Saakashvili now ready to meet his opponents
By Mzia Kupunia
Monday, May 11
On May 10 the President’s administration released a special statement which said that Mikheil Saakashvili is ready to meet the organizers of the protest rallies on May 11 at 2pm. The opposition has selected four leaders, Irakli Alasania, Salome Zourabichvili, Levan Gachechiladze and Kakha Shartava, as its representatives at this meeting, which will be held in the newly-opened Ministry of the Interior building. Member of the Alliance for Georgia Davit Berdzenishvili said that the authorities did not want the meeting to be held in Parliament or the State Chancellery.
The opposition leaders consider the meeting important. They say they will tell the Government the people’s position. Alasania said that this dialogue will help transform the protests into political discussions. “I hope this meeting will be the start of taking the country out of the crisis,” he said.
One of the leaders of the Georgian radical opposition refuses to sit down for talks with the President. Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, leader of the Freedom Party, has made a statement on its behalf. Gamsakhurdia says that talks with Mikheil Saakashvili will bring no result and serve only to waste time. He emphasizes however that despite their difference of opinion on this issue, no discord has occurred between him and other members of the opposition.
Political analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze positively assesses the idea of holding meetings between Government and opposition but thinks that the first will not be fruitful. He says that if the opposition refuse to stick to their major demand, the resignation of the President, when they get to the meeting they will lose their supporters’ trust, but on the other hand if they make this demand alone it will be difficult to achieve any results. “The big iceberg between the two sides will not melt after only one meeting and that’s why it cannot be fruitful. The opposition will not moderate their demand and on his side it is doubtful that the President will agree to resign,” Sakvarelidze said yesterday.
The first attempt to start negotiations between the Government and the opposition on May 8, after a month of constant protest rallies in the centre of Tbilisi, left both sides “frustrated”. The authorities and the opposition leaders had different views about the agenda of the meeting: the opposition considered the meeting, with David Bakradze, would “prepare the ground” for a meeting with President Saakashvili, while the Chair of the Parliament was only willing to start discussing “problematic issues,” as he put it. Although the meeting failed to produce any tangible results, the parties remained hopeful that the next meeting could achieve more. One of the leaders of the National Forum, Gubaz Sanikidze, expressed hopes that the second meeting could bring some results, saying that negotiations about specific issues could be held only with the President and not the Parliament Speaker.
Other opposition politicians also noted that in-depth discussions should only be conducted with the President. Republican Tina Khidasheli, from the Alliance for Georgia, said the opposition was ready to meet Saakashvili “any time and anywhere” without any preconditions. One of the leaders of the opposition, former Parliament Speaker Nino Burjanadze, said Saakashvili should take the decision to meet the opposition in the nearest future. “We cannot wait several days and weeks for his response,” she noted. She suggested that Saakashvili’s repeated calls for dialogue were a “PR stunt”. “If we do not get an answer from the President today, and the meeting is not held in the next one or two days, it will mean that Saakashvili does not want dialogue, and I am sure that he does not want it,” Burjanadze told journalists on May 9.
The leader of the Alliance for Georgia, Georgia’s former UN Ambassador Irakli Alasania, was less “radical” in his comments about the meeting. He said that the meeting with Bakradze was a positive step, adding that there is no need to set deadlines for negotiations with the President.
Foreign diplomats assessed the meeting between opposition leaders and the Georgian Parliament Speaker as a positive move. EU Special Representative in the South Caucasus region Peter Semneby said that the EU had been calling for talks since the confrontation between the sides began. He said a “serious discussion” is needed on constitutional, electoral and media issues. “The political discourse needs to move into a negotiation format, to being conducted in Parliament and political institutions,” the EU special representative said on Saturday.
Political analysts also say that the fact that a meeting took place is already a positive sign. Independent political commentator Gia Khukhashvili said that the goals of the opposition and the Government contradicted each other at the meeting. “The opposition declared what they expected the agenda to be in advance, however the Government representatives behaved as if they had not known the opposition’s expectations,” Khukhashvili said. Political analyst Soso Tsiskarishvili said that it was clearly stated that the meeting was designed to be a “preparatory” one, however it still turned out that the Government was not ready for it.
The opposition have said that they will not suspend their rallies, even during talks with the President. They also plan to hold a demonstration on May 26, Independence Day, which is usually marked by a parade on Rustaveli Avenue. The “radical” opposition leaders have said they will not let Saakashvili hold a parade on May 26. “Saakashvili is not Napoleon Bonaparte, it will be better for him to go and hide and not show himself to the people,” Zviad Dzidziguri told several thousand demonstrators gathered in front of the Parliament Building on May 9.
The opposition has already submitted an appeal to the Tbilisi City Mayor’s office for permission to hold rallies on Rustaveli Avenue on May 26. The Mayor’s office will probably respond by May 14, officials have said. The opposition has promised to broaden the “geography” of the rallies and make the demonstrations more acute.