In a joint February 21 press conference with Lithuanian Seimas Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Žygimantas Pavilionis, Georgian opposition parties expressed their readiness to postpone the February 25 rallies over election “fraud,” in a move to offer the ruling Georgian Dream party a compromise to renew foreign-facilitated post-election talks.
But the opposition leaders from the United National Movement, European Georgia, Lelo, and others said their demands – election reform, snap elections, and ending alleged politically motivated investigations – remain unchanged. These are the demands the ruling party repeatedly denied.
Lithuanian MP Warns Sanctions
At the press conference MP Pavilionis, who arrived in Georgia yesterday to offer his help in solving the crisis, said international “response will follow” if the opposition leader is detained, asserting that “we could come to the question of sanctions.”
MP Žygimantas, who held a wide range of meetings over the weekend with GD lawmakers, opposition leaders, CSOs, and diplomatic missions in Georgia, also said today Georgian leaders “pretend to defend rule of law, but actually, they shake the foundations of democracy in Georgia.”
“I really hoped that the Government would be very clear that they would drop all charges against the opposition leader, UNM leader, Nika Melia. It didn’t happen today, but I really hope that it will happen tomorrow. Because if tomorrow will not come, they will pay the price for this,” MP Žygimantas warned.
“You will never be able to accede to EU and NATO being […] a one-party democracy. It is not a democracy at all,” the Lithuanian lawmaker remarked, calling on the Georgian Dream to respond to the opposition’s “goodwill for dialogue.”
Asked by Georgian media on the possible types of sanctions, MP Pavilionis said: “I am still full of hope that it [Melia’s detention] will not happen… [If not,] people will collect data and will make response, especially to those individuals who committed this action [Melia’s detention]. It [the sanctions] will be targeted to those directly responsible, it will not hurt Georgian people, but somebody will pay a price.”
The Lithuanian MP’s visit and opposition’s calls for dialogue come as the political crisis runs deeper in Georgia after the court ruled pre-trial detention for Melia over his failure to post increased bail in the June 2019 unrest case. The court ruling was followed by the controversial resignation of Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia.
Boycotting opposition parties asked for renewed talks soon after Gakharia’s resignation, a call that has so far gone unheeded as the ruling party tapped incumbent Defense Minister and former MP Irakli Garibashvili, infamous for his hawkish stance against the UNM, as Gakharia’s replacement.
The major opposition parties are rejecting the October 31 election outcome as fraudulent, and are refusing to enter the new Parliament. The initial post-election talks, facilitated by the U.S. and EU Ambassadors, have stalled since early December after now-GD Chair Irakli Kobakhidze unveiled a legislative initiative to strip boycotting parties of state funding.