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Suspense, Awkward Moments as Parliament Spring Season Opens

On February 2 the new convocation of the Georgian Parliament opened with its first session, adding a few more controversies to Georgia’s troubled politics.

Blame it on the West

The Georgian Dream MPs abstained from revoking the mandates of the 51 opposition MPs – from the largest opposition parties – against their express wish to quit.  The vote in itself was not unexpected, as the ruling party made it clear earlier in the morning that it would refrain from terminating the opposition mandates.

Ruling party chair Irakli Kobakhidze said the decision would serve as a “constitutional instrument” against the attempt to “sabotage” the Parliament by boycotting opposition lawmakers.

During the session, MP Tea Tsulukiani, the Georgian Dream’s new whip, said “her heart is longing” for meeting the opposition’s demands and to cancel the mandates of “these child-jailers, rapers, and oppressors,” but, regretfully, the party opted to abstain from this step this time. It would be wrong to obstruct the upcoming rounds of the political talks, MP Tsulukiani explained. These talks between the boycotting opposition and the ruling party have been stalled since early December, while the Georgian Dream has been trying to break the opposition ranks and lure in as many as possible. MP Tsululiani added that calls from President Zurabishvili and the western facilitators of the talks, who are against the termination of opposition mandates, were taken into account.

The voting outcome will mean that, for weeks to come, the Georgian public and country’s foreign watchers will continue to ponder the viability of the opposition boycott.

It is also doubtful whether the ruling party’s decision will make any difference – the GD MPs tirelessly quoted Zurab Japaridze, leader of the Girchi – More Freedom party, who argued that some opposition politicians were not willing to end the parliamentary boycott even if GD met all of their four demands.

The Citizens’ Duo Joins Parliament

In a not so surprising turn of events, Alexander (Aleko) Elisashvili and Levan Ioseliani – two MPs from the Citizens’ party defied the general boycott, making them the first elected opposition party to join the legislature.

MP Elisashvili – formerly a journalist and Tbilisi preservationist activist – got the chance to address the public from the Parliamentary seat for the first time, and to defend his controversial decision.

According to Elisashvili, he still believes October 31, 2020, parliamentary elections were rigged but decided to participate in the parliament to make the recent poll “the last rigged elections in the history of Georgia.” The reform memorandum that the Citizens agreed with the party as a prerequisite for ending the boycott is to guarantee this, Elisashvili stressed.

The Citizens’ duo is not the first opposition group in the 150-member Parliament, dominated by 90 Georgian Dream MPs, however. Earlier, four businessmen made it to the legislature through the nativist Alliance of Patriots party list, quitting their party to found a new European Socialists outfit.

It was also at the first spring sitting that one of the patriot-turned-socialists – Avtandil Enukidze – was elected as a parliamentary Vice-Speaker through opposition quota.

Exchanging Wrong Numbers

To reaffirm that the Citizens entered the legislature to hear and voice people’s concerns in the first place, MP Elisashvili rehashed his campaign move and re-announced his personal mobile phone number – saying he was ready to hear anyone cared to call. He complained, however, that responding to hundreds of calls daily “is hell,” possibly scaring away more empathetic potential callers.

The GD MPs did not leave Elisashvili’s vote-fraud allegations without attention. MP Tsulukiani noted acidly, “why are you here than the polls were rigged, then?!”. Then, she controversially aped Elisashvili’s move and announced another mobile phone number – that of Nika Gvaramia, head of the pro-opposition Mtavari Arkhi TV.

She addressed Elisashvili ironically: “call [Gvaramia on this number] and repeat to us whatever he dictates on whether the election was rigged”. Gvaramia, formerly Prosecutor-General under previous administration who has recast himself as a colorful TV personality, has been at loggerheads with the Georgian Dream.

The move by Ms. Tsulukiani was decried as a breach of privacy by some of the civil society groups and by Gvaramia himself. The latter complained about being overwhelmed by hundreds of calls after the announcement by the “foolish and evil” Tsulukiani – but said many of these calls and messages were supportive, helpfully presenting screenshots as proof.

State Inspector Londa Toloraia, whose responsibilities include legal control of personal data processing, has confirmed her office would open an inquest into the lawfulness of Tsulukiani broke the law by disclosing that phone number without prior consent – “despite the fact that Gvaramia’s phone number is publicly listed on the internet.”

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