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Communication ceases between government and opposition

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Thursday, February 20
Last week might emerge as a turning point for the future development of Georgian politics. At the beginning of the week, it seemed that talks about the electoral system would continue and an agreement of sorts would be reached. However, it was soon clear that the new wave of clashes between the ruling team and the opposition was just beginning with Ugulava’s arrest on February 10th jeopardising the prospect of future talks between the government and the opposition.

At the end of his visit to the US, Parliament Chairman Talakvadze made a new offer to the opposition- 100 MPs through the proportional system and 50 elected with majoritarian. He also stated that if the United Opposition didn’t accept the offer, the elections would be held with the current mixed system (77 elected through proportional and 73-majoritarian). The United Opposition gathered to agree on their final proposal-135 MPs with proportional and 15 with majoritarian.

After the congressmen’s letter to the government about the condition of democracy in Georgia and Talakvadze’s apologetic visit to the US, there were reasonable expectations that the ruling party and the opposition would, in the end, achieve an agreement, but that was not the case. On February 10th, it became known that the Court of Georgia has sentenced Gigi Ugulava, one of the opposition leaders, to imprisonment for the third time. The opposition reacted acutely, stating that they stopped any form of dialogue regarding the electoral system as the government started political repression. They remembered Bidzina Ivanishvili’s words from last week on how some of the opposition leaders would have to go to prison. It is expected that before the elections, Giga Bokeria, Nika Gvaramia, Mamuka Khazaradze, Badri Japaridze, and others may be arrested.

The United Opposition started organising mass protests. They are going to visit different regions to increase the number of supporters and announced an upcoming rally on April 4th.

The Georgian Dream called the opposition ‘unconstructive’ for turning the talks about the electoral system down and anticipated that the elections will be held with the current system and that they will again enjoy the ruling majority. The Georgian Dream took the opposition’s plan on the mass rallies calmly, believing that they cannot organise such a large-scale protest.

The government is planning on activating its lobbyist politics in order to balance out the criticism expected from the West. It became known that the Georgian Dream party will pay one million dollars to American lobbyists, who are supposed to ensure political support for Georgia in the US. The Georgian Dream perhaps believes that the 2020 elections are also planned in the US and that American officials won’t have much time for Georgia.

However, after arresting Ugulava, the wave of criticism from the US and European Parliament was so harsh that already on February 12th, the Georgian Dream attempted to convince the opposition to renew talks about the electoral system. President Salome Zourabichvili also tried to act as a mediator but her attempts were all in vain. The United Opposition stated it doesn’t trust the ruling party and thinks that the government’s attempt to continue the talks are about balancing out Western criticism and use the situation to somehow make its offer (100/50) work. As a response, the Georgian Dream received a three-point ultimatum from the opposition: 1. Release Ugulava and stop the political repression. 2. Switch to the proportional system. 3. Create a new electoral commission.

Last week, former presidents of Georgia were also active, the third president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, announced the creation of his headquarters (address: Saakashvili’s Presidential Library), contributing more intrigue to the Georgian politics: Is Saakashvili going to create a new political party, is there a clash between him and his party? The former president does have a large number of supporters and his comeback to Georgian Politics will harm the Georgian Dream even more. At the same time, Saakashvili cannot act as a mediator about the electoral system due to his highly negative rankings in Georgia.

Georgia’s fourth president, Giorgi Margvelashvili, initially appointed as president by Bidzina Ivanishvili, also announced his future political activity. Margvelashvili named the danger of losing the pro-Western path and switching to the Russian one because of the Georgian Dream as a reason for his coming back to politics. Margvelashvili is starting to consult with the United Opposition, with Mamuka Khazaradze’s ‘Lelo’, and doesn’t rule out the creation of his own party. Margvelashvili’s return to politics might be followed by other former high-rank officials as well, such as former PM Kvirikashvili, and others. Kvirikashvili has already criticised Ugulava’s sentencing.

The political field of Georgian politics is still highly polarised and there is no sign of positive changes to come.
(Translated by Mariam Mchedlidze)