Thursday, August 25, 2016

Caucasus Report

Standoff Between Georgian President, Premier Turns Even Uglier

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili
The already tense political situation in Georgia has deteriorated even further over the past week. President Mikheil Saakashvili responded on December 21 to the arrest of several former senior officials in connection with suspected bribery and tax evasion by implicitly threatening to dismiss Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and the government he heads.

Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream (KO) coalition defeated Saakashvili’s United National Movement (ENM) in a close-fought parliamentary election on October 1. Since then, the new leadership has arrested a number of former senior officials, including former Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia, who is widely suspected of condoning torture and abuses in the country’s jails. 

It has also announced its intention to reverse some crucial decisions taken by the ENM, including the relocation of the Georgian parliament from Tbilisi to a new building in Kutaisi (Georgia’s second-largest city) that cost some 360 million laris ($217.5 million). 

Saakashvili and his closest associates, including former parliament speaker David Bakradze and Ivanishvii’s predecessor as prime minister, Vano Merabishvili, have retaliated by accusing the new government of incompetence, failing to deliver on its election campaign promises, and of seeking to destroy everything positive the ENM accomplished during its nine years in power. They have also criticized as politically motivated reprisals the arrests of Akhalaia and other senior members of Saakashvili’s team. 

That criticism, and the concern expressed by NATO, EU, and U.S. State Department officials over the resulting perception of “selective justice” have not deterred the new government from what it says are its ongoing efforts to bring to justice former officials suspected of serious financial and other crimes.

At the same time, it is conceivable that Saakashvili has interpreted that international concern as an expression of tacit unequivocal Western support for himself and his team, just as some argue he misconstrued crucial U.S. communications on the eve of the ill-fated attack on Tskhinvali in August 2008 that triggered a brief but devastating conflict with Russia.

The most recent escalation of tensions began on December 19, when former Energy Minister Aleksandre Khetaguri, former Justice Minister Nika Gvaramia (since last month head of the TV channel Rustavi-2), and four other people were arrested in connection with the alleged payment of a $1 million bribe to avert a tax inspection that could have uncovered tax evasion on the part of the Telasi electricity distribution company, which is partly owned by the Russian energy giant RAO EES. Overriding a request by the prosecution, the Tbilisi City Court released Khetaguri, Gvaramia, Telasi head Devi Kandelaki, and former Deputy Economy Minister Kakha Damenia three days later on bail of 30,000 laris ($18,127) each. 

Then on December 21-22, the Interior Ministry summoned former Prime Minister Nika Gilauri, former Finance Minister Dmitry Gvindadze, and former Economy and Sustainable Development Minister Vera Kobalia for questioning in connection with what the Interior Ministry termed a deliberate attempt by unspecified government agencies to bankrupt Ivanishvili’s Cartu Bank. 

Also last week, the Georgian parliament's KO faction passed in the first reading draft legislative amendments changing the composition of the High Council of Justice, the body empowered to appoint, dismiss, and discipline judges. In addition, parliament discussed draft legislation that would subordinate the state protection service responsible for ensuring the security of the president and other top officials to the prime minister. It is currently subordinate to the president

Finally, on December 19, supporters of KO campaigning for Saakashvili’s impeachment threw stones at the presidential motorcade in Kutaisi and screamed abuse at parliament deputies. Five people have since been arrested in connection with that incident, which Ivanishvili categorically condemned.

Saakashvili publicly construed the planned subordination of the presidential security guards to Ivanishvili as an attempt to strip him completely of any personal protection. He said he does not need either a presidential plane or an armored automobile, and is prepared to drive his mother’s antiquated car himself and meet with the public without bodyguards. Parliament speaker David Usupashvili criticized that statement as “political blackmail.” He told Caucasus Knot that the parliament had submitted to Saakashvili for comment various proposals concerning his personal security, but had not received a response. 

As for the planned amendments to the composition of the High Justice Council, Saakashvili told a press conference on December 20 that they “will amount to burying the independent judiciary in Georgia once and for all.” He said he will veto the draft law if it is passed in its current form. 

Saakashvili said the ENM is under permanent attack from “a force that does not accept any democratic rules of the game.” He dubbed KO a “band of destroyers” out to “destroy everything we have created just to spite us,” and compared them to the Taliban. He said their “inappropriate concepts” pose a “huge threat” to Georgia’s future, but that even in 50 years Ivanishvili could not succeed in destroying all the good that the ENM had done.

Saakashvili also dismissed as totally unfounded the charges against Gvaramia and demanded his immediate release from custody. Saakashvili warned that “everything will be over very soon and very badly for those” who engineered Gvaramia’s arrest. “No one will be able to establish a regime in Georgia, which they [apparently referring PM Ivanishvili’s government] aspire to establish; they are very close to a dangerous edge,” Saakashvili continued.

The Russian dailies “Nezavisimaya gazeta” and “Kommersant” construed those comments as an implicit threat to dismiss Ivanishvili and his government, which Saakashvili is constitutionally empowered to do at any time. On the other hand, as constitutional legal expert Vakhushti Menabde explained to the news agency GHN, Saakashvili may not dissolve parliament during the first six months after it is elected (i.e. before April 1, 2013). After that time, he may dissolve parliament if it rejects three consecutive candidates he nominates for prime minister and schedule new parliamentary elections. 

Whether it would be in Saakashvili’s (and the ENM’s) interest to precipitate a political crisis at this juncture is more than questionable, however. True, Saakashvili told an emergency congress of the ENM on December 23 that he is convinced the party “will definitely win the final round.” But the findings of an opinion poll conducted in late November on behalf of the National Democratic Institute found strong public support for KO: 63 percent of respondents identified it as the “party closest” to them, compared with just 10 percent who favored the ENM. By contrast, in the October 1 election, KO garnered 54.97 percent of the proportional vote and the ENM, 40.34 percent.

It would thus seem to be tactically more advantageous for the ENM to bide its time, concentrate on rebranding itself, and wait to see whom KO selects as its candidate for the October 2013 presidential ballot, in which Ivanishvili says he will not participate. Ivanishvili for his part has sought to play down Saakashvili’s implicit threats. He told journalists in Tbilisi on December 24 that “The process of restoring justice which is under way in the country will not be stopped by the hysterical statements of the opposition. This process will continue....One of the major [preelection] promises of our team was on restoring a sense of justice, and it will be delivered without any preconditions.”
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Comment Sorting
by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
December 26, 2012 13:09
Aaah,problems,problems getting uglier every day,but there is a very simple way of solving them!!! First we should move the new georgian parliament to Moss cow -in Vakhtang`s big and spaciuos log cabin under the big bridge.Then we should send all trouble making georgians on a much needed winter holiday in sunny /thats sunny-not sunni / Siberia in true Koba style and then we must appoint good old Vahe as an Emperor of Great Georgia and his latest flame -the ukrainian porn woman as an empress!!! We are all sure Vahe will be a great head of the new dynasty and an even greater rear-Vakhtang the First and Magnificent!!! But if we dont do that now the standoffs will become uglier and uglier and finally we shall have to annex the whole of Georgia to its already free parts-that is Abkhasia and Ossetia!!!

by: Rasto from: here
December 26, 2012 14:53
I wonder what moving of parliament from Kutaisi back to Tbilisi has to do with the process of restoring justice....
In Response

by: Sey from: World
December 26, 2012 16:02
Easy. The government of the buffon Misha spent an enormous sum of money to construct a building away in Kutaisi to have the country's legislature, which he knew he would lose to the opposition, as isolated as possible.

He never asked the people which never overwhelmingly supported the idea, and destroyed a monument to Georgian veterans of WWII (during which two people were killed). Since the people of Georgia never got a say in this more than crucial decision to move parliament, then at least they should be able to vote where they want their nation's legislature to be. That is justice.

I pray to God Saakashvili will be in the future lists of arrests.
In Response

by: jelger from: den haag
December 27, 2012 14:26
Under the new constitution which was altered under Misha's wings the legislative power gets more powerfull. A move back to Tbilisi is a waste of money. Just get over it. And GD government should just start to govern, instead of picking objects to fight. Fight corruption, fight injustice, and get people back to work. Moving a parliament back to Tbilis is certainly not a priority for the next few years. The money has been spend, whether you like it or not, it is already not even relevant. Get over your emotions.

Every government decides things that others don't like. It is bad politics to pick priorities based on such a list. Ask Georgians what they want : job, food and having a reliable government. Where does moving a parliament back fit in? Why can't it wait 5 years?
In Response

by: Kaycee from: USA
December 28, 2012 00:47
Spending 270 million on a new parliament in Kutaisi seems to be a poor priority for a country who has widespread poverty, huge numbers of refugees, and high unemployment ~16%. This money should have been spent more wisely, this was a "want" on Saakashvili's part, not a "need." The most logical place for the seat of government is in Tbilisi where the majority of the country's population and democratic institutions are located.

As far as the new GD government moving on and not addressing crimes committed by former government officials is not acceptable. Because you were part of Saakashvili's government does not give these individuals a free pass to steal from the country and oppress the Georgian public. These are crimes and would be punished in any democracy. Saakashvili came to power wanting to make Georgia a democracy, but somewhere over the years, he became drunk with power and began justifying actions that were for his benefit and his friends benefit. Fair trials should be conducted to determine the guilt or innocence of Bacho, and others arrested.

Also while GD is looking at areas of the government that need serious reform, a serious look needs to be directed to the Institute of Plea Bargains and how it has become little else than a way to extort money from its own citizens, by threatening a long prison sentence if a fine is not paid, even when the person is innocent. Misha is a US trained lawyer and this distortion of justice occurred and thrived under his watch. That is a crime in and of itself.

Saakashvili and his entourage should be accountable for their actions, no one is above the law.
In Response

by: Nina from: London
December 28, 2012 11:04
This is exactly what is wrong with the mentality of Georgian people. The money has been spent to move it back would be to spend money and Asking god to arrest someone makes you less of a Christian than an Atheist.

A little self criticism and WHAT YOU CAN do to better the country could save it.
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
December 28, 2012 10:35
The parliament in Kutaisi was a good thing, thought it would be better to make sessions in Kutaisi and Tbilisy.
The problem is that there are a lot of refugees from Abkhazia there and Kutaisi might be close to fall if Russia invade again,
thus someone trying to subvert its atmosphere -
for devious Russia.

It wouldn't be the first time.
When invading Russia Varanga Czarics envied and hated United Georgian Kingdom, they lied to brother of Chingiz Han about Georgia and made him bring a million army to kill it.
In about 50 years Russians brought another million Mongol army wich killed all population.
They even had children tales about it:
"The evil "Kosh'ey Bessmertnyiy" live there forever.
He wants to live forever like a fable "Juden-Zhid".
But heroic Russian "Ivan durak" is very clever,
He'll send a beutifull Russian "Helena" as bait,
Find where Kosh'ey hide his souls - all seven."

Souls in heart of Seven kingdoms Ivan wants.
They broke for a time being already two souls,
Abkhazia and South Osetia. One was borded,
Adjaria, but Russia trying again and again houl
In Western Georgia, with refugees and doubts.

Saaka sense it, Ivanishvili exploit, Russia plot.
Probably woked-up by my last comment here,
Saaka trying do something but as people vote,
He must be careful, Russia telepaths still bear
Most old Warso Pact coutries as Russia bloat.

All the matters he demarched, probably truthfully, should be revewed considering the best of the people in whole Georgia
with main red lining - to heal all seven souls, including two souls that Russia mortally wounded...

by: Jack from: US
December 26, 2012 14:54
the president of rump republic of Georgia Mischa Srakashvilli is getting ready to die heroically like his predecessor Gamsakhurdia did, in a cave amongst Muslims and piles of extrement. This is a truly worthy end for an aspiring NATO minion. Would Mischa's personal friends - Sen. John McCain and John W.Bush attend the funeral?
In Response

by: Boris from: London
December 27, 2012 09:03
Jack - is a Georgian guy who's brother was incarcerated for selling drugs. He blames it on Misha, as many his opponents dojust for the personal reasons...
In Response

by: Jack from: US
December 27, 2012 18:19
how much Srakashvilli was paying you to lie, Moisha? You are frustrated because he cannot pay any more
In Response

by: Alex from: USA
December 27, 2012 18:36
No, he is a Russian guy who was methodically beaten by Chechens. He inherited the hatred toward Caucasians after that. Whole Russia suffers from Chechen syndrome of continuous non-stop warfare with Caucasians. Just ask anybody. Even Natalia Pereverzeva, the Russian miss earth 2012 said: "My Russia – it is an endless Caucasian war."
God bless Caucasians for their stubborn resistance. God knows how many other countries would be occupied if the Russian resources were pulled from the Caucasus.
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
December 27, 2012 21:08
Aaah,brothers and sistas,the winter colds have taken their toll,causing you to talk turkey-first-they dont incarcerate georgians for selling drugs-they send them to Moscow like Vakhtang...well you know the things he does there-second-Jack is not a russian,but soviet,and who told you he is a guy-hes just a politcommissar and we all know they are sexless,and he was and is beaten not by chechens but by gypsies,because he likes that like all red masochists and is giving them all his money to get that top pleasure!!! Shame on all of you!!! You deserve to be adopted by Putin!!!

by: Ben
December 26, 2012 19:21
The new form of journalism:"Caucasus report"- don`t confuse it with the RFERL opinion- this is the product of the collective wisdom of the interested parties.For example, Saakashvili`s twisted face-photo is the contribution of the Russian ITAR-TASS.

by: david from: tbilisi
December 28, 2012 11:18
the members of saakashvili government, is millionaire, at the expense of People, and they were very Instability ministers, but european politicians were Silently, but now when we have, True, and peoples and Public government, they - some european politicians - speaks about the Injustice, it is the very Shameful for european, all georgians know that, Wilfried Martens, and his Party, Takes money from saakashvili!!!
In Response

by: Jack from: US
December 28, 2012 17:36
Long live Srakashvilli, the best friend of John McCain and Sarah Palin. What would "republic of Georgians" do without great leaders like Srakashvilli? Maybe have Zhopashvilli as next president?

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
December 28, 2012 22:34
I would like to take this occasion in order to congratulate the people of Georgia for having voted against the US lackey Mischa in this years parl. elections and wish this country to get rid of Mischa and of his Washington friends in the coming year 2013!
Happy New Year, everybody and bye bye Mischa, George W. and Barack :-)!

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.