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Prolonged state of emergency in Georgia

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Tuessday, April 28
The main event of the past week is the Parliament’s April 22nd sitting, which extended the state of emergency until May 22nd. At the same time, however, it became clear that the anti-epidemic unity of government and opposition no longer existed. However, by demonstrating this unity, the parliament declared a state of emergency. In parallel to this, the difficulties caused by the state of emergency are causing growing dissatisfaction among the population, which was followed by a mass protest rally in Marneuli.

On April 22nd, the Georgian Parliament approved by 97 votes to 10 a resolution on the government's request to extend the state of emergency for one month. Georgian Dream has enough votes for this, but the nature of the relationship between the government and the opposition is worrying. Opposition groups called for an end to the state of emergency only if the government presented a specific anti-crisis plan and a budget for the crisis. He received a response from the authorities that the government's anti-crisis plan would be approved two days later, on April 24th. The opposition was also outraged that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health did not attend the April 22nd meeting.

The opposition demanded that the situation be resolved, questioning the need for a number of emergency restrictions, as well as its vision of what anti-crisis measures should look like. Authorities avoided this, generally calling the opposition's statements populist and not taking them seriously. The United National Movement and European Georgia have again been declared enemies of the country by the government. The main argument for continuing the state of emergency is that the restrictions have worked well, and that the epidemic has not been widespread for two or three weeks now, when we are entering the ‘most active peak phase’ of the epidemic.

Most citizens are frightened by the impending famine more than the virus. The majority of Georgia's population depends on daily income. The one-month cessation of activities has exhausted all available resources, and the government has not received any tangible material assistance, nor do they promise to do so in the future. On April 22nd, when the state of emergency was extended for one month in Parliament, residents of several villages in Marneuli municipality held a mass protest and demanded the lifting of existing restrictions. Without being able to sell fruits and vegetables, they are left without income. Interestingly, the protesters were chanting the name of the third president, Mikheil Saakashvili. Authorities immediately announced the rally to be organized by the United National Movement. Even if the rally were to be organized by the UNM, the problem is solved by identifying this. Other regions are also affected by the drawbacks of the state of emergency and such dissatisfaction could erupt in different parts of the country. Another reason for the escalation of the conflict between the opposition and the government was the fire that broke out on April 19th in Mikheil Saakashvili's presidential library while going live on Facebook. It turned out that the person, named Badri Katamadze, is a well-known dissident of the opposition rallies, who physically abused Nika Gvaramia and destroyed Malkhaz Machalikashvili’s tent. The opposition accused the government of protecting Katamadze and of deliberately using him. For example, MP Tina Bokuchava said that "Badri Katamadze is an agent of the SSS (State Security Service) and that ‘he enjoys complete inviolability.’ On April 19th, when the Saakashvili Library caught fire, Georgia's third president in Ukraine came up with another initiative - offering the Georgian government the status of a ‘temporary official’ and promising to mobilize several billion dollars in aid to the country. Authorities opposed the protest with all available police forces, special services and the army. It became known for the second time that Mikheil Saakashvili would become Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister, and one of the tasks he would be assigned was to mobilise funds from international organisations for Ukraine. In addition, and most importantly, they expect reforms from him. Saakashvili’s returning to active politics will be an additional headache for the Georgian government, and not only that, it will be an uncomfortable surprise for Putin as well.

The prolongation of the state of emergency until May 22nd was followed by concerns from the opposition that the government had prevented the adoption of previously agreed constitutional amendments under the pretext of an epidemic. Authorities are trying to dispel such suspicions.

According to President Salome Zurabishvili, everything is being done to ensure that the extension of the state of emergency does not affect the timely adoption of constitutional amendments and the election calendar. Gia Volski, the vice-speaker of the parliament, also gave specific dates for the constitutional changes to the journalists: “We are not going to postpone the discussion of the constitutional amendments. We hope that we will return to this issue in June, we will finish the discussion in the first half of July and the elections will be held in October.” Georgia is entering the peak of the epidemic and the future regarding the restrictions is still uncertain.
(Translated by Mariam Mchedlidze)