Agenda of Political Debate Changes in Government’s Favor

Authorities downplayed opposition’s the
protest rally.
Legislators from the ruling National Movement party passed, with its third and final reading on July 1, a new rule for electing the City Council of Tbilisi and its Mayor without encountering even minor debates from opposition parliamentarians, as they were instead addressing their supporters in a downtown park, protesting against what they called “the government’s violence,” which they feel was expressed when a rally on Rustaveli Avenue  was dispersed overnight on June 30-July 1.

Five opposition parties – the New Rights, Republicans, Conservatives, National-Democratic Party and the Labor Party – could assemble several hundred people on July 1 to demand the resignation of Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, because of the “excessive use of force” that was wielded against protesters, who were demanding the release of two Georgian athletes suspected of blackmail.

But the authorities downplayed both the small rally by the opposition and the demands pushed forward by them. When asked by a reporter on July 1 about the demand to sack Interior Minister Merabishvili, President Mikheil Saakashvili ironically replied: “What else do they [opposition parties] want?”

Some political observers warn that the opposition parties have lost the momentum, which they successfully gained during political debates involving the rule for electing the Tbilisi City Council and the Tbilisi Mayor, by being involved in “a suspicious Athletes’ case.”
“I think that this harsh reaction by the opposition parties was mainly a burst of an anger which was accumulated chiefly in regard to the rule of electing the City Council and Mayor, which was a top political agenda and the main source of tensions between the opposition and the authorities over recent days,” Davit Darchiashvili, chief of the Open Society – Georgia Foundation, said.

“I think political parties should be more principled. Before taking any decision they should consider whom they are supporting and political principles should not become a victim of very short-term goals,” Ghia Nodia of the think-tank Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development said.

Ghia Nodia, Davit Darchiashvili and other civil society representatives including Alex Rondeli, from the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies and Levan Ramishvili, of the Liberty Institute, convened a press conference on July 1 and backed the authorities’ actions against the protesters saying that the police acted within frames of the law. They said that the only mistake that the police made was that they failed to prevent the riots inititated by friends and relatives of the arrested men at the court’s chamber on June 30, after the court sentenced them to three-months pre-trial detention.

Davit Darchiashvili said that among those political parties which tried to exploit the June 30-July 1 events, there were groups which, as he put it, “are not carriers of democratic values.” “If these kinds of events will be repeated it will not help the democratic opposition come into power; on the contrary – it will help odious political forces come into power,” Davit Darchiashvili said.

Observers say that it was the opposition’s mistake to shift the public’s attention from the issue of the new rule for electing the City Council and Mayor to the so-called athletes’ case. This new rule envisages the election of the 25 members of the City Council through a first-past-the-post, “winner takes all” system, while the remaining 12 seats will be distributed, through a so-called “compensatory list” com;prised of those parties which garner at least 4% of the votes in all ten constituencies in the capital city. The 37-member City Council will then elect the Tbilisi Mayor from among its members, with at least a 2/3rds vote, for a four-year term.

The opposition parties were successfully campaigning against this proposal, as the recent polls showed that more than 80% of Tbilisites supported direct elections of the Mayor, as demanded by the opposition parties.


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