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Georgian Opposition Takes Time Out


Opposition protesters block the entrance to parliament in Tbilisi on July 20.

Opposition protesters block the entrance to parliament in Tbilisi on July 20.

The Georgian opposition parties that launched open-ended protests on April 9 in the hope of forcing President Mikheil Saakashvili to resign have suspended their daily protests until September.

They have dismantled the mock prison cells they erected on Tbilisi's main boulevard and an improvised stage outside the parliament building. But individual opposition leaders stressed at the final rally on July 24 that the campaign will resume in the fall.

Levan Gachechiladze, who ran unsuccessfully against Saakashvili in the early presidential election in January 2008 and recently launched his own political movement, Defend Georgia, told supporters on July 24 that "we need to restore our forces and resources; we do not drop our demands.... We will restore our forces and restart again."

Former parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze for her part told gazeta.ru that the authorities were powerless to suppress popular demands for change, while New Rightists leader David Gamkrelidze said the protests have "weakened Saakashvili considerably."

The opposition appears at this juncture to be undecided over whether or not to participate in the local elections due in the fall of 2010. Rather than agree to the opposition demand for an early presidential or parliamentary ballot, the authorities have proposed as a compromise measures bringing the local elections forward to May 30, 2010. For the first time, the mayor of Tbilisi will be elected directly, rather than appointed by the president.

Interfax quoted Gachechiladze as saying that, having participated in two unfair elections (presidential in January 2008 and parliamentary in May 2008), he has no intention of doing so a third time.

New Rightists leader Gamkrelidze said on July 24 that "It's always worth it to run in elections if they are fair, especially if the Tbilisi mayor is elected directly. From the political point of view, the directly elected Tbilisi mayor will be the second heavyweight political figure after the president."

Gamkrelidze added, however, that a "proper electoral environment" must be in place for those elections, which necessitates removing restrictions on independent media and "depoliticizing" the powerful Interior Ministry.

Similarly unclear is whether the 10 opposition members elected to parliament in May 2008 under the proportional system who refused their mandates to protest the perceived rigging of the outcome of that ballot will avail themselves of the chance to reclaim their mandates and begin to participate in the work of the parliament. Saakashvili submitted to the parliament on July 27 a constitutional amendment that would enable deputies elected under the proportional system, but not those elected in single-mandate constituencies, to do so.

But Mamuka Katsitadze of the New Rightists said in Kutaisi the same day that the deputies elected from his party (three were elected from the party list, and two in single-mandate constituencies) will not accept that offer. "I think it would be more logical not to invite us to parliament, but to return to the parliament its authority. It is important to hold early parliamentary elections and let people decide who should represent them in the legislature," Caucasus Press quoted him as saying.

A second New Rightist, Manana Nachkebia, told RFE/RL's Georgian Service that Saakashvili's initiative was aimed purely at "showing the West what a democrat he is and how he is trying to move the opposition struggle off the streets and into parliament."

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.

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