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Government wins the round, but the victory is Pyrrhic

Monday, June 9
Parliament convened on Saturday with 30 MPs missing. Domestic political turmoil has come to an uneasy halt, but those empty seats in parliament are the seed of future discord.

In the early hours of Saturday morning a few score of diehard anti-government activists gathered outside parliament, unsure of what to do. They accosted approaching men and women, demanding they identify themselves, and hurled vivid abuse at the arriving government MPs-elect.

Anyone watching them would have seen the last gasp of the current opposition campaign.

It began last September with the arrest of popular ex-minister Irakli Okruashvili; lurched toward its goal of government change when the authorities miscalculated on November 7; promised a revolt after President Saakashvili won reelection in January and sputtered helplessly as the ruling party romped to an obscene margin of victory in last month’s elections.

Now it is out of options. Domestic politics will calm during the summer, a relief in the face of a critical Russian threat.

The opposition lost its momentum, lost its unity and lost the contest. But the government victory is ultimately a Pyrrhic one.

The Saakashvili administration has the power to continue with its robust and often praise-worthy agenda of reform, but its mandate is unsure.

Hundreds of thousands of voters said they wanted less free rein for the government, yet parliament is a one-party affair.

If the government meets its domestic challenges in the next four years—finds sustainable economic growth, remakes the failed judicial system, extends rule of law to the regions, avoids the temptations of autocracy—voters may tolerate its democratic failings.

But if it misses the mark, outlets of frustration are scarce. Another near-revolt could spark and spread in the next few years.

Ruling party leaders say they seek an inclusive government, but their offers to the opposition are made on television, knowing full well that their opponents would be humiliated by accepting them.

A sincere effort at compromise should be made privately, and the opposition allowed to announce a palatable deal to their supporters in the face-saving guise of success. Opposition members should chair oversight bodies like the fiscal Chamber of Control, and government critics like the human rights ombudsman should remain independent and visible. The authorities should keep their hands off the free press. A formal mechanism, not a politician’s word, should bar unilateral change to the constitution.

Otherwise, Georgians will have no one to blame for the country's ills but an increasingly ensconced ruling party. And they may not wait for parliamentary elections in 2012 to make themselves heard.