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Analysis: Georgian Ruling Party, Opposition Seek New Modus Vivendi

Speaker Davit Bakradze appealed to the opposition to drop the boycott (file photo) (epa) Three weeks after the landslide victory of President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement in the May 21 parliamentary ballot, the united opposition coalition that took shape last fall is standing fast by its initial decision to boycott a parliament it considers illegal.

Meanwhile, the newly established Christian Democratic Movement (KhDM), which was the first opposition party to rule out a boycott, has made its participation in the work of parliament contingent on the authorities' endorsement of a memorandum it unveiled on June 11 outlining proposed measures to overcome the "highly polarized and tense political environment."

The National Movement won 119 seats in the new 150-seat parliament. The United Opposition has a total of 17, the Labor Party and KhDM six each, and the Republican party two. The opposition coalition initially rejected the outcome of the ballot as rigged and vowed to boycott what they branded an illegitimate legislature and establish a parallel unofficial parliament. But plans to thwart the opening session of the new parliament failed dismally when Saakashvili scheduled that session at a few hours' notice for June 7, rather than on June 9 or 10 as anticipated.

Former Foreign Minister Davit Bakradze, who was elected speaker of the new parliament at its opening session, appealed to the opposition on June 7 to abandon their planned boycott, reported. (The only opposition deputies to attend that opening session were one from the Labor Party and the two representing the Republican Party.) Bakradze pointed out that the opposition is entitled to nominate two of the five deputy speakers and to representation on parliament committees, and that the parliament regulations would be changed to reduce from seven to six the minimum number of deputies needed to form a parliament faction. But opposition coalition spokesman Davit Saganelidze responded that the coalition would not abandon its boycott even if offered the post of speaker, Caucasus Press reported. On June 11, National Movement deputies were elected to head all 13 parliament committees, reported.

Speaking on June 7 at the opening parliament session, Saakashvili argued that Georgia "cannot afford a split into radicals and moderates," according to a Eurasia View analysis. And in an interview two days later with the television channel Rustavi-2, Saakashvili reaffirmed his desire for a "strong and constructive" opposition and reiterated his offer of parliamentary and unspecified government posts. At the same time, he argued that the opposition is itself to blame for the election defeat, given that they opted for the misguided election tactic of "bombarding the authorities with abuse."

Two deputies elected from the United Opposition's party list -- Gia Tortladze and Giorgi Tsagareishvili -- announced on June 9 that they have quit the coalition. The two men complained that since the New Rightists joined the coalition, they have monopolized negotiations and the principle of consensus-based decision-making has been routinely violated.

At the same time, they said they will observe the opposition's parliament boycott unless the majority agrees to three conditions: not to enact constitutional amendments without the agreement of the opposition; the introduction of direct elections for the posts of mayors and regional governors; and the appointment of an opposition deputy to head the parliament's investigative commission, Caucasus Press reported. Two other deputies elected in single-mandate constituencies, Dmitri Lortkipanidze and Paata Davitaia, announced shortly after the election results became known that they would ignore the coalition boycott and take up their mandates.

The coalition leadership submitted a formal request on June 10 to the Central Election Commission to annul all but the remaining top 15 names on the party list to preclude those placed lower on the list from taking over the mandates of deputies-elect who refuse them. The elected deputies will then be required to submit a formal statement relinquishing their mandates: any who refuse to do so will be expelled from the coalition, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported on June 10.

Meanwhile, the KhDM opted for constructive engagement, rather than joining the parliament boycott. In a June 7 interview with the daily "Rezonansi," its founder and leader, former television anchor Giorgi Targamadze, explained that "we believe that one should struggle wherever one can. The arena offered by parliament is the best place in this regard.... Our approach is that the opposition should demonstrate its power and intellectual abilities everywhere, including parliament, and should not refrain from struggling in any other arena."

He acknowledged that his party's influence within parliament will be limited, but argued that that limitation does not preclude consistent efforts to promote democracy. "Obviously, the minority or one opposition party would not be able to pass laws," Targamadze said. "If someone thinks that being in parliament involves nothing but passing laws, this statement is in jest. We have to make every effort to prevent people from losing interest in democracy, on the contrary, [this interest] has to become stronger. We will be the force that will offer constant opposition to Mikheil Saakashvili's parliament and will not let it make the country regress. There is a difference in our approach to strategy, not in the idea. We need results rather than pointless promises that would disappoint the people."

At the same time, Targamadze advocated cooperation and coordination among opposition forces both within and outside parliament. "We, the Christian Democrats, believe that there should be general coordination among the opposition forces even in the event of an especially radical wing or a reasonable force becoming highlighted among the opposition forces," he said.

On June 11, the KhDM unveiled its 13-point "anticrisis memorandum," which contains proposed changes to the election law and to the procedures for appointing various senior officials. Specifically, it calls for amendments to the election law to limit electioneering by public officials; the appointment of the Central Election Commission chairman, the Audit Chamber head, and the prosecutor-general on the basis of consensus among political parties; direct elections for city mayors; the inclusion of an opposition representative on the Supreme Justice Council and the National Communications Commission; and the passage of laws on the opposition and parliament minority, and guaranteeing "balanced" news coverage by the public broadcaster.

Targamadze admitted that "we have no illusion that implementation of this memorandum will create an oasis environment for the opposition in Georgia. But we believe that agreement on most of its conditions will be a serious precondition for developing democratic processes in Georgia and raising the effectiveness of the opposition's activities within parliament," reported.

Parliament speaker Bakradze hailed the memorandum on June 11 as "a good basis for talks," but added that some of its provisions are "unacceptable." He and several other leading National Movement deputies met later on June 11, and again on June 12, with Targamadze and Davitaia, who heads the small party We Ourselves, to discuss the memorandum.

The opposition coalition, for its part, continues to reaffirm its commitment to the proposed boycott, which New Rightists leader Davit Gamkrelidze depicted as the criterion for determining which parties constitute a genuine opposition. "Those who agree to enter parliament are not real opposition," quoted him as saying on June 10. The Labor Party too rejected the KhDM memorandum and reaffirmed its commitment to a boycott, but its deputies have not yet formally renounced their mandates.

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

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