of authorities for a public assembly or demonstration "held on a public thoroughfare," the 1997 Law on Meetings and Manifestations requires special permission from authorities in this case. A fall 2002 ruling of the Constitutional Court declared the respective part of the law unconstitutional. Yet in 2003, protest rallies were frequently disrupted by the police or by unidentified groups that may have acted with the approval of the authorities, as no action was taken against them.

Problems in the sphere of human rights stem from the practices of the law enforcement system. The 1998 criminal procedures code, which was adopted prior to Georgia's accession to the Council of Europe, was meant to demonstrate the country's readiness to comply with international human rights standards. Under the reforms, only courts may issue search and arrest warrants. However, a number of provisions continue to raise concerns. Suspects may be detained for up to 72 hours without charge or access to counsel. Police continue to conduct searches without warrants and to make arbitrary and unregistered arrests, usually to extort money. Torture, especially during pretrial detention, is a significant problem.

In January 2000, the penitentiary system was removed from the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and placed under the Ministry of Justice. Since then, however, reforms to the law enforcement system have largely stalled. The corrupt leadership of the bodies involved considers such reforms as targeting their respective interests.

The role of defense attorneys in court proceedings has increased considerably, but professional and ethical standards often remain low. The state provides public defenders for criminal defendants who cannot afford an attorney. The Law on the Bar, adopted in June 2001, states that all lawyers must pass exams administered by a future Georgian Bar Association and later become members of the bar. Members will hold the exclusive right to represent clients in court. Implementation of the law was postponed owing to resistance by attorney groups, but the first bar exams were eventually held in November 2003.

Georgia has no specific legislation on ethnic or religious minority and gender rights. Discrimination and violence against religious minorities continue to be important human rights problems. In October 2002, following strong political pressure to provide a legal foundation for the privileged position of the Georgian Orthodox Church (according to the 2002 census, 83.87 percent of Georgia's citizens are Orthodox, though this number includes congregations of the Russian Orthodox Church as well), a Constitutional Agreement Between the State and the Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Georgia was signed and passed by the Parliament.

Other churches, however, suffer from the lack of legal status. In January 2001, the Georgian Supreme Court canceled the registration of two organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses. This set a precedent that religious groups cannot be registered under the civil code as public associations. Yet there exists no other legislation under which such registration would be possible. This situation prevents religious organizations from opening bank accounts or owning property. At the same time, the police and other state agencies often prevent individuals from using their premises for worship, and customs services often confiscate imported religious literature on the grounds that religious organizations are not registered.

In September 2003, Georgian Catholics tried to gain legal status by signing their own agreement with the Georgian government, but opposition from the Orthodox Church and the public forced the government to back down. Several schools offer Religion and Culture classes that formally are required to be voluntary and religiously neutral but in practice promote Orthodox Christianity, and all pupils are under pressure to attend them.

The tide of religious violence in Georgia peaked in 1998-1999 but continues to be a problem, albeit somewhat reduced. Such attacks are thought to be carried out by religious extremists, possibly adherents to the Georgian Orthodox faith. As a rule, the targets of such actions are smaller churches, predominantly Jehovah's Witnesses but also the Baptist Evangelical Church, the Pentecostal Church, and others. The violence has consisted of beatings, disruption of meetings, and burning of literature and occasionally even places of worship. The police usually provided no protection and sometimes have even helped the perpetrators, who were not punished.

There have been modest improvements in this area in the last two years. In fall 2002, the Jehovah's Witnesses won their first court case against Georgian customs, which had confiscated their literature. In June 2003, the court issued a decision for pretrial detention of Basil Mkalavishvili, a defrocked Orthodox priest and leader of the most active extremist group directly involved in acts of violence against Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists, and other religious minority groups. No arrest followed. On November 2003, the first guilty verdict (a conditional sentence) for religious violence was issued by the court against Paata Bluashvili and his four associates, the leaders of Jvari, another violent Orthodox vigilante group that has physically assaulted Jehovah's Witnesses. On December 5, the Supreme Court canceled its January 2001 decision and restored registration to the Jehovah's Witnesses organizations.


There is a strong consensus in Georgia that corruption has become a major obstacle to political and economic development. Shevardnadze's government recognized the scope and urgency of the problem but took no effective measures to remedy it. In 2001, the Anticorruption Bureau (ACB) was created to issue anticorruption recommendations for government policy. It developed a number of such initiatives (the most recent included simplifying licensing and public register procedures and issuing identification documents and driver's licenses), but no tangible results have been achieved. The opposition, on the other hand, took up the fight against corruption as its major campaign issue in 2002-2003.

Georgian media have been active in exposing corruption for years. Many NGOs are vigilant, anticorruption watchdogs. The numerous anticorruption initiatives from the government, opposition parties, media, and NGOs have contributed significantly to raising public awareness about the problem. They also have helped make the public less tolerant of corruption. According to sociological research released by the ACB, the number of citizens willing to secure employment through corrupt means has decreased from 80 to 50 percent. The inability of officials to tackle corruption, against the backdrop of high public awareness, has contributed to the government's loss of credibility.

The root of the problem can hardly be located in a 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 parliamentarians, ministers, and their deputies) and members of their families cannot 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 provides a reasonably good foundation for ensuring the transparency of public institutions. On the other hand, the excessive number of official bodies that inspect businesses (about 30) as well as numerous and complicated licensing requirements are often thought to create rich opportunities for corruption.

The deepest structural reason for corruption in Georgia is believed to be the general weakness of state institutions. The result is a central government that depends on the balance of different group interests. These groups include bureaucratic patronage networks (regional or based in the capital), corporations, business groups, and family networks. Several close relatives of President Shevardnadze run successful businesses and are widely believed to enjoy unfair advantages over their competitors. Buying offices is an entrenched practice in many government agencies such as the police and the tax office. Prosecution for corruption is extremely rare.

In Adjara, most high-ranking officials are family members of the republic's leader, Aslan Abashidze, or his late wife, and much of the regional economy is believed to be under the direct control of the Abashidze clan. Those territories outside government control (such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia) provide safe havens for smuggling and the drug and arms trade. Law enforcement bodies are believed to be involved.

According to expert opinion, the influence of organized crime on politics and the economy has been growing steadily over the last few years. An example of such influence can be seen in the Parliamentary Resolution of February 27, 2003, which led to the invalidation of the licenses of Turkish Airlines and British Airways. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce assessed this move as an act of "political blackmail" and "a clear instance of how private interests are allowed to supersede those of the overall development and well-being of the country." In its 2003 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Transparency International ranked Georgia 124th out of 133 countries surveyed. The countries of Angola, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, and Tajikistan received the same ranking. Georgia's CPI rating was 1.8 on a scale of 0 to 10, with a 10 given to the least corrupt country. In 2002, Georgia's rating was 1.8. In 2001, it was 2.4.


Georgia's governmental system is hardly stable. Since 1990, when the Communist Party lost elections to the national independence movement, there has been no smooth constitutional change of power. Following President Zviad Gamsakhurdia's ouster in January 1992, basic public order was not restored until 1995. Since then, the system has been fairly stable (until November 2003), and elections (save for local ones) have been held within constitutional parameters. However, Georgia's overall stability had often been credited to President Shevardnadze's balancing skills rather than the institutional foundations of the political system. Still, the relatively rapid and successful restoration of constitutional order after the president's resignation in November shows that the constitutional foundations of power have become more sustainable.

Challenges to stable governance are most acute in relations between the central government and the provinces. The prevalence of ethnic nationalism from 1989 to 1992 led to wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which were autonomous within Georgia under the Soviet Constitution. The result was the effective separation of these provinces from Georgia. Consequently, 15 percent of the country's territory is now outside the government's control, while 264,000 people have the status of internally displaced persons. Owing to these unresolved issues, Article 2 of the 1995 Constitution states that the arrangement of Georgia's territories will be defined after the country's territorial integrity is restored.

The third autonomous territory within the country is Adjara. Tbilisi has never contested Adjara's special status, and Adjara has never sought formal secession. However, it was only in April 2000 that the Georgian Parliament amended the Constitution to include a clause guaranteeing Adjara's autonomy. No specific legislation clearly defines the separation of powers between the central government and Adjara.

In 2001, Adjara adopted a new Constitution that introduced a two-chamber Parliament and the position "Head of the Republic." In November 2003, the local Parliament adopted changes to the Adjara Constitution that further increased the head's rights and conferred the new title "Supreme Political and Military Figure of the Autonomous Republic." This and other decisions of the Adjaran leadership openly defy Georgian legislation. The region has continuously refused to pay taxes to the central government. However, this does not prevent Abashidze and his supporters from referring to themselves as "guardians of Georgia's unity."

Abashidze reacted sharply to the "velvet revolution" in November 2003, as it endangered his own autocratic rule. After Shevardnadze's resignation, Abashidze declared a state of emergency in Adjara and threatened to boycott new presidential elections scheduled for January 4, 2004. Such a boycott would have indicated a step in the direction of separation from Georgia, and it triggered the emergence of a protest movement within Adjara itself. Abashidze reversed his decision only in the last days of 2003.

Branches of power in Georgia vary in openness and transparency. Part 3 of the July 1999 administrative code requires government officials to make original versions of public documents available to the public at no cost. Though this law increased access to public information, some government agencies are still reluctant to comply with these requirements. But watchdog organizations and successful litigation are significantly improving the situation. The Parliament may be the most accessible among public institutions: plenary sessions as well as committee hearings are open (except for special cases related to security issues), and representatives of NGOs, interest groups, and other groups regularly take part in them.

In the territory that is under the government's control, the system of governance is strongly centralized. In 1994, President Shevardnadze created a new level of subnational government called the mkhare, or province. Eleven mkhares (save for three autonomous units included in this number) are ruled by the president's commissioners, or rtsmunebuli. However, this administrative level exists only by presidential decree, and its constitutionality is contested. On the lower, raioni (district) level, power belongs to the gamgebeli, or heads of the district administration, appointed by the president.

Until 2001, the president appointed mayors of the seven largest cities. In smaller towns and villages, leaders were locally elected. Amendments in 2001 to the 1997 Law on Local Self-Government and Government, adopted under internal and external pressure to democratize the system of territorial administration, led to a modest increase in local powers. In the June 2002 local elections, the mayors of all cities except Tbilisi and Poti were elected by direct popular vote, while heads of district-level administrations were selected by the president from sakrebulos, or locally elected councils. Another important change was that the local electoral system was replaced by a "first past the post" system. This increased the role of local political actors.

In practice, however, the powers of the sakrebulos and elected mayors are very limited. If local councils fail to approve budgets submitted by the gamgebeli in the first two months of the year, the president may dismiss them. Local administrations depend mainly on transfers from the central government, while local taxes cover only a small fraction of the budget. Key governance functions such as police, health care, and education are formally part of both local and central government, but the national level dominates.

A 1997 law gives local governments responsibility over local civil servants. In practice, there is no clear division between political and nonpolitical positions, and incoming directors of state agencies generally conduct major staff overhauls motivated by political loyalty and personal connections rather than professional competence. In 2003, the government increased pressure on all civil servants to express their loyalty to the ruling party. The public service sector is overstaffed, and salaries are usually below the poverty line. This creates a natural environment for corruption. Government agencies cannot attract competent personnel, especially in the middle and lower ranks.

2004 Scores