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Georgian Opposition Skeptical About Amending Constitution

Opposition supporters rally outside the Georgian Public Broadcaster on May 15.
Opposition supporters rally outside the Georgian Public Broadcaster on May 15.
Following the inconclusive May 11 talks between Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and four prominent opposition leaders, the opposition has modified its tactics, lifting its blockade of traffic in front of the office of the Georgian Public Broadcaster on a major Tbilisi thoroughfare. At the same time, it holds fast to its previous demands that Saakashvili should resign.

Extraparliamentary opposition groups have declined Saakashvili's offer to participate in a commission tasked with drafting a new constitution, while parliamentary opposition parties have indicated their willingness to participate in the process, provided the commission is chaired by someone who is not a member of any political party.

The decision to abandon the blockade of traffic on Tbilisi's Kostava Street was taken late on May 14 after consultations between opposition party leaders that lasted the entire day. The stated rationale for doing so was to spare local residents any further inconvenience. The opposition nonetheless intends to continue picketing the entrance to the headquarters of the Public Broadcaster to protest its lack of objectivity in reporting on political developments.

On May 15, parliament speaker David Bakradze announced that the commission to draft a new constitution would begin its work the following week. The authorities invited the opposition to name their candidate to chair that body, but the extraparliamentary opposition has said it sees no point in participating in the work of the commission.

David Gamkrelidze, one of the leaders of the Alliance for Georgia, said Saakashvili's intention in proposing constitutional amendments was simply to play for time, and that what the opposition wants is "systemic changes that can be implemented after the president's resignation."

Eka Beselia of the Movement for a United Georgia, headed by exiled former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, dismissed the authorities' proposals for political reform as "inadequate, and an irresponsible approach to the political processes in the country. Such steps not only won't lead the country out of crisis but will escalate the character of political processes. By adopting this model we will get a new Putin in the country, as Mikheil Saakashvili is heading towards Putinization. He is trying to create a model that will help him to prolong his power. For that reason, we won’t take part in this farce," Beselia said.

The leaders of three opposition parties represented in parliament -- Giorgi Targamadze's Christian Democratic Movement (KhDM), the National Democratic Party, and We Ourselves -- announced after talks on May 15 their willingness to participate in the constitutional commission, arguing that all political parties have a responsibility to do so. But they rejected the authorities' proposal that the commission should be chaired by an opposition politician, suggesting instead a non-partisan figure with experience in constitutional issues and who enjoys public trust.

They reportedly drew up a shortlist of three candidates, but declined to name them on the grounds that the persons involved had not yet been consulted. Levan Vepkhvadze of the KhDM advocated inviting foreign experts from the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to participate in the commission's work.

Kartuli Dasi (Georgian Group) leader and parliament deputy Jondi Baghaturia similarly told a press conference on May 15 that he will participate in the constitutional commission, Caucasus Press reported. But he said he will put forward proposals that "radically differ" from Saakashvili's, namely, reducing the powers of the president and enhancing those of the parliament, the executive, and local government bodies. Baghaturia also called for the disbanding of the Interior Ministry (which is widely regarded to be above and beyond the law) and transferring its duties to the Ministry of State Security, which would be answerable to the parliament.

Meanwhile, the prospects for a second round of talks between Saakashvili and the opposition remain unclear. A visiting U.S. delegation that included Deputy Secretary of State Dennis Rosenblum met in Tbilisi on May 14 and 15 with representatives of both the parliamentary and the extra-parliamentary opposition to push for a continuation of the dialogue that started on May 11.

Caucasus Press on May 16 quoted former Ambassador to the UN and Alliance for Georgia leader Irakli Alasania as saying the opposition is preparing for a second meeting with Saakashvili, at which it will present counterproposals for resolving the ongoing political crisis, given that the measures proposed by Saakashvili are likely to prove "ineffective." Alasania said specifically that "demolishing the machine of repression and freeing the mass media from the pressure of the authorities" would contribute to building public trust in the country's leadership.

Opposition leaders outlined on May 12 their plans for the next two weeks, including protest rallies in Batumi on May 20, Kutaisi on May 21, and Kakheti on May 22. They also envisage a "grandiose" "public parade" along Tbilisi's Rustaveli Prospect on May 26, the anniversary of Georgia's emergence as an independent state in 1918.

But public support is apparently dwindling in Tbilisi. On May 16, Levan Gachechiladze, who ran unsuccessfully against Saakashvili in the January 2008 pre-term presidential ballot, admitted that "there are fewer of us than before," possibly because of the summer heat. He recalled with regret that during the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in late 2004-early 2005, people remained on the streets of Kyiv for three months and 25 days, and said Georgians should be prepared to do the same.

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.


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