Political parties visit Democracy Schools

365812734181_1125885540768520_1732717871738418072_n.jpgIn February and March of this year, the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) invited the leaders of the political parties to present their party views and pre-election plans with the graduates of the democracy schools in Telavi, Gori, Kutaisi and Batumi. The key reason behind the invitation of the political parties was to hold the thematic discussions on key political, economic and social issues, decisive for the development of the country, between the active members of the local civil society and the major political parties.

In accordance with the format, the leaders of the parties presented their views and election programs, which were directed at solving the following important challenges: slow economic growth, unemployment/poverty, devaluation of the national currency, foreign policy challenges, the rights of minorities, problems in the educational system and the gender disbalance on the different levels of political and public life. The obstacles and challenges faced by the political organizations in the process of policy formation and the development of intra-party system have also been the subject of the discussions.

Representatives of four political parties took part in the meetings: United National Movement, Free Democrats, Republican Party of Georgia and the New Political Center-Girchi. In all four cities, the meetings have been attended by the representatives of the local municipality, NGOs, academia, media and business sector.

Before the Parliamentary elections of 2016, NIMD usually organizes the meetings between politicians and politically active citizens to foster the cooperation and dialogue. The dialogue between political parties and civil society is vital for strengthening democratic political culture. Because of this, democracy schools often serve as an open platform for debates and discussions on the issues of public importance. According to the graduates of democracy schools, the main advantage of the meetings has been the opportunity to discuss the party plans directly with the leaders and do so in a direct, reliable and interactive format. The alumni of Telavi democracy schools points out that: “it is important that we have been given the opportunity to listen to the political parties of different ideologies and views. This way, we will make a better choice”.

According to Batumi democracy school participant, Giorgi Ughrelidze: “party representatives have been prepared for the meeting- hey have delivered presentations and provided credible answers to the questions related to election programs. Diverse and ideologically different participants are helpful for the political parties in terms of testing and forming their pre-election ideas. Therefore, the format of the meetings proved to be successful”.

In addition to the updates regarding the parties’ activities and plans, the participants of the discussions have been able to reassess the role of the political parties amid the general decline in trusting the politicians and an increasing trend of frustration towards them. The participant of Kutaisi democracy school, Imeda Gogava remarks that “the role and importance of party in the political life is special, however, taking the current Georgian reality into considerations, parties have to work hard to make their role and importance exclusive and acceptable to the voter”.

The format of the meeting, and especially the component of discussions and sharing of ideas, turned out to be important for the political parties as well, as they looked at various societal problems from different angles. The leader of the New Political Center-Girchi, Zurab Japaridze, pointed out that: “the fact that participants of the discussions are supporters or representatives of different political parties made the meetings interesting and distinct. Therefore, I had the opportunity to listen to the questions related to our program as well as to the criticism from people with diverse worldviews, which I consider as always beneficial”.

During the summary of the meetings, party leaders noted high level of awareness of the participants as well as their skills to constructively engage in the discussions. According to Tamar Kordzaia, one of the leaders of the Republican Party, the level of participants’ knowledge and their constructive debating skills led to the fruitful discussions. The leader of the United National Movement, Zurab Tchiaberashvili, also drew the same conclusion: “the participants and graduates of the democracy schools are an informed members of the society. This was reflected through the discussions which was highly competent, while the questions showed precision and the knowledge in the content”.

According to the participants of the democracy schools, similar meetings in the future must be more encompassing while the debates of this kind should be taking place on different news channels, so that in the end the maximum number of voters could be able to assess the action plans introduced by the political parties. As the graduate of the democracy schools, Nino Berianidze, remarks: “I would like to see the future visions of all political parties answering the following two questions: what will they be changing once they come in the government and how will they implement those changes?”

Overall, the meetings organized in Telavi, Kutaisi, Gori and Batumi enabled the participants to grasp the key challenges faced by the political parties through the lens of party work, and to get familiar with those political views which form the basis of the pre-election programs of the parties.

NIMD will utilize the same format during the presentation of the multiparty website about the electoral programs – www.partiebi.ge - in Tbilisi and regions. For 2016 elections, this portal will serve as a platform where the electoral programs of the political parties will be assembled.

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