On September 15, one day after he accused Georgia's former ruling United National Movement (EMN) of seeking to "radicalize" the situation in the run-up to the October 8 parliamentary elections, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili proposed that all political parties sign a formal memorandum pledging not to deliberately hinder or obstruct each other's campaigning.
The memorandum affirms that "the peaceful conduct of the elections is an essential precondition for political consolidation and the democratic development of the country." According to Irakli Kobakhidze, executive secretary of the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GD-DG) party, it was drafted in consultation with other political forces (he did not specify which or how many) and his party is ready to continue those consultations together with NGOs and international organizations.
At the same time, Kobakhidze acknowledged that the text -- which covers the period until the Central Election Commission promulgates the final results of the ballot -- has no legal force.
To date, of the 27 parties and six electoral blocs participating in the ballot, only four -- the Republican Party, the Free Democrats, the United Democratic Movement headed by former parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze, and the Alliance of Patriots -- have joined Kvirikashvili's GD-DG in signing the memorandum. The United Democratic Movement and the Alliance of Patriots, together with the ENM, had refused three months ago to sign a Code Of Ethics For The Pre-Election Period adopted unanimously by the Georgian parliament on June 22. That document was intended to create equal conditions for all parties and ensure the vote was democratic.
ENM parliamentarian Levan Tarkhnishvili dismissed GD-DG's memorandum as an attempt to hoodwink society and implied that the party has no interest in ensuring that the election campaign and vote proceed calmly and without incident.
The bloc comprising opera star Paata Burchuladze's The State for the People party and two others has publicly declined to sign, as have Shalva Natelashvili's Labor Party and the National Forum.
Political commentators Zaal Anjaparidze and Tornike Sharashenidze were also skeptical, suggesting that the memorandum was intended primarily as "an insurance policy" to deflect criticism of the ruling party from the international community in the event of widespread allegations of fraud. Anjaparidze pointed out that not a single party has undertaken to abide by the outcome of the vote if international monitors deem it free and fair. He construed that reluctance as reflecting readiness to take to the streets to protest an apparent defeat.
Experts are divided over the likelihood of protests and unrest either before or after the vote. Anjaparidze adduced Interior Minister Giorgi Mgebrishvili's warning that "a number of parties" are preparing for such unrest. He stressed that such warnings are not issued lightly, and that those parties suspected of preparing for that scenario (the ENM in the first instance, although he did not name it) have not only the necessary financial resources at their disposal, but also media outlets loyal to them. What they do not have, Anjaparidze added, is broad popular support.
Kakha Gogolashvili, by contrast, doubts that the ENM has the resources to destabilize the postelection situation. Ramaz Sakvarelidze recalled that the ENM came to power in 2003 on a wave of protest, and has a track record of resorting to violence when faced with serious problems. He also recalled the ENM's constant campaign over the past four years to blacken GD-DG in the eyes of the international community. He suggested that the ENM might seek to provoke the authorities into using violence against protesters in order to elicit condemnation from Georgia's Western partners.
A delegation from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) that visited Tbilisi last week noted in a subsequent press release that "allegations of instances of intimidation and disruptions to campaigning, and called on all stakeholders to exercise restraint." It did not mention or comment on the GD-DG memorandum.