That failure calls into question whether the easing in tensions between the Georgian leadership and opposition that EU Special Envoy Peter Semneby noted during his most recent talks in Tbilisi earlier this month can be sustained.
Akaki Minashvili, who represents the ruling United National Movement (ENM) in the Georgian parliament, said on November 20 that his party has already compromised on several proposed amendments to the law, and that it is now up to the extraparliamentary opposition Alliance for Georgia to do the same. If the Alliance for Georgia refuses to do so, Minashvili said, the discussion will continue within parliament, as "time is running out." That would effectively exclude the alliance, whose leader Irakli Alasania has already said he plans to run for mayor.
The proposed amendments must be submitted to the Council of Europe's Venice Commission for approval well in advance of the municipal elections tentatively scheduled for May 30. That will be the first time that the mayor of Tbilisi will be elected by popular ballot.
At issue is the minimum percentage of the vote that a candidate must receive for a clear first-round victory. The ENM initially argued against setting any minimum but later proposed a 30 percent threshold, which most parliamentary opposition parties reportedly considered acceptable.
By contrast, the three-party Alliance for Georgia first insisted on a 50 percent-plus-one-vote minimum, with a runoff required if no candidate won a clear victory in the first round. Zurab Abashidze (Our Georgia-Free Democrats, one of the alliance members) argued that the legitimacy of a mayor who garnered less than 50 percent of the vote would always be questionable, which "would not help to defuse the political crisis." Then on November 18, the alliance reduced its proposed minimum to 45 percent, which the ENM again rejected.
The opposition parliamentary Christian Democratic Movement proposed 33 percent as a compromise but then agreed on November 12 to the ENM's proposed 30 percent.
Room For Compromise
ENM parliamentarian Pavle Kublashvili was quoted as saying after the November 18 working group meeting that he sees no way of continuing the talks. He blamed the deadlock on what he described as the Alliance for Georgia's "very inflexible position." Abashidze for his part expressed readiness to continue talks, and on November 19 an alliance spokesman hinted that the group might lower its demand from 45 percent, but not to 30 or even 35 percent.
Minashvili rejected that offer on November 20, arguing that his party has compromised already on numerous points and it is now time for the Alliance for Georgia to reciprocate. Minashvili said that all parties participating in the working group accepted the 30 percent minimum, except for the three alliance members.
But Vako Cherkezishvili (Our Georgia-Free Democrats) said nine of the 11 parties participating in the discussions rejected the 30 percent minimum, with only the National Democratic Party supporting the ENM. David Berdzenishvili, one of the leaders of the Republican Party (also an Alliance for Georgia member), similarly said that, to his astonishment, nine of the 11 parties in the working group endorsed the alliance's alternative position.
Berdzenishvili added that the alliance will continue to try to reach a consensus with the authorities, but that if the latter reject "reasonable concessions," the opposition may boycott the elections rather than participate in a ballot in which its victory is not even "a theoretical possibility."