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With the elections approaching, the polarization of the political climate deepens

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wednesday, August 12
Giorgi Rurua's sentencing and the president's refusal to pardon him sharply escalated the confrontation between the government and the United Opposition. The authorities also no longer heeded the advice of Western friends in this regard. Controversy has also deepened between opposition parties, which have failed to maintain pre-election unity and are increasingly being criticized.

The long-running dispute over the March 8th agreement is over. On July 30th, the Tbilisi City Court sentenced Giorgi Rurua to 4 years in prison for illegal acquisition, possession and carrying of weapons, which the opposition considers to be fabricated charges. This was immediately followed by a reaction both from within the country and from Western friends.

Opposition parties to the March 8th agreement, as well as Western friends, hoped that President Zurabishvili would pardon Giorgi Rurua after his trial. Such hopes were somewhat reinforced by the news that the Prime Minister was happy to meet the President at his residence. However, as it turned out, the opposite was agreed on. Salome Zurabishvili said the next day that she would not pardon Giorgi Rurua and his decision "no one and nothing can influence."

On July 31st, 20 opposition parties issued a joint statement condemning the release of Giorgi Rurua in custody on "false evidence", saying it "defines a pre-election political climate" and "releasing Giorgi Rurua with less risk for the country to run a difficult election campaign."

On July 31st, Jim Rish, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that in the interests of depolarizing the political climate ahead of the election, President Zurabishvili should pardon Giorgi Rurua, as he did in the case of Giorgi Ugulava and Irakli Okruashvili. MEP Andrius Kubilius responded to the incident. According to him, the Georgian government "warned the State Department to stop politicizing the judiciary and the electoral process in the form of Mike Pompeo, but the politicization of justice continues."

The opposition has long called on the government that ignoring critical statements by Western friends would have dire consequences for the country. It should be noted that the US Ambassador to Georgia made a direct statement regarding this. Kelly Degnan said it is important that any message, if any other statement coming from members of Congress, be taken seriously.

However, it seems that the Georgian Dream government will no longer take these statements into account. According to former Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze, "any statement that opposes the independence of the judiciary is unacceptable." However, the authors of these statements accuse the Georgian government of the fact that the judiciary in Georgia is not independent. Critical statements from the West were also not given much importance by the Prime Minister. "Some congressmen will praise us, some congressmen will criticize us, but the main thing is that nothing threatens the strategic cooperation between the two countries," Gakharia said.

The prime minister's remarks were not about Rurua's release in the West, but about a letter from six congressmen to Mike Pompeo dated July 27th. The letter refers to Bidzina Ivanishvili as a Russian oligarch and expresses concern about the decline of democratic governance in Georgia and possible corruption. The letter of the congressmen was made public by the Georgian opposition parties.

As for the pre-election preparations of the United Opposition, which has maintained unity in the fight for electoral reform, in fulfilling the terms of the March 8th agreement, it has not been able to maintain unity in the nomination of common majoritarian candidates. The inertia to unity may be partly due to the nomination of common majoritarian MPs in Tbilisi, but in the regions where 22 majoritarian MPs are to be elected, the opposition parties will be identified separately. The main reason for the breach of unity is that each opposition party demands more than other opposition parties think it deserves. Clearly, the proliferation of opposition candidates increases the chances of pro-government candidates winning in majoritarian constituencies. However, the opposition hopes that the case will reach the second round and the strongest opposition candidate will naturally emerge, who will be supported by other opposition parties. But even if it comes to the second round, the government will be able to mobilize much more resources there.

As for the proportional elections, here the opposition parties are competing with each other and, in addition to criticizing Ivanishvili's government, they are also criticizing each other. This could negatively affect their prospective electorate and disappoint some of them. Not a small part of the opposition electorate expected a strong opposition coalition, and they even promised it, but it is already clear that the unity of the opposition is failing. Although it is clear to everyone that no opposition party alone can defeat the current government.
(Translated from Georgian by Mariam Mchedlidze)