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How internal political processes might develop

By Messenger Staff
Friday, October 9
When in mid-June the opposition suspended their protest actions in the centre of the capital they promised to start again in autumn. Half of autumn has passed, but none of the promised activity has yet been seen. Some non-Parliamentary opposition leaders occasionally appear, promising a storm of protest rallies, but nothing has happened so far.

There is no unity among the opposition from an organisational point of view, no agreement on future action and strategy. The Georgian polyphonic tradition has not achieved harmony and it is unlikely to do so in the near future.

The administration meanwhile is already conducting an informal election campaign. Different Ministries are travelling around the country demonstrating their achievements, Ministers are appearing personally, shaking hands, smiling and promising things. Moreover Parliament has hastily adopted draconian amendments to the law on administrative violations, thus restricting almost to the minimum the possibility of holding any kind of street actions. If anyone does want to hold one there are now so many conditions they must fulfill that that an ordinary citizen will think more than twice protesting, because they will be risking their job, freedom and income.

The opposition is already divided into Parliamentary and non-Parliamentary wings. While the Parliamentary version pursues preset goals the non-Parliamentary one has divided into two major factions, one which will take part in elections and another which wants to start a new wave of protest rallies. Some optimists hope that these two factions are seeking the same end - the removal of the current administration - and may therefore eventually achieve it, though they have failed to gather sufficient public behind them to do so thus far.

The next elections will be the local government elections of May 30, 2010, which will be held in Tbilisi among other places. This time the Mayor of Tbilisi will be directly elected by popular vote. The ruling party will presumably offer as candidate the current Mayor Gigi Ugulava. On programmes broadcast on the TV stations controlled by the state, Rustavi 2, Imedi TV and the Georgian Public Broadcaster, Ugulava has begun his campaign, though not officially. President Saakashvili’s initiative to hold the local elections on that date has not yet been confirmed by Parliament and the date is not yet official, leading some to believe that the local elections might be moved for February. The shorter the campaign, the more advantage this is thought to give an incumbent administration, as it gives the opposition less time (and resources) to present itself to the public.

It is widely acknowledged that the battle for control of Tbilisi is the most important part of the local elections. Who wins Tbilisi wins Georgia, say the opposition. So far the opposition do not have a joint candidate, although as yet only one opposition member has said he will stand for the post of Tbilisi Mayor, leader of the Alliance for Georgia Irakli Alasania. The other opposition forces have not so far stated their position. Only Labour has announced that it will not participate in the elections, and said furthermore that if the opposition want to unite they should do so under the Labour flag. Labour considers itself the biggest and most consistent opposition force, having been in opposition since Shevardnadze’s time, but as some commentators say most probably it will stay in opposition forever, which is not what most of the opposition want.

There are some other parties and individuals who could possibly be considered potential Mayoral candidates. Levan Gachechiladze, a Presidential candidate in 2008, is one, and the National Forum, a popular opposition union, could also present a candidate. Former Speaker of Parliament Nino Burjanadze has a party behind her too. The administration could also sponsor some vague ‘opposition’ candidate who would take votes from genuine opposition candidates. The administration wants the opposition to be as divided as possible, because if they unite they have a definite chance of beating Ugulava. This does of course assume that the elections themselves will be free and fair, a point which seems to have been forgotten in the rush to stand, or publicly refuse to stand, for these elections themselves.

Some parties have suggested hold primary elections in order to select a common opposition candidate. But even in this there is no unity. Some opposition leaders are now trying to use the report of the EU fact finding commission to foment public protest, particularly by selectively quoting the part of the report which says that the war began with the Georgian attack on Tskhinvali. But this is what Russians say as well, and therefore such talk is not popular with the general population. Opposing Saakashvili does not mean opposing Georgia, and the current opposition cannot afford to give the Government any excuse for linking these two things in the minds of the voters. Some Georgian opposition members insist on continuing the investigation and finding out exactly who took which decisions before and during the war, but again this may only muddy the waters, diverting attention from the points the public would hold against the Government at the ballot box.

If the opposition want to perform well they need to do three things. Firstly they have to unite, or at least the major parties have to. Then they have to do their utmost to neutralise the advantage of administrative resources available to the ruling party. Then it must introduce genuine amendments into the election code and make sure they are implemented, or otherwise everything will remain as it is, and the opposition will still be the opposition because they cannot run themselves, let alone the country.

One way or another 2010 will be yet another difficult year for Georgia. We have not yet emerged from the economic crisis, and social issues will have to become everyone’s priority in winter and spring.