TBILISI (Reuters) -- Georgia's former ambassador to the United Nations, until recently an active member of President Mikheil Saakashvili's team, said on December 24 he was joining the opposition and called for an early election.
Irakly Alasania, who regularly polls among the Caucasus nation's most popular public figures, accused Saakashvili of autocratic decision-making and failing to avoid a war with giant neighbor Russia in August.
"There were ways to avoid the war with Russia. Responsibility for dragging Georgia into this provocative war rests with Georgia's president," he told a news conference.
"I think the crisis in our country was caused by authoritarian leadership, a chaotic decision-making process as well as absence of a transparent governing system."
But he also said that the war had been triggered by "a provocation prepared by Russian security and military services."
In the past, Alasania has worked as Saakashvili's diplomatic and security adviser, holding the post of Georgia's envoy in talks on its rebel Abkhazia province and working on the National Security Council.
Russia says it was forced to react in August after its peace-keepers and civilians came under fire when Tbilisi attempted to retake its rebel pro-Moscow South Ossetia province by force.
Western governments originally criticized Russia's response as "disproportionate," but a freeze on European Union and NATO ties with energy power Russia was reversed months later.
Several former close allies of Saakashvili have swapped sides. Nino Burjanadze, a co-author with Saakashvili of the 2003 "Rose Revolution" that brought down longtime leader Eduard Shevardnadze, last month formed her own opposition party.
Georgia's former ambassador to Russia, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, last month criticized Saakashvili's government, saying he believed Tbilisi had been the aggressor in the August war.
Saakashvili has promised democratic reforms to answer critics who say he has fallen short on early promises of political, judicial, and media freedom after the 2003 revolution.
Analysts have called on him to broaden the reforms and carry them through if his government is to weather the economic crisis and make the most of billions of dollars in international aid, or face rising social discontent through the winter.
Alasania, 35, who has been touted as a potential challenger to Saakashvili, said he had started consultations with opposition parties on an early election.
Saakashvili won a five-year term in a snap election held in January this year. The next election is due to be held in 2013.
"I believe an election should be held as soon as possible. But conditions should be created for that, I mean fair electoral legislation and free media," said Alasania said, who declined to comment on his own presidential ambitions.
Alasania, who served as Georgian ambassador to UN for two years, said strategic partnership with the United States must be "comprehensive and firm," but "pragmatic and wise diplomatic steps" to revive ties with Russia were needed as well.