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Georgia's Main Opposition Ends Monthslong Boycott Of Parliament

Opposition leader Nika Melia
Opposition leader Nika Melia

Georgia's main opposition leader, Nika Melia, has said that his United National Movement (ENM) will enter parliament after a nearly seven-month boycott.

"We will enter parliament to liberate the Georgian state captured by oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili," Melia told journalists in Tbilisi, referring to the multibillionaire founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party.

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 resolving the crisis in the small country with ambitions of strengthening ties with the West.

Melia was released from prison on bail with the help of the EU earlier in May, after three months of pretrial detention on charges that he organized "mass violence" during 2019 anti-government protests.

His detention, which the ENM said was politically motivated, helped fuel a protracted political crisis first triggered by the contested election.

On April 19, European Council President Charles Michel mediated a compromise agreement between opposition groups and Georgian Dream that paved the way for several opposition parties to enter parliament. Melia's release from prison was part of that agreement.

However, the ENM -- founded by exiled former President Mikheil Saakashvili -- did not join parliament alongside the other parties, leaving its 36 seats vacant in the 150-seat legislature.

In announcing the the ENM's return to parliament, Melia did not commit to the EU-brokered political agreement.

In a joint statement, the EU and U.S. missions to Georgia said the ENM's return to parliament was "another positive step" toward strengthening democracy in Georgia.

"However, we strongly regret that the United National Movement did not seize the opportunity today to join the other parliamentary parties in signing the 19 April agreement," the missions said.

"The ENM shares the responsibility with the other elected parties to engage constructively in parliament to address perceptions of politicized justice, adopt and scrutinize the implementation of ambitious electoral and judicial reform, and participate in power-sharing within parliament, among many priorities," they said.

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.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and RFE/RL's Georgian Service
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