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Opposition rejects dialogue for the sake of dialogue

By M. Alkhazashvili
Monday, February 11
The ruling party and the opposition have consistently butted heads rather than negotiate, but it once looked like the opposition’s 17-point list of demands would break the pattern and provide for negotiations both sides could commit to pursuing.

Within days, however, the opposition coalition decided to suspend talks, claiming the ruling party is more interested in gaining time by feigning dialogue than sincerely readying for compromise.

The Saakashvili administration certainly needs, at the minimum, to appear willing to talk. Saakashvili lost the vote in the capital; the opposition can no longer be brushed aside as entirely ineffectual. And the international community has pushed vocally for Saakashvili to adopt a more inclusive mode of governing, one which includes the sort of dialogue Nino Burjanadze is now leading.

The government and the opposition, however, came to the table with irreconcilably divergent expectations. The opposition, having seen the power of street protests, wants the government to sack reviled figures and overhaul the country’s institutions before the next elections, or to bear the blame of failing to do so. The ruling party, however, has a parliament to retain control of, and is averse to making any concessions which will go beyond affecting its image and toward handicapping its parliamentary campaigning.

The ruling party will be the first to ostensibly welcome dialogue, but the last to make substantive concessions. They gain much from stonewalling in negotiations while keeping an optimistic public face, thereby putting pressure on the already fissuring opposition alliance.

Under the circumstances it came as no surprise when opposition coalition leaders, albeit somewhat disjointedly, said talks are off until the government gives them some concrete changes to show their supporters.

There are three standing demands, including the sacking of the Central Election Commission’s chairman, and it would be a genuine surprise if the government met them before the opposition-imposed February 15 deadline.

Burjanadze, perhaps the most widely-respected government figure, says she hopes for continued talks with the more moderate of the opposition.

But the less moderate forces on either side are still using street rallies to gauge their opponent’s strength. The opposition’s unity and power will depend in no small part on how many supporters they can mobilize for a planned mass protest on February 15, as will the government’s readiness to give ground.

That is, unfortunately, severely shortsighted. All efforts should be focused on holding parliamentary elections both sides can acknowledge as fair. If that fails, Georgia will again face the risk of serious destabilization.