European Council President Charles Michel has declared Georgia’s political crisis “over,” but the main opposition is refusing to join an EU-mediated deal until its chairman is released from pretrial detention.
Michel was in the capital, Tbilisi, on April 20, a day after Georgia's ruling party and part of the opposition signed a compromise agreement to end months of political crisis in the Caucasus country.
Georgia was plunged into political paralysis after the ruling Georgian Dream party won parliamentary elections in October, in a vote the opposition said was unfair and fraudulent.
The opposition has boycotted the new parliament and staged protests demanding new elections.
The EU, backed by the United States, has played a mediating role in resolving the crisis in the small country with ambitions of strengthening ties with the West.
"The political crisis is over and constructive political engagement needs to be sustained," Michel said in Tbilisi.
"More hard work starts today. The agreement presents a robust foundation for reforms. Election reform, justice reform, and consolidating the rule of law remain key priorities in EU-Georgia relations," he said
Under the agreement, several opposition parties agreed to enter parliament.
However, the largest opposition force, the United National Movement (UNM), did not sign the agreement.
Salome Samadashvili, the only UNM leader to sign the agreement, suggested earlier the party would join when UNM Chairman Nika Melia is released from jail.
Melia was detained in February for breaking parole terms related to charges of inciting violence during protests that erupted in 2019, a case the opposition says is political.
Melia’s arrest exacerbated the country’s political crisis, leading to the prime minister's resignation and condemnation from the West.
The agreement suggests Melia will be released, with a clause pledging to resolve cases of "perceived politicized justice" through amnesties or similar measures within a week.
Badri Japaridze, a leader of the small Lelo party, met with Melia in prison and said the UNM chairman must be unconditionally released to end the crisis.
"Melia does not have the feeling that the political crisis in the country has eased today. Until Nika Melia is released, it is too early to talk about easing the political crisis," he said.
The refusal by UNM and another opposition party, European Georgia, to join the agreement and end their parliamentary boycott means around 40 seats remain empty in Georgia's 150-member legislature.
Under the EU-brokered deal, early parliamentary elections will be called in 2022 if Georgian Dream gets less than 43 percent in upcoming local elections. It also sets the rules for power-sharing in parliament, outlines reforms to the judicial system, and suggests reforms to the Central Election Commission.