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Georgia: In Surprise Move, Burjanadze Says She Won't Seek Reelection

Burjanadze announces her decision from her office in Tbilisi (epa) Parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze has rocked Georgia's political scene by announcing that she will not seek reelection in May.

"I have decided not to run in the May 21 parliamentary elections," Burjanadze said as the deadline approached for political forces to submit their candidates lists. "This decision is final, and is not going to change. I would like to believe -- and am certain -- that the country will move in the right direction and our society will establish new, democratic values without eliminating the old, acceptable ones. I believe our society will make the right choice, and we will continue to move forward with correct, and rapid, steps."

Burjanadze was one of the leaders of Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution, which swept President Mikheil Saakashvili into power. She had been expected to head the candidates list of the ruling National Movement.

During a televised news conference, Burjanadze wished success to her political team and said she would not defect to the opposition camp. But she expressed mixed feelings as she explained the reasons behind her decision.

"Despite very serious, long, and difficult consultations, unfortunately, it was not possible to reach consensus in the compilation of the National Movement's party list," she said. "I think this is not a tragedy, and [such situation] can occur in any normal, democratic state. It is not a pleasant fact, but neither is it a tragedy. This should not -- and will not -- be followed by a political, moreover state, crisis of any sort."

Political Fixture

Burjanadze has been a fixture of Georgia's political scene for years. Together with Saakashvili and the late Zurab Zhvania, she helped lead the country's Rose Revolution in 2003. The movement led to the ouster of President Eduard Shevardnadze, installed the pro-Western Saakashvili as president, and saw Zhvania take the post of prime minister.

The developments also opened the way for Burjanadze to reclaim her seat as parliament speaker, which she first took over in 2001. On two occasions, she took the reins of the presidency -- serving as acting president in 2003 just after Shevardnadze's departure and prior to Saakashvili's election, and again in November 2007, after a crackdown on opposition protestors led to snap presidential elections.

Burjanadze has a reputation as an important balancing influence on Saakashvili and his team of radical reformists, helping the administration gain a broad base of support.

Saakashvili expressed hope that she will return to politics.

"I understand why she made this decision," he said. "Of course, I am unhappy with her decision. And I want to tell you that Nino is a very, very important person for me. She is a patriot of Georgia. We have been standing together for many years. She is the person who in the most difficult times for the country -- for instance, last November, when there was very acute political crisis -- stood firm. Twice, in extremely difficult times, she carried out the presidential duties, and managed to achieve stability and peaceful transition. This is a person who, to me, symbolizes stability, calm, political intellect, and dignity."

'Shocking, Unexpected'

Burjanadze had previously expressed her dissatisfaction with Saakashvili's appointments -- both regarding party lists or executive positions -- and has been angered at being sidelined during cabinet talks.

But this time around, her discontent has apparently risen to such a level as to prompt her to bow out of the political scene altogether. Georgian media described the situation as "shocking," "unexpected," and "puzzling."

It is not clear how Burjanadze's departure will impact the ruling party's chances in the next elections. In her stead, the National Movement's party list will be headed by Foreign Minister David Bakradze.

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