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Into deadlock

By Messenger Staff
Monday, March 16
The dreaded date of April 9 is approaching when the non-Parliamentary opposition will start mass protest actions throughout the country, but mainly in the capital, demanding the President’s resignation and the holding of snap Presidential and Parliamentary elections.

The President himself ignores these demands and talks publicly about his plans to develop the country, meeting people, giving them promises, gifts and awards and declaring his intention to rule Georgia until his Presidential term legally expires in 2013.

Unwillingness to conduct a constructive dialogue has unfortunately been a characteristic of Georgian political life since the country regained its independence after the collapse of the USSR. First President Zviad Gamsakhurdia ignored opposition demands and ended up in exile after a bloody coup in 1992. Next President Eduard Shevardnadze also ignored the opposition’s demands but was wise enough not to start shooting, although he was forced to peacefully resign in favour of current President Mikheil Saakashvili in 2003 after the so-called Rose Revolution.

It is of vital importance for the country how events will develop this time, when the enemy’s tanks are less than 50 kilometres from Tbilisi and the global economic crisis is ruining the country, despite the President’s assurance that it is not. Will the things develop according to the Gamsakhurdia or Shevardnadze scenario? Or does Saakashvili have yet another rabbit to pull out of his hat? He is so talented!

Some analysts maintain that the opposition avalanche cannot be stopped and confrontation is inevitable. Others however still insist that the possibility of holding dialogue is not exhausted if both sides acknowledge the eventual price the country might have to pay if the confrontation aggravates further. We should acknowledge that the administration is obliged to be more responsible than the opposition because it runs the country and determines the fate of its population. Unfortunately Saakashvili is notorious for ignoring the opposition, as he has many times cynically and mockingly dismissed it, even saying that he does not need the opposition at all. The opposition accuses the President of not keeping his word. So the preconditions for dialogue are not really favourable as the starting position of both sides is confrontational.

The opposition’s fragile unity is based around one slogan: Saakashvili should resign and this should be the guarantee of fair elections. Many reasons are given why Saakashvili should resign, the lost war being a major one. However Saakashvili does not consider the war lost, and speculates a lot about the country’s economic revival, implying that only with him at the helm can this be achieved.

Much will depend on the number of people appearing on April 9. Both sides are pinning their hopes on this figure. April 9 is a sacred day for Georgians, who still pay their respects at the spot where 19 peaceful protestors were killed by the Soviet Army in 1989. Therefore the opposition invites people to participate in the demonstrations but the administration makes big promises, providing some social benefits, threatening possible destabilization if the opposition gets its way and applying different means of intimidation.

Many people protesting in the streets will force the President to resign, assures the opposition, but although this was the case in 2003 this tactic did not work in 2007, when the Saakashvili administration used disproportional force to disperse protesters. He resigned temporarily, but won the subsequent Presidential elections he called, which are considered rigged by the opposition.

Many think that the Government will not use force this time but who knows? Somebody, maybe provocateurs, could attempt to enter official buildings, and this is illegal and would provide legal justification for the regime to retaliate. There could also be another scenario: the sides could simply try each others’ nerves. The opposition would hold continual rallies and the Government would just watch them. If this happens everything will depend on how long either side can withstand the pressure, and whether the opposition has enough human and financial resources to conduct what could thus be a very long campaign.

Some analysts suggest that the 2003 model might be applied. According to these analysts, Russia and the US endorsed the removal of Shevardnadze as he was considered a source of destabilization in Georgia. Today Moscow is demanding the removal of Saakashvili and it looks as if Obama is not much attached to him. Signals from both sides indicate that either Burjanadze or Alasania could be desirable candidates for the Presidency from their point of view. However both must prove how much popular support they can attract in Georgia, meaning the opposition will now go through an internal confrontation as well.

An old Chinese curse runs, “May you live in interesting times.” The coming days may be interesting, but for Georgians they are unlikely to be pleasant.