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Opposition at the crossroads

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, June 10
In the history of this phase of Georgia’s internal politics, two dates are of crucial importance –April 9 and May 26, 2009. They showed that the opposition can gather tens of thousands of people behind them who share their demand – the resignation of President Saakashvili.

What then? The ruling administration has not the slightest intention of going. The organisers of the protest rallies between those two dates and subsequently are claiming that the protest charge has not diminished and the rallies and other actions should be continued. However, a certain scepticism is clearly visible in the population. The feeling is that May 26 was the culmination of the protests and the administration has won as it is still in power. Now political analysts are more critical of the opposition than previously, suggesting that they revise their methods and consider different approaches. We can already see that the organisers of the protests are regrouping into new factions on the basis of what they intend to do next.

The non-Parliamentary opposition behind the acute protest rallies has been labeled by the administration and then the media as “radical”. Thus it differs from the Parliamentary opposition, which the authorities call “constructive”. The “radicals” had only one demand – the resignation of Saakashvili. Nothing else was acceptable. However, they claimed that they would not behave unconstitutionally to achieve this. Political analysts assess the situation differently, at least some of them. They suggest that the people joined the protests wanting a new revolution, wanting to change the administration without holding elections as current administration itself did five and a half years ago. The opposition frustrated their hopes by refusing to conduct one, and therefore the number of the people directly or indirectly supporting them has decreased, according to this analysis. A further opinion is that the political culture of the Georgian population and politicians themselves has increased. In this view society does not want another revolution which could yield unpredictable results and bloody civil confrontation. So the protest rallies, in this scenario, are continuing logically in a peaceful direction.

Saakashvili and his cohorts have weathered the opposition storm. Moreover, Saakashvili initially refrained from making acute comments but on June 3 made very serious accusations about his former allies Nino Burjanadze and Zurab Noghaideli. Burjanadze was one of the leaders of the Rose Revolution, for several years Chair of Parliament and twice acting President during the Presidential election campaigns of 2003 and 2008. Noghaideli was Prime Minister for about 3 years. Burjanadze is now one of the most prominent leaders of the street actions and uncompromisingly demands the resignation of the President, refusing to conduct any dialogue with him. Noghaideli is less radical but also demands the President’s resignation as a first step. Saakashvili accused Burjanadze of using her position to get corrupt people, friends and relatives into Parliament and Noghaideli of being corrupt himself. This was why he was removed as PM, Saakashvili now says.

Analysts think that making such allegations shows that Saakashvili has gained confidence and believes himself victorious in this struggle. However they also raise questions. If Saakashvili knew his PM was corrupt why did not he report this to the police, and why was a case not opened against him? Under Georgian law not reporting a crime is a crime itself. Moreover people are curious as to why former Saakashvili allies now in opposition all of a sudden become corrupt only after they go in opposition, like former Defence Minister Irakli Okruashvili, against whom no charges were made until he accused Saakashvili of corruption and many other things himself. You cannot be corrupt if you have no means of being so, and members of the Government are in a much better position to misbehave than those outside the charmed circle.

The current developments distinctly show that the idea that the conflict can be resolved by dialogue is an illusion. We can only expect more confrontation. Saakashvili is now energetically promoting constitutional change, trying to switch the focus of the population and some of the opposition in a different direction. However the present Constitution does not prevent the President from conducting himself in an honest and democratic way should he wish to, and the public are unlikely to see any benefit in changing the cart but keeping the same driver.

The ‘radical’ opposition are revising their position. Most of them have signed the new Charter of Commitments, which contains pledges of positive action rather than the single negative cry about President’s resignation The National Forum, a rather popular opposition union, wants to transfer its campaign to the regions of Georgia, going from village to village carrying out propaganda work. Forum leaders say this work is badly needed because the state blocks regional broadcasts by TV channels which cover opposition activities, mainly Maestro TV. The Alliance for Georgia is still thinking about holding dialogue with the administration, further polarising the opposition into two camps, ‘talkers’ and ‘doers’, who may ultimately find co-existence incompatible.

April 9 and May 26 showed that a considerable amount of dissatisfaction and protest exist in the people. Even if that is not manifest right now, because there is no way of showing it that the public embraces, it could burst out unexpectedly and uncontrollably. No ostrich policy will be effective. A real, effective dialogue, with distinct and just outcomes, could provide a solution. However before this can even be suggested the administration should acknowledge and admit that there is a crisis in the country, a crisis of mistrust, which the administration is ultimately responsible for resolving.