On March 1, a meeting between the authorities and the opposition bloc, mediated by the President of the Council of Europe Charles Michel, was held aiming at reaching an agreement. However, the next day the government returned to confrontational rhetoric, which virtually precludes the possibility of finding any common ground.
The government refuses to compromise, opposition bloc relies on protests and sanctions from western partners
By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wednesday, March 10
The protracted political crisis in Georgia since the October 31, 2020 elections has long been a concern for Georgia's western partners. The arrest of UNM's Nika Melia, with the incursion of police forces into the party's headquarters, was a milestone to which the western partners responded with serious criticism.
The EU has taken on the task of resolving the conflict between the government and the opposition. The visit of the President of the Council of Europe Charles Michel to Georgia on March 1-2 was an attempt to do so. He managed to get the government and the opposition to meet and get their consent to resume the dialogue and reach an agreement with tangible progress by March 13, when Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili is due to submit a report on the Association Agreement to Brussels.
A 6-point plan was drawn up during a meeting with Charles Michel. It lists the issues that were discussed during the meeting and which should be continued. These points have been made public in the media: 1. Electoral reform; 2. Rule of law and judicial reform, including the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court, elections to the High Council of Justice, and the strengthening of the fight against corruption; 3) Political justice, in particular, resolving the issue of prisoners; 4) Redistribution of forces in the Parliament, which includes a fair distribution of responsibilities and roles and responsibilities in the Parliament; 5. Consider the possibility of early parliamentary elections and prepare for local elections; 6. Continuation of mediation and verification of the achieved progress at the meeting of the EU-Georgia Association Council.
The issues to be addressed by the government and the opposition mean the recognition of serious shortcomings in the democratic functioning of the current political system of Georgia. Once again it becomes clear why Georgia is included in the category of countries with a hybrid regime in various international rankings. It is also clear that the implementation of some of these points takes time. However, some can be done as soon as possible as a sign that the dialogue has successfully launched. Such points are, firstly, the release of political prisoners appointed by the opposition, in particular Nika Melia and Giorgi Rurua, and secondly, the start of negotiations on early parliamentary elections. If these two points are met, the boycotted opposition vows to enter parliament.
During the meeting, mediated by Charles Michel, attention was paid to the softened tone of Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, Garibashvili had toned down his aggressive tone regarding "criminal" and "destructive" opposition, which had previously made the dialogue impossible. However, on the second day of Charles Michel's departure from Georgia, Gharibashvili returned to the old rhetoric and spoke again about the "red lines", one of which is the opposition's demand for early parliamentary elections. Opponents of the government explained the tightening of Gharibashvili's tone by Bidzina Ivanishvili's intervention who demanded the continuation of the "strict" policy.
After Charles Michel's departure, the opposition also made a mistake by staging a picket by the parliament building. The government immediately blamed the opposition for not being constructive after which the opposition bloc immediately changed the format of the protests so that the ruling team would not use it as a reason to disrupt the talks.
The main responsibility for the successful start of the negotiations lies with the government, which must show that it wants to reach an agreement. However, the opposition bloc should also take responsibility.
According to experts, the government will have to release Nika Melia, which will be seen as a defeat for the government's image. As for the opposition's main demand on holding early elections, the government's position today is to set up a parliamentary commission of inquiry to study the CEC documents, and "if at least 1% will be found to be falsified, early elections will be called." The opposition believes that "suspicious" documents will have already been corrected, noting there is no use in creating such a commission.
A compromise on the part of the opposition on the issue of early elections is to hold a plebiscite during the local self-government elections. The plebiscite would find the people's opinion on whether they want snap elections or not. The government considers the idea of a plebiscite unfounded and rules it out.
So far, there are no signs of a constructive dialogue promised to Charles Michel. The opposition intends to continue the protests in a way that will give the government no reason to accuse the opposition bloc of being destructive.
According to the opposition, if the agreement is not reached, the Georgian authorities and Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is behind it, will be subjected to sanctions. The opposition bloc believes that protests and possible sanctions from the west will be decisive in reaching an agreement.
(Translated from Georgian by Mariam Mchedlidze)