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Western pressure has increased the chances of democratic elections

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wednesday, May 27
Demands from the West for the release of political prisoners and the full implementation of the March 8th agreement have put the Georgian Dream in a difficult position and changed its position. It was the Western pressure that proved to be an effective factor in boosting the democratization of elections in Georgia.

A few days ago, the agreement reached between the government and the opposition on March 8 seemed to be in a deadlock. Authorities categorically denied that on March 8, they had promised to release the opposition members I.Okruashvili, G. Ugulava and G. Rurua's, while the opposition claimed that it would not support the constitutional changes without the release of the prisoners. Archil Talakvadze, the Chairman of the Parliament, stated this position of the Georgian Dream on May 11th. On May 13th, the United Opposition reiterated that it would not support constitutional changes without the ‘release of political prisoners.’

The intervention of the Western mediators was still necessary, and the Georgian Dream itself provoked it when the mediating diplomats were asked to negotiate - saying that the March 8 agreement did not provide for the release of anyone. The facilitators of this agreement did not hesitate and in a joint statement issued on May 11, called on the parties to fulfill both parts of the agreement for ‘a successful implementation.’ In the May 12th statement, Senator Rish said on Twitter that he hoped Georgian political parties would fully comply with the March agreement, including the release of political prisoners and progress on the new electoral system.

The mention of ‘political prisoners’ has caused a great stir in Georgia, the opposition has been encouraged, and the government has put its desire to argue with its Western friends on the basis of misinformation. Meanwhile, on May 15th, it was announced that US Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, as well as Congressmen Jody Arrington and Marquine Malin, had sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Finance Minister Stephen Mnuchin. In the letter, concerns have been raised about the Georgian government's ties with US enemies. They also accused the Georgian government of expelling American businesses and cited companies such as Frontera Resources and Conti Group as examples. In the letter, US senators and congressmen noted that “Georgia's ties with America's hostile rivals and enemies, which run counter to our geostrategic and business interests” require a serious response from the federal government.

The Georgian Dream failed to properly assess the situation, and the West's harsh response came as a complete surprise to them. Strict assessments by European politicians and US congressmen followed. They have made it clear that the March 8 agreement is bipartisan and that in addition to the reform of the electoral system (120 proportional and 30 majoritarian seats in today's 77/73), imprisoned opposition figures must be released. The term ‘political prisoners’ was first used with regard to them.

The Georgian Dream chose to retreat. In order to defuse the situation, President Salome Zurabishvili said on May 15th that Gigi Ugulava and Irakli Okruashvili had been pardoned and that they had been released immediately. In order to not lose face, the Georgian Dream initially stated that Zurabishvili made the decision to pardon the prisoners without their consent and did not agree to the release of ‘arrested criminals.’ This seems to have upset President Zurabishvili, who said his decision to pardon Ugulava and Okruashvili was not a surprise to the government and agreed with Ito Bidzina Ivanishvili, Giorgi Gakharia and Archil Talakvadze. This caused another inconvenience to the Georgian Dream, as they had previously claimed that they knew nothing about the president's decision. The release of two opposition politicians has raised hopes that the March 8th agreement will finally be implemented and that better conditions will be created in Georgia for democratic elections, although many issues remain unresolved and, as it turns out, new problems may arise.

The opposition negatively assessed the legislative initiative registered by the 6 pro-government parliamentarians on May 19th, which allows that without the consent of the parliament, the government will be able to take measures on transportation, economic activity, property, collection, labor and other rights. The initiators of the bill demand its immediate adoption, while the opposition considers the possibility of carrying out the restrictions characteristic of the state of emergency according to the will of the government as a step towards authoritarianism and unconstitutional. It becomes even more dangerous ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections. This issue will probably be one of the main topics next week.

The government is feeling comfortable as the opposition’s activity was limited in the state of emergency, and on May 26th the state of emergency has ended. However, this year’s June 20th, marks a year since the event, which turned out to be a somewhat turning point for the Georgian political processes.
(Translated by Mariam Mchedlidze)