Internet Press Conference with Koba Turmanidze

Joint Internet press conferences with leading experts from different countries on the topical issues of the modern times are organized within the framework of the project, entitled "Enhancing knowledge and understanding of ‘the other side’ by Armenians and Azerbaijani through Alternative and First-Hand Information". This project, implemented by Region Research Center (Armenia) and the Institute for Peace and Democracy (Azerbaijan), is supported by the British Embassies in Armenia and Azerbaijan.  

Davit Stepanyan, “Arminfo” news agency-www.arminfo.am (Armenia)
 
1. Can you please share your forecast on the results of Georgian Presidential elections? What does the intrigue consist in, other than the struggle for coming the second?
 
- Forthcoming elections are unusual for Georgia in at least two respects: first, the incumbent political force (Georgian Dream) does not have exclusive and excessive access to money and media; second, political programs and ideologies matter more than individuals. These two factors are far more important than which candidate will be on the second place. True, competition looks like to be for the second place, the first one will obviously go to the Georgian Dream candidate. However, it cannot be excluded that he wins after a run-off elections.  
 
2. If Nino Burjanadze is still the one to earn the second largest vote, should it be right to expect her to demand early Parliamentary elections? 
 
- It is in Burjanadze’s electoral program to demand snap elections and she will do so regardless her results in the elections. I believe her second place is less relevant in this business. She will be looking at the total number of her votes, especially in Tbilisi. If the number is sufficient to make a credible threat of street demonstration, she will have a greater bargaining power to ask for snap elections. 
 
3. What changes do you think would be required in the foreign policy of the country with a new President being elected into office in Georgia?  
 
- I don’t expect radical changes in foreign policy. Georgia will keep its aspirations to get closer to the EU and NATO and at the same time, will try to improve relations with Russia. Whether these two are compatible, we should wait and see. 
 
4. For obvious reasons Georgia is, in essence, a no-alternative transit country for both Armenia and Azerbaijan for their interactions with Turkey. Do you think the country has maximum gains for this position? 
 
- I have no evidence to argue one way or another.  
 
Gayane Movsesyan, “Respublica Armenia” newspaper-www.ra.am
 
1. It is commonly believed that Presidential elections in post-Soviet countries are “fatal” and both the domestic and foreign policy orientations of a country largely depend on who will be elected into office. Can the Presidential elections in Georgia this time considered fatal in the above-described terms? 
 
- No, this election is different in Georgia. The president to be elected will have much limited power compared to his/her predecessors (or compared to the fellow presidents from the region). Thus, no matter which candidate becomes the president, public policies will be determined by the parliament and implemented by the government, both controlled by Georgian Dream Coalition. 
 
2. Respecting Georgia’s choice in terms of selecting Turkey as its strategic partner, I wonder: isn’t Georgia getting into trouble distancing itself from Russia and coming closer to Turkey?  The events in Adjaria (and as we know this is not the only place voicing discontent with the Turkish stranglehold) manifest that all countries with imperial ambitions are impertinent with those who are considered to be within the range of their geopolitical influence.  The same Turkey also has territorial ambitions (and pretensions, so far well disguised, for the same Georgia). There is also an opinion (I have heard it also voiced by Georgian residents) that the rapprochement with Russia is not fraught with serious demographic changes in Georgia, while that with Turkey will bring about a totally opposite situation with all relevant consequences. 
 
- I have hard time to see good relations with two big neighbors as a trade-off. It is beneficial for any country to have good relations with all neighbors. This is desirable, but not always possible. An unfriendly relation between Russia and Georgia is not necessarily Georgia’s choice. It has a long history of threatening Georgia’s sovereignty by promoting and supporting separatists in the country. Moreover, Russian markets had been closed for Georgian goods for years. In contrast, Turkey is Georgia’s important trade partner and supporter of territorial integrity. It is true that big countries will be trying to protect their interests on the expense of their smaller neighbors. Yet, opinion that close ties to Turkey may create demographic challenges for Georgia is more likely to be based on conspiracy theories rather on real facts.       
 
Natig Javadli, “Bizim Yol” newspaper-www.bizimyol.az (Azerbaijan)
 
1. What do the elections in Georgia promise for democratic developments in the neighboring countries?  
 
- I would say that recent political processes, not only elections, have relevance for democratic development in the region. The Georgian case has at least four lessons for the democracy promoters: (1) voters matter not only in democracies, but in autocracies too; (2) if the government is not attentive and responsive to voter preferences, it will lose legitimacy; (3) the incumbent cannot rely on the repressive apparatus only to win elections; (4) fragmented opposition has no chance in elections, but the united opposition does.    
 
2. In which direction with the Georgian elections change the proportion of political forces in this country?  
 
- Forthcoming presidential elections will change little: Georgian Dream is likely to win, followed by United National Movement and Burjanadze’s party. What can change balance between political forces in Georgia is Ivanishvili’s possible resignation. If he leaves politics this year (like he promises), Georgian Dream will have a harder task to stay together as a coalition and thus, keep stability in the country.    
 
Aydin Kerimov, “Novoye Vremya” newspaper-www.novoye-vremya.com (Azerbaijan)
 
1. What do you think the electoral campaign situation in Georgia is like on the eve of the elections? 
 
- I think I partially addressed this question above. Since stakes are lower, pre-election campaigns goes much smoother than Georgia have ever seen.  
 
2. Does Saakashvili’s party have a chance to reserve the President’s office for itself? 
 
- Based on opinion polls, UNM’s chances of winning is close to zero. However, they can compete for the second place. 
 
3. Do you trust the fairness of Presidential elections? 
 
- Yes, decent election administration, freedom of media, depolitization  of law-enforcement agencies and abundance of observers create a good environment for free and fair elections.  
 
4. Is post-electoral confrontation among political forces participating in the elections possible? 
 
- From what we know now, this seems to be very unlikely (if you mean post-electoral street protests of those political forces that will be dissatisfied with the elections results).  
 
Tarana Kyazimova, “Turan” news agency-www.contact.az (Azerbaijan)
 
1. What are the expectations from the upcoming Presidential elections? Will they be different from the previous ones? 
 
- Yes, please see above. 
 
2. What expectations and forecasts do you have for the upcoming elections, taking into consideration the redistribution of the authorities of the Prime Minister and the President? 
 
- Again, please see above. 
 
Gagik Baghdasaryan, “News Armenia” news agency-www.newsarmenia.am (Armenia)
 
1. Do you think Georgia will change its positions on Armenia regarding Yerevan’s decision to join the Customs Union?
 
- I am afraid I have not enough evidences to answer this question. 
 
2. Do new Georgian authorities intend to restore diplomatic relations with Russia? 
 
- Yes, it is on the government agenda. The government started from persuading the Russian side to open market for some Georgian products. But re-establishing diplomatic relations will be a slow process, especially if this will be connected to the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where both Georgian and Russian governments have very firm positions.    
 
2. Can Georgia in the near future open the Abkhaz section of the railroad, separateing economy from politics? 
 
- Georgian Dream does not exclude opening the railway to Abkhazia. Our last poll in August 2013 showed that 75% of people support this approach. However, opening the railway makes sense if all sides are interested. Now it looks like there are no matching steps from Russia – perhaps they don’t see enough benefits of it to start negotiations on trade-offs. 
 
Artak Barseghyan, Public Radio of Armenia-www.armradio.am (Armenia)
 
1. Mr. Turmanidze, how do you assess the electoral platforms of the three main Presidential candidates for Georgia on the issue of its integration with Azerbaijan and Turkey? 
 
- I am afraid I am not aware of such programmatic passages of the presidential candidates.    
 
2. After the probable resignation of Ivanishvili from the Prime Minister’s post who will potentially become the head of the Government?
 
- There are quite a few contemplations in the Georgian media. I am more inclined to believe that the next prime minister somebody from Ivanishvili’s close circle, a technocrat rather than a politician, who will have to rely on Ivanishvili’s political capital. 
 
Armen Minasyan, panorama.am (Armenia)
 
1. Presidential elections were recently held in Azerbaijan.  How will comment on the elections that took place in the neighboring country? Are the situations in Azerbaijan and Georgia subject to comparison in terms of the electoral processes in both countries? 
 
- There is nothing to add to the assessment of the OSCE observer mission, which reported limited freedom of expression, assembly and association, restricted media freedom and voter intimidation (see http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/106901).
 
2. Taking into consideration the quite close relations between the “National Movement” Party, led by Mikhail Saakashvili with the ruling administration of Azerbaijan, is it possible for the official Baku to put pressure on the Azerbaijani community in Georgia so that they support David Berkadze, the candidate of the National Movement in these elections? Is there any such information available?
 
- I don’t have any evidence to support or oppose this claim. In the past ethnic minorities in Georgia mostly voted for the ruling party. It is interesting to see if this pattern persists. My expectation is that it will.  

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