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Opposition issue demands, warn of more protests

By Eter Tsotniashvili
Wednesday, January 30
Most of the country’s leading opposition parties issued a joint list of changes they say are needed for fair parliamentary elections yesterday, threatening to bring out half a million people in protest if parliament does not meet their demands.

“[Our] statement addresses parliament with the changes that are necessary to meet the demands of the Georgian people. These demands are free elections, free media and free courts,” declared former presidential candidate Levan Gachechiladze.

“If those demands are not satisfied by February 15, then on that day at 2 p.m. we call on all of Georgia to come in front of parliament—and that [protest] will continue permanently.”

The opposition has refused to negotiate with President Mikheil Saakashvili, who was reelected on January 5 in an election international observers said was flawed but essentially fair, instead focusing on dialogue with parliament.

Together, the three opposition presidential candidates who co-signed the statement took a little over 600 000 votes in the presidential election, out of about two million cast.

The statement reaffirmed opposition vows to turn down any offers of government posts from the “self-declared” president, and declared that only free and fair parliamentary elections in spring could move the country forward from its “political crisis.”

New Rights leader and presidential candidate Davit Gamkrelidze, who co-signed the statement, reiterated opposition claims that the presidential election was rigged to hand Saakashvili an outright majority victory without a runoff.

“Our position is that Saakashvili finished his crimes by rigging the elections, stealing a second round from his people. This needs a clear evaluation from the political sphere, and afterward we need a guarantee that no one will ever again be able to rig elections,” Gamkrelidze said.

The New Rights, one of the more moderate opposition parties, have not said whether they will join the nine-party opposition coalition to form a bloc in the parliamentary elections.

The seventeen demands range from introducing a proportional representation electoral system for the parliamentary elections to the resignation of the Interior Minister and an investigation into the violent crackdown on anti-government protestors on November 7.

[See the full text of the opposition’s statement here]

“These are the important issues, and without satisfying them we can’t have democratic elections. I suggest the government does not try to choose just one of them and ignore the others. This is a package of changes that will allow the Georgian people to participate in election and know that they will be democratic,” Georgia’s Way leader Salome Zourabichvili said.

Some of the demands, like the resignation of the Interior Minister—who, despite widespread unpopularity, kept his post in the latest cabinet shuffle—and a ban on Saakashvili campaigning for his party in the parliamentary elections, look unlikely to happen or unfeasible to implement by mid-February.

Ruling party representatives said dialogue, not ultimatums, will bring progress in resolving the country’s political uncertainty.

“People are tired of [ultimatums from the opposition],” ruling party MP Nazi Aronia told journalists. “I don’t think statements like that are helping them.”

Giorgi Khuroshvili, the government’s parliamentary secretary, told press that the government would consider the demands.

“There are some demands [in the opposition statement] that I can say are already the main priorities of the government, like independent courts, upholding human rights… We will make comments about the other issues after consultations,” he said.

In addition to the nine-party opposition coalition which backed Gachechiladze in the race, the New Rights, Industrialists and Gia Maisashvili’s Party of the Future signed the statement.

The Labor Party, which split from the opposition coalition to back party leader Shalva Natelashvili for the presidency, was notably absent. Coalition representatives suggested they would soon have Labor’s public support, but Labor representative Giorgi Gugava later told journalists they won’t be signing on.

Labor member Nestan Kirtadze told the Messenger that Natelashvili, who took fourth on January 5 with more than six percent of the vote, would make a statement when he returns from Vienna, where he is seeking medical treatment.

Kirtadze said her party lacks confidence in the opposition coalition, which she suggested failed to capitalize on street protests which brought out tens of thousands of Georgians.

“They don’t know what they want,” she said. “Sometimes, they take thousands of people into the streets and then they tell them to go home until next protest. That doesn’t make any sense to us.”