Two years after the parliamentary election defeat of his United National Movement (ENM) by the Georgian Dream coalition headed by billionaire philanthropist Bidzina Ivanishvili, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has accused Ivanishvili, who stepped down as prime minister a year ago, of "abolishing the election system" in Georgia and seeking to "establish a provincial dictatorship."
Meanwhile, the ENM has scheduled a mass meeting on Tbilisi's main boulevard on November 15 to denounce the Georgian government's imputed failure to take any measures to prevent the annexation by Russia of the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia that the ENM fears the draft Treaty on Union Relations and Integration currently under discussion presages. (One could argue in this context that, in the post-Soviet space, the semantic connotations of the term "integration" differ widely according to which side of the geopolitical barricades the speaker is on.)
Saakashvili's criticisms were expressed in a 50-minute interview he gave to the independent TV station Rustavi-2 on October 25. He further argued that the present leadership has made it impossible for any other political force to come to power by means of elections. For that reason, he continued, the ENM will seek to unite all Georgian patriots, and especially the younger generation, in the face of what he termed the "existential threat" facing the country. Saakashvili predicted that such a show of unanimity would force the government to hold free and democratic elections which, he claimed, are needed now as "the house is already on fire." The next parliamentary elections are not due until 2016.
At the same time, Saakashvili stressed that any mass manifestation of dissatisfaction with the present leadership should be peaceful, implying that Russia might adduce the use of force as a pretext to intervene. That line of reasoning is apparently predicated on Saakashvili's obsessive conviction that Ivanishvili, who at one time had considerable business interests in Russia, is still the valued cat's paw of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Saakashvili's criticisms of the Georgian leadership were, as on previous occasions, couched in very general terms. In particular his sweeping assertion that Georgian Dream has destroyed the electoral system is open to question. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights assessed the October 2013 presidential election as "efficiently administered and transparent," taking place "in an amicable and constructive environment," with the campaign atmosphere "notably less polarized" than during the parliamentary ballot one year earlier.
It did not question the outcome of that ballot, in which Georgian Dream's candidate, Giorgi Margvelashvili garnered 62 percent of the vote, defeating 22 rival candidates. The ENM's David Bakradze placed second with 22 percent.
The European Union similarly characterized the June 2014 municipal elections as "marked by improvements in electoral processes" and "a further step in the continued democratic development of Georgia," while at the same time registering concern about instances of "campaign-related intimidation and violence."
The ENM's argument that the government has done nothing to protect Georgia's (hypothetical) territorial integrity in the face of the perceived new Russian threat to incorporate Abkhazia is likewise less than convincing. On October 17, the Georgian parliament adopted a statement condemning the draft Russian-Abkhaz treaty as an "attempt to annex occupied Abkhazia." That statement, which ENM parliament deputies declined to endorse, predicted that, if signed, the treaty "will give rise to a new wave of violation of international legal norms, create an additional threat to regional stability, [and] significantly damage the process of normalization of Russian-Georgian relations."
Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania told journalists after a meeting of the State Security and Crisis Management Council on October 25 that Georgian will take "very aggressive – meaning active" foreign policy measures in response. He did not elaborate.
The leading ENM members who first announced the planned November 15 protest, executive secretary Zurab Djaparidze and ENM parliament faction leader Bakradze, did not specify what additional measures they think the present leadership could and should have taken in response. It also seems unlikely that prominent ENM politicians would emulate former State Council officials Tengiz Kitovani and Tengiz Sigua, who in January 1995 recruited a force of 700 men and set out from Tbilisi to win back Abkhazia by force of arms.
Taken as a whole, Saakashvili's interview and the ENM's stated plans to convene a mass protest only serve to reinforce the impression that, two years after ceding power, they not only refuse steadfastly to give any credit to the new leadership for its achievements, but continue to seize at the flimsiest pretext for vilifying its officials and policies.
Reactions to the ENM's planned protest demonstration have been cautious, suggesting that some representatives of other political parties share that negative perception. The leaders of two extra-parliamentary opposition parties, Bachuki Kardava (National Democratic Party) and Mamuka Katsitadze (New Leftists) both told RFE/RL's Georgian Service that they believe the protest should reflect mass popular opinion rather than serve, as Katsitadze put it, as a means to try and improve the rating of one party.
A poll conducted in late July-early August on behalf of the National Democratic Institute found that just 11 percent of respondents viewed the ENM as the party closest to them.
The big unanswered question is whether Saakashvili plans to return to Georgia to participate in the November 15 demonstration. (He has left the United States where he lived for much of this year; he was in Brussels when he gave the interview to Rustavi-2 on October 25.) If he does return, he risks arrest on any one of three sets of criminal charges, but he might conceivably decide to run that risk on the assumption that the international community would unequivocally condemn his detention as politically motivated, which in turn would embarrass and reflect badly on Georgian Dream.
Alternatively, given that his arrival would create an unwanted complication for the Georgian authorities at a point where they desperately need international support against Moscow's most recent gambit in Abkhazia, Saakashvili may have calculated that he can return unimpeded in triumph, and the authorities will not lift a finger against him. Whether he could then mobilize popular support to force concessions from the present leadership, or even stage a repeat of the Rose Revolution of November 2003, is an entirely different question.
-- Liz Fuller