By viewing Georgia’s upcoming elections entirely through the lens of democratic advance or retreat, the West risks overlooking the real political developments in the post-Soviet states.

Georgia is preparing itself for parliamentary elections in 2012 and a presidential contest in 2013. The country’s Western allies see these elections as critical tests for Georgian democracy.1 This argument is comforting if for no other reason than its familiarity.2 But given the concentration of power in Georgian politics, and the limits on media, associational life and political activity in Georgia today, it is not likely that the next elections, without substantial changes to the political system, will move Georgian democracy forward. By looking at these elections entirely through the lens of democratic advance or retreat, the United States and Europe will be largely unprepared to see the other important impacts upon Georgian political development and the Georgian regime.

The government led by President Mikheil Saakashvili, which came to power in January 2004 following the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze, has now been in office for over eight years, and continues to dominate Georgian politics almost completely. The ruling United National Movement (UNM) party has over 75% of the seats in parliament and controls every local governing legislature. Likewise, every major appointed government official is either a party member or supporter. In the capital Tbilisi, the only Georgian city where the mayor is directly elected, UNM candidate Gigi Ugulava won with 53% of the vote in 2010. The candidate who finished second, Irakli Alasania, garnered only 19%.

While the UNM is a powerful player in Georgian politics, Saakashvili also holds a substantial degree of both formal and informal power. Not only does the Georgian constitution gives the president the authority to appoint and dismiss cabinet ministers and other officials (authority that Saakashvili has used to fill the government with people to whom he is personally connected) but few people are placed on the UNM’s lists for parliament without the president’s approval.3 Saakashvili often governs through edict rather than legislation; makes key decisions himself or with his closest advisers rather than through consultation with parliament (or even, at times, the cabinet of ministers); and retains a network of relationships outside the country that are extremely important both for himself and for Georgia.

Thus, the Georgian government is dominated by a strong ruling party, led by the man who founded it. Nevertheless, Georgia is at something of a crossroads with regards to the evolution of its regime. The current balance between the governing party and the top leader cannot continue indefinitely, and certainly cannot continue without Saakashvili. Accordingly, the 2012 and 2013 elections will help determine what kind of semi-authoritarian regime Georgia will become: a highly personalised, sultanistic regime, or a more fluidly functioning corporatist regime built around strong institutions rather than one individual.

In this regard, Georgia is facing a challenge similar to that of many other countries in the region, as ruling groups seek to remain in power once paramount leaders such as Vladimir Putin in Russia or Nursultan Nazerbayev in Kazakhstan are forced to step aside by term limits or old age. This question has already been answered in some post-Soviet countries. In Azerbaijan the transition from Haidar to Ilham Aliyev in 2003 was a smooth one, solidifying Azerbaijan’s position as a dynastic, sultanistic regime. In Turkmenistan, the transition following the death of Saparmurat Nizayov was not dynastic, but the regime remained largely intact as Gurbanguly Berdimukhamedov has governed in a way not dissimilar to that of his predecessor. Other countries in the region are beginning to grapple with this problem by, for example, seeking constitutional remedies or identifying potential successors for aging leaders.

Georgia has recently changed its constitution, switching from a presidential to a parliamentary system. This will make it possible for Saakashvili to remain in power after his second term as president if he so desires. Under the previous constitution he would have been prohibited from seeking a third term due to term limits, but now he will be eligible to serve as Georgia’s prime minister, a position that will have a great deal of power in the country’s new parliamentary system. Saakashvili himself has sent mixed messages about his intentions, but to date has never issued anything like a Shermanesque renunciation of any plans to become prime minister.4

The question of Saakashvili’s future is absolutely central to regime evolution in Georgia. If he leaves power and institutions such as the party and state are further empowered, Georgia will move towards becoming a more institution-based semi-authoritarian regime. If, however, he remains at the centre of political power, Georgia could continue to be dominated by Saakashvili for a very long time, given that he will be only 45 years old as of his next birthday in December 2012.

Regime evolution in the former Soviet Union

Twenty years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, only three post-Soviet states have become democratic (the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia), with only three more potentially headed in that direction (Moldova, Ukraine and possibly Kyrgyzstan). The remaining countries have either authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes. Some of these countries, such as Turkmenistan or Belarus, are unambiguously authoritarian: people enjoy very few civil liberties or freedoms; elections are a sham as presidents are returned to office with overwhelming margins; opposition political figures are routinely harassed, or worse; and the media is completely dominated by the government. Others, such as Georgia, are somewhat more free: there is some political contestation, though the ruling party still clings to power and does not tolerate much serious opposition.

Because most of the non-Baltic former Soviet regimes run a relatively narrow gamut from authoritarian (Belarus, Turkmenistan) to semi-authoritarian (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan), the question of whether these countries are authoritarian or semi-authoritarian is more significant than how far each of them might be from democracy. Marina Ottaway defines semi-authoritarian regimes as

ambiguous systems that combine rhetorical acceptance of liberal democracy, the existence of some formal democratic institutions, and respect for a limited sphere of civil and political liberties with essentially illiberal or even authoritarian traits. This ambiguous character, furthermore, is deliberate. Semi-authoritarian systems are not imperfect democracies struggling toward improvement and consolidation but regimes determined to maintain the appearance of democracy without exposing themselves to the political risks that free competition entails.5

Importantly, semi-authoritarian regimes such as those in the former Soviet Union are not moving towards democracy but rather, as Ottaway argues, can be quite stable. The major difference between authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes, according to Ottaway, is that the latter still draw some legitimacy (in some cases, internationally) from their democratic structures, despite their inauthentic nature.

Semi-authoritarian regimes can be found throughout most of the world. Cambodia, Vietnam, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Iran and Venezuela are among the many countries that fit into this category. All have restrictions on media and political freedom; and elections never occur in a fair electoral environment, meaning the outcome is rarely in doubt. Parliaments in these systems are not places were debate occurs and opposition voices heard, but exist simply to ratify government proposals. Thus, while the elements of democracy, such as legislatures, elections and even constitutions, may be present, they exist to keep a non-democratic regime in place, rather than to facilitate democracy.

Much of the research on regimes in the former Soviet Union still reflects a bias towards transition or democratic development. Titles such as ‘Transitions from Postcommunism’, Reclaiming Democracy: Civil Society and Electoral Change in Central and Eastern Europe or Transition Economies: Political Economy in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia are common in the academic literature, reflecting this bias.6 Work by Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way on ‘competitive authoritarianism’, on the other hand, represents an exception: they note that this regime type, which they identify as having evolved after the fall of communism, is found throughout many parts of the world, and is not limited to the post-Soviet space.7

The shared and defining characteristics of both authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes across regions can conceal the differences between them that may have bearing on issues such as regime stability and the state’s ability to resolve succession-related questions. The extent to which the regime is dominated by a powerful party or a single individual, the ethnic dimension of power, the role of formal and informal institutions in keeping the regime in power, economic structures, the balance between rule of law and corruption and the role of ideology are all examples of variables that can differentiate semi-authoritarian regimes.

Still, authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes in post-Soviet Central Asia, the South Caucasus, Belarus and Russia all share some general characteristics. Firstly, these regimes are not dominated by strong parties. Instead, parties are relatively weak, even in one-party systems such as that in Russia. Throughout the region there are no parallel party structures mirroring those of government; patronage tends to run through individuals or the government rather than through the party; decisions are generally made by the leader and a few close advisers or associates rather than through formal party mechanisms; and parties do not seek to organise life outside of politics. Furthermore, in much of the region people loyal to the president are elected to parliament on independent platforms rather than through the president’s party. For example, in Azerbaijan, President Aliyev’s New Azerbaijan Party holds only 73 out of 125 seats, but the president controls most of the other MPs elected as independents or from parties that are opposition in name only. Similarly, in Uzbekistan there is no party that controls even 50% of the seats in parliament, but the parliament is clearly controlled by President Islam Karimov.

Secondly, leadership is highly centralised in almost all the countries in the region, and governors and leaders of other sub-national polities are almost all appointed by the president rather than directly elected. There are some exceptions to this, such as the mayor of Tbilisi, but these are rare. While in some cases policy may be implemented directly at the local level, policies are not created or decided at that level. For example, education policy is generally made in powerful education ministries in Moscow, Yerevan, Tbilisi and other capitals. Similarly, most police forces are part of interior ministries, which operate at the national level.

Leadership is also highly personalised. Post-Soviet presidents wield a great deal of formal and informal power. Constitutions grant them influence over parliament, access to discretionary funds and ample legal power over government appointments. Additionally, most of these presidents enjoy a great deal of informal power as personal loyalty to the president is generally necessary for career advancement in the government and private sector. It is common for people close to the president, including family members, to occupy key positions in business, media and the like. Post-Soviet presidents are comfortable skirting legal and institutional structures to accomplish their goals; indeed, in most cases this is expected of them. It is also very common for these leaders to neutralise term-limit laws by either passing special exemptions for themselves, as Nazerbayev has done in Kazakhstan, or by changing the constitution, as Putin has done in Russia.

Thirdly, while presidents are strong across the former Soviet Union, legislatures are weak. Although most countries have elected parliaments, these have little meaningful political power. Many MPs see parliament as an opportunity to make business contacts and gain access to corruption rather than a place of governance and decision-making. Parliaments almost never conduct oversight, disagree with the executive on major legislation or take initiative of their own on important issues. Instead, they quickly assent to most decisions made by the president and the executive branch of government.

Finally, throughout the region, ideology plays little or no role in keeping non-democratic regimes in power. The end of the Soviet Union was also the end of ideology. Governments from Moscow to Tashkent do not, for the most part, seek even rhetorically to achieve any ideological goals, but are primarily interested in remaining in power and accumulating wealth. In some countries, nationalism is the closest thing to a major ideology, as in Russia, where this generally takes the form of efforts to restore national greatness, but these ideologies do not have an enormous impact on society. There is little attempt to elaborate on these sentiments; children are not subject to nationalist indoctrination; and while the media is state controlled, propaganda usually takes the form of pro-state rhetoric divorced from any ideological content.

The extent to which power is centralised in the person of the president, as well as the high levels of corruption and absence of ideology in most countries, suggest that post-Soviet regimes may be best described as ‘sultanistic’. Such regimes, according to H.E. Chehabi and Alfred Stepn, are ‘based on personal rulership, but loyalty to the ruler is motivated not by … ideology, nor by a unique personal mission, nor by any charismatic qualities, but by a mixture of fear and rewards to his collaborators. The ruler exercises his power without restraint.’8 An alternative characterisation comes from Henry Hale, who refers to these post-Soviet regimes as ‘patronal president’ systems. These are defined by ‘a directly elected presidency … invested with great formal powers relative to other state organs’, which ‘also wields a high degree of informal power based on widespread patron–client relationships at the intersection of the state and the economy’.9 There is obviously substantial overlap between patronal presidencies and sultanist regimes.

The Georgian regime

The Georgian regime differs from most of the other non-Baltic former Soviet states in a few key ways. Firstly, Georgia is the freest semi-authoritarian regime in the region, and, in many respects, is more liberal than most of its post-Soviet neighbours. Its people enjoy more freedom of association and speech, and the media, while not free, is still freer than in Russia, Azerbaijan or the other countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus. In Georgia, for example, it is still possible to be critical of or campaign against the government and to demonstrate publicly. This is not possible in many of these countries; and while there have been demonstrations in Russia since the fraudulent election of December 2011, these demonstrations are notable because, among other reasons, they are the first of their kind in Russia in many years.

Significantly, Georgia, far more than other countries in the region, still seeks to represent itself to the West as a democracy. This is due to Tbilisi’s exceptionally close relationship with Washington and the role the democracy narrative has played in that relationship. Additionally, Georgia’s NATO and EU aspirations cannot move forward without democratic reform. Although democracy in Georgia has been stagnant at best for several years, Western governments continue to view the country’s domestic politics primarily through a democratic lens. Thus, despite a semi-authoritarian regime that operates much like those of its neighbours in many critical ways, Western powers, primarily the United States, remain, at least outwardly, hopeful about Georgia’s democratic development.

Despite being more liberal and placing a greater rhetorical emphasis on democracy than other countries of the former Soviet Union, Georgia remains a semi-authoritarian regime in which power is concentrated in the president and his party, leaving no meaningful role for any other force in policymaking or decisions about the distribution of government services. Almost no serious contestation for power takes place through elections or other means and, as in all semi-authoritarian regimes, democratic institutions exist primarily to keep the regime in power, not to allow for greater pluralism or the possibility of political change. The ruling party dominates every level of government and exerts substantial administrative resources before and during elections to ensure that this dominance continues. Between elections, voices besides those of the ruling party are allowed, but they have almost no influence in the parliament or elsewhere. In this regard, Georgia looks very much like its neighbours, distinct only in the degree, but not the kind, of its semi-authoritarianism.

In addition, Saakashvili’s UNM is a stronger ruling party than those found in much of the rest of the region. Other strong ruling parties, such as United Russia, exist, but many post-Soviet states rely on a strong president and relatively weak ruling party. The UNM is different. It has a solid majority in parliament with very few independent MPs. Policy is debated within the party, rather than within parliament. With Saakashvili as its leader, the UNM is also legitimately popular and has successfully articulated a vision for Georgia’s future. While the party is not as dominant as some ruling parties in semi-authoritarian regimes outside the region, such as the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in Cambodia, the UNM is still, by the standards of the former Soviet Union, quite strong.

Interestingly, the Georgian government has demonstrated a commitment, at least rhetorically, to free-market principles and an almost libertarian ideology that makes it much more ideologically driven than most other post-Soviet governments. Tbilisi has cut bureaucracy and reduced regulations on business dramatically, and Saakashvili has personally called for ‘minimal interference of the Government in the economy’ and for the opening up of the ‘economic environment’. ‘We should’, he said, ‘make this liberal course irreversible, not allowing any Government to change it, and to defend our achievements’, proposing ‘to constitutionally enshrine the economic steps that we have been taking in recent years’.10 The Georgian government has, at times, had to compromise some of these ideals, particularly in the face of recent economic downturns, but the ideological rhetoric still appears to be strong.

Nationalism is also a powerful ideological force in Georgia, where efforts to restore its territorial integrity following the Russian invasion in 2008 have kept nationalist rhetoric and sentiment at the centre of Georgian political life. The government has established patriotic summer camps for youth and created a highly nationalistic curriculum for schools, and consistently stressed the need for a strong state that is prepared militarily and otherwise for any future attacks from Russia.

Saakashvili’s government has also proven itself to be quite stable, surviving foreign threats, war with Russia, global recession leading to widespread unemployment and inflation, and domestic opposition that has threatened revolution and called for Saakashvili’s resignation. The stability of the regime is due in part to the government’s successful reform agenda, which has led to greatly reduced petty corruption, improved infrastructure and ambitious development projects in Tbilisi, Batumi and elsewhere. It is also partially due to the Georgian state being stronger than it was when the regime came to power. Although the Georgian government is still heavily dependent on foreign assistance and faces a looming debt crisis, the state is strong enough to withstand most challenges. The security forces are paid, trained and under the control of the interior ministry. There are very few people in senior positions who are not loyal to Saakashvili and his party, and the bureaucracies are more efficient than in the past.

Regime development in Georgia

It is reasonable to believe that the 2012–13 elections will have significant impact on the development of Georgia’s semi-authoritarian regime, if for no other reason than that few regimes can remain unchanged for long. Yet the belief among Georgia’s European and American allies that these elections could finally see the UNM allow equal access to the media, unfettered access to financial resources by major opposition parties, a clear delineation between state and party and the end of state harassment of opposition candidates and activists is, as Samuel Johnson said of second marriages, ‘a triumph of hope over experience’. Western powers have treated all of Georgia’s post-Rose Revolution elections as ‘tests’ of the country’s democratic development, and been disappointed in every instance since 2006. Moreover, the ‘test-of-democracy’ paradigm leads Western observers to miss some of the more important aspects of the elections, much like an American football fan who goes to a baseball game so intent on seeing a touchdown that he doesn’t notice the home run. Georgia’s upcoming elections may not bring the country closer to democracy, but they will nonetheless be very important for Georgia’s evolution as they are likely to make it clear in what direction Georgia’s semi-authoritarian regime is moving.

Additionally, the constitutionally mandated change from a presidential system into a parliamentary one will have a major impact on institutional arrangements and structures in Georgia as the election approaches. After 2013, an extremely powerful presidency, like Saakashvili’s, will no longer be possible in Georgia, because power will be shifted to a prime minister selected by parliament. However, these constitutional changes are not primarily concerned with institutions, but with individuals, particularly with Saakashvili himself. As soon as the constitutional amendments began to be discussed in earnest, speculation mounted that Saakashvili would use the new constitution to find a way to remain in office by becoming prime minister. Before the amendments, Saakashvili was due to leave office in 2013 because of term limits, meaning that a leadership transition seemed inevitable, but the possibility of his remaining as Georgia’s top leader by swapping his presidential role for a prime ministerial one changes that.

Saakashvili has not yet offered any definitive answers regarding his future plans. He has clearly raised the possibility that he will become prime minister in 2013, but has not committed to that option. In June 2010 he told Le Monde, ‘I’ve been thinking about that possibility [of becoming prime minister], but too many uncertainties remain for now’.11 Later, during a visit to Washington in January 2012, he stated, ‘the last thing I want to do is turn myself into a lame duck by speculating about my own future’.12 By refusing to commit about his future, Saakashvili has not just avoided becoming a lame-duck president but also precluded major secession skirmishes within the UNM and frustrated international allies, many of whom see a smooth transition to post-Saakashvili Georgia as essential for any democratic advance in the country.

Although Georgia’s European and American allies would prefer to see Saakashvili leave office in 2013, they have little ability to do anything about this. Even if Saakashvili eventually does declare his intention to become prime minister – possibly justifying this with reference to the dire state of Georgia’s economy, the importance of his reform agenda, the alleged danger represented by Bidzina Ivanishvili (the Georgian billionaire who has recently entered politics with enough resources to compete with the UNM), the threat from Russia and his own popularity – it is hard to imagine what Georgia’s Western allies would do besides grumble briefly before refocusing on the next test for Georgia’s democracy. Moreover, while it is clearly true that a decision by Saakashvili to remain in power after 2013 will make it very difficult for democracy to become stronger in Georgia, it is also equally apparent that this will be the case even if Saakashvili decides to leave politics.

It is the direction that Georgia’s semi-authoritarianism will take, and not the future of democracy, that is most at stake in Saakashvili’s decision about whether to stay in power. If he does, Georgia will move much closer to becoming a sultanistic regime; but if Saakashvili chooses to go, Georgia will likely continue to evolve into a more corporatist regime whose power is based in a strong party, state and security forces.

Saakashvili’s decision, and Georgia’s

Not surprisingly, Western observers and allies have framed the question of whether Saakashvili will choose to remain in power as being about democracy, arguing that should Saakashvili decide not to become prime minister, it will be a good sign for Georgian democracy. At a NATO summit in Berlin in April 2011, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it clear that the United States would view a decision by Saakashvili not to seek the office of prime minister as a positive step for Georgian democracy. ‘We encourage Georgia’, she said, ‘to adopt election code reforms to ensure a fully democratic transition of power following the 2012 and 2013 elections.’13 This in itself is an indicator of how negatively Georgia’s democratic development is viewed. By doing something that everybody simply assumed he would do as recently as three years ago, Saakashvili will now be seen as proactively strengthening Georgia’s democracy.

The decision on Saakashvili’s future will be a tough one, both for him and for Georgia. In the short term, the advantages of Saakashvili’s staying in power are clear. There would be no succession fight within the ruling party or between various bureaucracies and agencies, and the network of informal relationships that, to a large extent, governs Georgia would not be disturbed. Saakashvili’s considerable charisma, oratorical skills, political savvy and personal popularity would continue to buoy support for a regime and party that lacks any other widely admired leaders, and whose most impressive accomplishments all occurred during its first few years in office.

And yet, while the short-term advantages may be clear, in the longer term a decision by Saakashvili to stay could be a mistake, endangering the stability of the regime. If other sultanistic regimes are a guide, it is likely that should the Georgian regime grow even more centred upon the individual leadership of Saakashvili, it will also grow increasingly corrupt and out of touch, even as Saakashvili’s leadership may continue to be largely unchallenged. In this scenario, institutions that deliver services and create opportunities for accountability, including the governing party and important government agencies, would atrophy as all development would be linked to Saakashvili himself. In recent years, while Georgia has not been democratic, it has been relatively well governed. This could change if the regime grows more personalised around Saakashvili.

Saakashvili’s decision can also be expected to have an impact on the stability of Georgia’s regime. Of course, stability may have lost some of its value in a world increasingly filled with states that have rejected regimes once viewed as highly stable. After all, stability was the commodity non-democratic leaders as disparate as Kurmanbek Bakiyev in Kyrgyzstan and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt once peddled to the West. It has also been a reason given by Saakashvili to explain why he needs to stay in power.

There is, however, some reason to believe that should Georgia evolve into a sultanistic regime it will be more vulnerable to upheaval and unplanned transitions. Jack Goldstone argues that ‘although [sultanistic] regimes often appear unshakeable, they are actually highly vulnerable, because the very strategies they use to stay in power make them brittle, not resilient’.14 Hale, moreover, has noted that such regimes are particularly vulnerable ‘near potential points of presidential power transfer’:

Such points can arise for a number of reasons. Most obviously, the patron-president may die, fall gravely ill, or simply convince elites that s/he will not run for reelection … When faced with such a point of anticipated power transfer, the elites want most of all to wind up on the side of the person who wins the ensuing presidential election and succeeds the president.15

Saakashvili will be only 45 years old when his presidential term expires, so any question of succession, should he become prime minister, is unlikely to come up for many years. Nonetheless, problems of governance through informal networks, breakdowns in the rule of law and increased corruption, all of which are likely to accelerate if Saakashvili remains in power, would have an impact on stability in Georgia should it move in that direction.

* * *

The 2012–13 elections in Georgia, and the decisions Saakashvili needs to make around these elections, are important for Georgia’s future and possibly for the post-Soviet region more broadly. Georgia has been bedevilled by instability since achieving its independence in 1991 (though it has become somewhat more stable in recent years). In the 20 years since the end of the Soviet Union, no Georgian government has remained in power for more than a decade; and power has never changed hands peacefully, either through elections or otherwise. The upcoming elections present an opportunity for Georgia to break out of this cycle of regime instability by consolidating a semi-authoritarian regime not directly tied to the person of Mikheil Saakasvili.

Although moving towards a more institution-based system will not mean that Georgia’s regime is democratising, it may signal that it is maturing. Any movement away from a regime centred on the formal and informal power of a larger-than-life leader would be an important development for Georgia. It would also likely reduce the chances of perpetuating the cycle of regime collapse of the last 20 years and bring more stability to the country.

The direction Georgia takes in 2012 and 2013 will obviously be important for that country, but it will also be significant for the post-Soviet region more generally. If Georgia is able to transition away from a system dominated by a single person into one in which strong institutions, structures and a powerful ruling party govern political life, this will represent a different direction for post-Soviet semi-authoritarian regimes. Numerous other countries in the region are approaching similar transition points as leaders, such Nazerbayev in Kazakhstan, approach old age, or as the instability inherent in sultanistic regimes, such as those in Belarus or Uzbekistan, becomes more apparent. What happens in Georgia may set a precedent for regime evolution, if not for democracy, for the rest of the region.


1 The title of a 2008 article in the Economist, ‘A Test of Democracy: A Big Election in Georgia’, captures the nature of Western coverage of most post-Rose Revolution elections in Georgia. See

2 Comments made by US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Tina Kaidanow following an April 2011 visit to Georgia reflect the view that the 2012–13 elections will provide another opportunity for Georgia to prove its democratic credentials. After a meeting of the US–Georgia democracy working group she said: ‘Georgia is making a good progress towards the democratic future, but there’s lots of work to be done … Today we talked about various topics and those include things as important as electoral code reform, judicial reform, rule of law, media reform and some other topics … We have faith that process of reform has a real momentum.’ ‘U.S. Official on Electoral Reform’,, 27 April 2011,

3 Although the precise composition of the parliament has changed since Saakashvili came to power in 2004, a large number of its members are still elected from a single national list.

4 General William Tecumesh Sherman, hero of the American Civil War, was considered for the Republican nomination for president in 1884, but made his intentions clear by stating ‘I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected’.

5 Marina Ottaway, Democracy Challenged: The Rise of Semi-Authoritarianism (Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2003), p. 3.

6 See Michael McFaul, ‘Transitions from Postcommunism’, Journal of Democracy, vol. 16, no. 3, July 2005,; Joerg Forbrig and Pavol Demes (eds), Reclaiming Democracy: Civil Society and Electoral Change in Central and Eastern Europe (Washington DC: The German Marshall Fund of the United States, 2007); and Martin Myant and Jan Darhokoupil, Transition Economies: Political Economy in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010).

7 Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way, Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes After the Cold War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

8 H.E. Chehabi and Alfred Stepan, ‘A Theory of Sultanism 1: A Type of Nondemocratic Rule’, in Sultanistic Regimes (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), p. 7.

9 Henry Hale, ‘Regime Cycles: Democracy, Autocracy and Revolution in Post-Soviet Eurasia’, World Politics, vol. 58, no. 1, October 2005, pp. 137–8

10 Mzia Kupunia, ‘Saakashvili Proposes Act of Economic Freedom’, The Messenger Online, 7 October 2009,

11 Saakashvili’s interview with the Le Monde was republished by Georgian Daily: ‘M. Saakashvili: Russian Sphere of Influence has Diminished Dramatically’, Georgian Daily, 11 June 2010,

12 Ben Birnbaum, ‘Georgian President Won’t Rule Out becoming PM’, Washington Times, 31 January 2012,

13 ‘Hillary Clinton: President Saakashvili Must Ensure Democratic Path’,, 19 April 2011,

14 Jack Goldstone, ‘Understanding the Revolutions of 2011: Weakness and Resilience in Middle Eastern Autocracies’, Foreign Affairs, May–June 2011, p. 8.

15 Hale, ‘Regime Cycles’, pp.139–40.

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Lincoln Mitchell is an Associate Research Scholar at Columbia University's Harriman Institute. His new book The Color Revolutions will be published by the University of Pennsylvania Press later this year.

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Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

April-May 2012

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