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The National Movement without Nino Burjanadze

By M. Alkhazashvili (Translated by Diana Dundua)
Thursday, April 24

Georgian politics has never been in want of twists and turns, but the shock of Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze leaving the ruling party can hardly be overstated.

No one imagined that on the deadline of presenting party lists to the Central Election Commission, the ruling National Movement would lose its top candidate as Burjanadze announced she would not stand for reelection.

Politicians scrambled to explain and spin Burjanadze’s bombshell announcement, while analysts sought to predict its consequences and Burjanadze’s future.

The 2003 Rose Revolution had three leaders—President Mikheil Saakashvili, Burjanadze and the late prime minister Zurab Zhvania. At that time, some guessed there would be a jostle for power amidst the three very different politicians.

Five years later, Zhvania is dead and Burjanadze is sitting out an election as Saakashvili’s National Movement faces its most difficult post-Rose Revolution test.

The reason, Burjanadze said, was the party list. The parliamentary speaker was denied the chance to put enough of her allies in the top slots.

The same thing happened shortly after the Rose Revolution, when Zhvania was reportedly responsible for reducing Burjanadze’s quota of names on the party list. She complained, but relented.

But now, it appears that Burjanadze did not forgive Saakashvili of the same transgression.

Observers ask why Saakashvili could not accept Burjanadze’s chosen party list. One theory is that many of the leading politicians still standing after the recent political crisis are Burjanadze’s allies, and she, not Saakashvili, could have won a controlling influence in the next parliament.

If she then decided to take her bloc to the opposition, she would be taking a parliamentary majority with her.

Burjanadze made it clear she is one of the country’s most responsible politicians when she passed on an earlier chance to split with Saakashvili. After the November 7 crackdown on anti-government protests, many shouted for her to join the opposition. Had she done so, it could have precipitated the total collapse of the government. Instead, she ably held the reins as acting president while Saakashvili stepped down to successfully run for reelection—costing her significant popular support in the process.

Burjanadze is now standing aside from the National Movement, but she remains in the powerful post of parliamentary speaker.

Many speculate that Burjanadze is readying herself for a presidential bid. But for now, she is acting independently without powerful allies. And independence, as well as many advantages, carries many risks.