The United States and the European Union voiced deep concern about the future of Georgia's democracy on July 29, a day after the collapse of a political agreement that has put the Caucasus nation on a path to deeper crisis.
The leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Irakli Kobakhidze, annulled an EU-brokered deal with opposition parties on July 28 after only three months, blaming the opposition for the agreement’s failure.
Georgia was plunged into political paralysis after Georgian Dream won the parliamentary elections in October, in a vote the opposition said was unfair and fraudulent. A group of opposition parties then boycotted parliament and staged protests demanding new elections.
The European Union, backed by the United States, has played a mediating role in trying to resolve a series of crises in the small country with ambitions of strengthening ties with the West.
European Council President Charles Michel brokered a compromise agreement between opposition groups and Georgian Dream on April 19 that paved the way for several opposition parties to enter parliament.
Kobakhidze said that, while smaller opposition parties signed the agreement, the larger "radical opposition" blocs including the main opposition United National Movement refused to join the deal even though they entered parliament. He said the parties accounting for more than half of opposition lawmakers had still not joined the deal.
"The United States is deeply disturbed and exasperated by the unilateral decision of the Georgian Dream party to withdraw from the April 19th Agreement, a document established through six months of difficult but collaborative negotiations, and one that gives an urgently-needed way forward for the Georgian people and their democracy," the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi said in a sternly worded statement.
"Washington is growing increasingly alarmed about repeated setbacks to Georgia's democratic future," it said.
The embassy said that all signatories should be held accountable to their commitments under the agreement, even as it recognized that only six of nine elected parties signed the agreement.
"While we continue to press for all parties to sign and fully implement the agreement, Georgian Dream's unilateral withdrawal is another deviation from the letter and spirit of the negotiations Georgian Dream participated in and the agreement they signed," the embassy said.
"This decision by the ruling party only creates more political instability for the country and raises questions about Georgian Dream's commitment to achieving Georgia’s democratic goals, goals that Georgian Dream itself set for the country," it added.
In Brussels, Michel issued a statement on July 29 describing the agreement as the best path forward to build a stronger democracy and rule of law in Georgia.
He said he had "taken note" of Georgian Dream's decision, while he had "equally taken note" of the United National Movement's failure to sign onto the April 19 agreement.
Michel said he had started consultations with a number of political actors in Georgia as well as President Salome Zurabishvili.
Under the EU-brokered deal, early parliamentary elections are to be called in 2022 if Georgian Dream gets less than 43 percent in upcoming local elections in October. It also sets the rules for power-sharing in parliament, outlines reforms to the judicial system, and suggests reforms to the Central Election Commission.
In announcing the annulment of the deal, Kobakhidze said its main points had already been implemented, including the end of the opposition boycott and the release from jail of United National Movement leader Nika Melia.
In response to Kobakhidze’s announcement, several opposition lawmakers suggested they would leave parliament and boycott the October local elections.
Melia announced on July 29 that he was leaving parliament and would focus on his campaign to run for mayor of the capital, Tbilisi, in the elections. He said other members of the United National Movement would remain in parliament and urged the opposition not to boycott the vote.