Monday, August 14, 2017

Who makes political decisions in Georgia: What people think

[Note: This post was written by Tsisana Khundadze, a Senior Researcher at CRRC-Georgia. The post was originally published here in partnership with On.ge. The views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC-Georgia, the National Democratic Institute, or any related entity.]

Bidzina Ivanishvili resigned from the post of prime minister of Georgia on November 20th 2013, and in his own words, “left politics“. Speculation about his continued informal participation in the political decision-making process began even before he resigned and still continues. Some politicians think that Ivanishvili gives orders to the Georgian Dream party from behind-the-scenes, while others believe that he actually distanced himself from politics. Politicians, journalists and experts continue to discuss the situation. Meanwhile, a majority of Georgia’s population thinks that Bidzina Ivanishvili is still involved in the governing process and that his informal participation is unacceptable.

The results of CRRC-Georgia and NDI-Georgia surveys carried out during the last two years indicate that the majority of the population of Georgia thinks that former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili continues to be a decision-maker in the actions of the government. Notably, this is people’s perceptions and may not coincide with reality. In none of the main demographic groups (in terms of sex, age, level of education and settlement type) does the majority indicate otherwise. In total, 56% of the population would prefer that the former prime minister not be involved in the decision-making process at all. About one fourth of the population, on the other hand, thinks that Bidzina Ivanishvili should hold an official position and make political decisions. Only 7% would prefer Bidzina Ivanishvili’s informal involvement in Georgia’s governance.

People who say that the United National Movement is the party closest to them more frequently indicate that Bidzina Ivanishvili is still a decision-maker in politics, compared to Georgian Dream supporters. A majority (86%) of United National Movement supporters say that it is preferable if Bidzina Ivanishvili is not involved in decision making processes, while 43% of Georgian Dream supporters think that the former prime minister should be involved in these processes in an official capacity. It is noteworthy that the share of Georgian Dream supporters who prefer that Bidzina Ivanishvili participate in the political decision-making process in an official capacity decreased during the last two years.



Note: The question about party support was asked as follows: “Which party is closest to you?” People were grouped as supporters of the Georgian Dream or United National Movement based on their answers to this question.

These differences are not entirely unexpected considering the polarized political environment. Though, as we see, even among Georgian Dream supporters, only a small share prefers Bidzina Ivanishvili’s informal participation in political decision-making processes.

The data show that informal governance is unacceptable for the majority of the population of Georgia. No matter an individual’s sex, age, education, place of residence or political orientation, the majority of the population thinks that if a person resigns from politics, s/he should no longer influence the government’s decisions. These results indicate that basic principles of democratic governance, namely transparency of decision-making processes and accountability, are important for people. Politicians should take this into consideration.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Rare evidence: Judges on challenges in the court system of Georgia

Georgia has long faced problems with its court system. On CRRC’s 2015 Caucasus Barometer survey, only about one in four people in Georgia reported trusting the country’s court system. Since 2012, there have been three sets of judicial reforms, yet according to a number of NGOs, there are still important issues to be solved.
We often hear what NGO representatives think about the challenges facing the judiciary system in Georgia. It is, however, rare to have the chance to learn what judges think about the system. In partnership with the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary, CRRC-Georgia interviewed 12 current and former judges in Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Zugdidi in October-December, 2016. Although 28 judges were sampled originally, others could not be contacted or refused to be interviewed. Importantly, the findings of these interviews cannot be generalized. Still, they provide rather unique insights into what judges think about the problems in the judicial system in Georgia. 
Respondents named several important issues that have a negative impact on the court system. First, judges have large caseloads that might affect the quality of decisions. Thus, more judges are needed to handle cases. Second, judges note a lack of courtrooms. Both problems result in trials being delayed. As one judge noted:
We have a shortage of staff, we need more judges. There are too many cases. We fail to handle them all. We lack judges, <…> so, this may affect the quality of [court] decisions. Trials take too long, because we simply don’t have [enough] courtrooms. (Current judge; male; Tbilisi City Court).
Importantly, both these issues have already been addressed in the draft version of the 2017-2021 Court System Strategy, which calls for an increase in the number of judges as well as courtrooms.
The interviewed judges also noted the lack of trust in the court system as another important issue. The respondents believe that it may be the judges themselves who are sometimes responsible for the lack of trust in the court system. In their opinion, if judges in Georgia consistently issued well-elaborated verdicts, the system would earn more trust, since such verdicts would help avoid any suspicion about the quality of the verdict, particularly from representatives of the party that has lost.  
Respondents also think that the media influences public opinion about the courts. Some of the respondents believe that the media prefers to cover problematic cases, especially when the court competence is to be questioned, rather than the cases when the court came up with a well-reasoned and convincing verdict. Generally, the interviewed judges are not against media coverage of the court proceedings and believe that such coverage increases the transparency of courts. However, some of them believe that journalists should be trained on how to use legal terminology properly.
In spite of the challenges associated with such interviews, it would be valuable to continue to collect these first-hand accounts of the court system from judges. The full report of this study is available here