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Georgian Opposition Politician Remanded In Pretrial Detention, Calls Charges False

Giorgi Rurua in a Tbilisi courtroom
Giorgi Rurua in a Tbilisi courtroom

TBILISI -- The Tbilisi City Court has remanded opposition figure Giorgi Rurua in pretrial detention on an illegal weapon possession charge that threatens to disrupt a foreign-brokered deal with the ruling party on election reforms.

The court's May 18 ruling was met with harsh criticism by opposition politicians, who along with Rurua have called the charge fake and believe it is politically motivated.

Gigi Ugulava, the leader of the opposition European Georgia-Movement for Freedom party, who himself was released from prison last week after President Salome Zurabishvili pardoned him and another opposition politician in a move to salvage the deal on election reforms, said that "without Rurua's release, the deal cannot be considered implemented.”

Salome Samadashvili of the United National Movement opposition party said that “while Rurua remains in custody, the opposition will not support the agreement” with the ruling Georgian Dream party.

Rurua, the founder and a shareholder of the opposition-aligned Mtavari Arkhi TV, was arrested on November 18 and charged with the illegal purchase, possession, and carrying of a firearm. Opposition parties insist that Rurua’s arrest was politically motivated.

On May 15, after Zurabishvili pardoned Ugulava, who once served as Tbilisi mayor, and former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, who leads the opposition Victorious Georgia party, many thought that Rurua also would be released, which would meet the demands by the opposition, who had threatened to abandon the agreement if "political prisoners" were not freed.

Georgia’s opposition parties claim the release was a condition of the March 8 deal, which the governing Georgian Dream party denies.

Opposition parties insisted that Georgia's electoral system unfairly favored Georgian Dream, and demanded it be changed to a proportional system ahead of parliamentary elections set for October.

Under the March 8 memorandum of understanding facilitated by U.S. and European Union officials, parliament should consist of 120 members elected through a proportional voting system, while 30 members would be elected through a majority system.

The electoral threshold for proportional elections will be set at 1 percent and a capping mechanism will mean that no single party receiving less than 40 percent of the votes cast will be allowed to hold a majority of seats in parliament.

Under the current electoral system, 73 of 150 parliamentary seats are claimed by candidates who finish first in district races. The remaining seats are distributed proportionally to the national share of the vote that a party wins.

This led to Georgian Dream, led by billionaire founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, winning 76 percent of the legislature's seats even though it won just less than half of the popular vote.

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