Georgia's newest opposition party took shape less than a month ago, and has still to hold its founding congress (scheduled for November 24). But already the brother of one of its five leaders has been arrested on fraud charges, two of its activists have been arrested and accused of perpetrating explosions in Tbilisi, and someone opened fire on November 4 in Tbilisi on the son and daughter-in-law of a third.
The founders and co-leaders of what is called quite simply the Georgian Party include three former close associates of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili who have since denounced him for his authoritarian leadership style. Former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili was arrested in September 2007 just 48 hours after he publicly accused Saakashvili
of corruption, protectionism, and proposing the liquidation of a political opponent. Former human rights ombudsman Sozar Subari has similarly openly accused
Saakashvili of turning a blind eye to corruption and presiding over an "authoritarian" regime.
Erosi Kitsmarishvili, former owner of the Rustavi-2 TV channel whose coverage of the Rose Revolution in November 2003 helped bring Saakashvili to power, voiced similar criticism of Saakashvili in September 2008 after being dismissed as Georgian ambassador
to Moscow in the wake of the Russian-Georgian war.
A fourth Georgian Party leader, businessman Levan Gachechiladze, was Saakashvili's closet challenger in the early presidential election in January 2008, the outcome of which the opposition is convinced was rigged
to give Saakashvili a second term at Gachechiladze's expense.
Subari, Gachechiladze, and Kitsmarishvili, together with Koka Guntsadze, a member of Okruashvili's now dissolved For a Free Georgia party, formally announced their new alliance in Tbilisi on October 12. Okruashvili, who was expelled from Georgia in 2007 and granted political asylum in France, was not present.
The four acknowledged that in the past their political views diverged. They said they had aligned "in order to halt the process of Georgia's disintegration" by effecting peaceful regime change and bringing about Georgia's "rebirth." They affirmed their shared commitment to an independent judiciary, a strong parliament, the inviolability of private property, freedom of the media, fair elections, and the release of political prisoners.
They called for the normalization of relations with Russia and integration with European structures, but admitted that NATO membership was impossible in the near future due to Saakashvili's "rash actions," clearly meaning the events that precipitated the August 2008 war. They further pledged
to begin direct talks with the leaders of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Two opposition party leaders, Kakha Kukava (Conservatives) and former Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, have affirmed their readiness to cooperate with the Georgian Party. "All the methods of effecting regime change must be tried. This calls for unity. I am ready for cooperation," Caucasus Press quoted Noghaideli as saying on October 28.
The party has opened two offices, one in Tbilisi and a second in Zugdidi in western Georgia, and plans to hold daily briefings for Western diplomats in Tbilisi, according to Caucasus Press on October 27 and November 2.
Targets For Harassment?
On October 26, Subari's brother Vakhtang Subeliani was arrested and charged with forgery and tax evasion. He pled not guilty at a court hearing on October 29 and has been remanded in pretrial custody for two months, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian Interior Ministry has made public a tape recording of a phone conversation that purportedly proves Subeliani's guilt.
Then on October 30, Georgian police detained two Georgian Party members, Vasili Djavakhishvili and Imedi Sisauri, and confiscated hand grenades and other weaponry allegedly found in Sisauri's apartment. The two have been charged with causing two explosions in the yard of the same house in Tbilisi in August and September. Caucasus Press quoted a lawyer who met with them as telling journalists on November 1 they had apparently been beaten.
It is of course possible that Subeliani, Djavakhishvili, and Sisauri are indeed guilty of the crimes of which they are accused. But it is less easy to suggest a rational explanation for the third incident -- the shooting of the son and daughter-in-law of Georgian Party activist Amiran Iobashvili on the evening of November 4. Iobashvili himself was beaten up outside his home
by unknown assailants shortly after the May 2008 parliamentary elections and hospitalized with a concussion.
Any further attacks or arrests on persons affiliated with the Georgian Party will inevitably compound suspicions of a deliberate campaign by the Georgian authorities to neutralize it.