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What can break the political deadlock?

Friday, February 15
If you take a walk down Rustaveli Avenue today, you’ll almost certainly encounter tens of thousands of grim Georgians protesting a government they are unwilling to accept.

After Mikheil Saakashvili won reelection in a disputed election last month, the country’s opposition—which together took nearly half the vote—refused to recognize him as a legitimate victor. They seem to have no qualms about spending the next five years referring to him as a “de facto president,” but make no secret of their intent to oust him from office should they win a parliamentary majority in upcoming elections.

Opinions diverge on whether the sudden death of billionaire government foe Badri Patarkatsishvili will mobilize voters, but this newspaper’s best guess is that without hard evidence of a government-directed killing, Patarkatsishvili’s death will not galvanize demonstrators as did the controversial arrest of ex-defense minister Irakli Okruashvili last September.

Yet a massive crowd can still be expected outside the parliament building; opponents of this government remain unappeased by Saakashvili’s piquant cabinet shuffle and promises of fairer elections next time around.

It’s a political deadlock. The opposition’s demands are a hodgepodge of the reasonable (scrapping the arcane and unfair majoritarian method of electing parliamentarians) and the obviously untenable (releasing a list of ‘political prisoners,’ a demand which comes across as rebels negotiating the freeing of their comrades-in-arms). But they are publicly unwilling to budge, and many in the ruling party are hardly more agreeable.

With the prospects for dialogue dim and dimming, the only foreseeable way to defuse the situation is for the ruling party to lose heavily in upcoming parliamentary elections. But the government is talking about holding the polls in late May—that gives time for them to campaign and straighten out the deeply flawed electoral system, but also plenty of opportunity for the volatile political situation, voter fatigue not withstanding, to boil over.

That’s three months until the next elections, an anxiety-ridden eternity in Georgian politics.