Government and Politics
In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the tone of Georgian political life changed significantly. National elections held in 1989, 1990, and 1992 reflected that change. The nature of governance in newly independent Georgia was most influenced by the personalities of two men, Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Eduard Shevardnadze. But democratic institutions evolved slowly and sporadically in the first half of the 1990s.
Establishing Democratic Institutions
Prior to the 1989 elections, the Georgian Communist Party maintained tight control over the nomination process. Even in 1989, candidates ran unopposed in forty-three of seventy-five races, and elsewhere pairings with opposition candidates were manipulated to guarantee results favoring the party. In Tbilisi grassroots movements succeeded in nominating three candidates to the Georgian Supreme Soviet in 1989. The leaders of these movements were mostly young intellectuals who had not been active dissidents. Many of those figures later joined to form a new political party, Democratic Choice for Georgia, abbreviated as DASi in Georgian. Because of expertise in local political organization, DASi played a leading role in drafting legislation for local and national elections between 1990 and 1992.
The death of the Tbilisi demonstrators in April 1989 led to a major change in the Georgian political atmosphere. Radical nationalists such as Gamsakhurdia were the primary beneficiaries of the national outrage following the April Tragedy. In his role as opposition leader, Gamsakhurdia formed a new political bloc in 1990, the Round Table/Free Georgia coalition.
In 1990 Georgia was the last Soviet republic to hold elections for the republic parliament. Protests and strikes against the election law and the nominating process had led to a six-month postponement of the elections until October 1990. Opposition forces feared that the political realities favored entrenched communist party functionaries and the enterprise and collective farm officials they had put in place. According to reports, about one-third of the 2,300 candidates for the Supreme Soviet (as the Georgian parliament was still designated at that time) fell into this category.
The electoral system adopted in August 1990, which represented a compromise between competing versions put forward by the Patiashvili government and the opposition, created the first truly multiparty elections in the Soviet Union. The new Georgian election law combined district-level, single-mandate, majority elections with a proportional party list system for the republic as a whole; a total of 250 seats would constitute the new parliament. On one hand, the proportional voting system required that a party gain at least 4 percent of the total votes to achieve representation in parliament. On the other hand, candidates with strong local support could win office even if their national totals fell below the 4 percent threshold. When the elections finally were held, widespread fears of violence or communist manipulation (expressed most vocally by Gamsakhurdia) proved unfounded.
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