Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 18

On January 29 a dozen opposition parties and three of the six losing presidential candidates issued an ultimatum-like list of 17 demands to Georgian authorities (Civil Georgia, January 29). The declaration is formally addressed to Parliament Chair Nino Burjanadze, because the oppositionists do not recognize either President Mikheil Saakashvili or the Georgian government. The signatories threaten to launch non-stop demonstrations in Tbilisi from February 15 onward, unless the authorities met the demands before that date.

None of the 17 points contain policy proposals or programmatic views of the opposition. Instead, all of the demands are designed to set the stage for regime change at the upcoming parliamentary elections. The preamble describes the president and government as an “illegitimate regime” and declares that the oppositionists “refuse to cooperate” with the authorities. It claims, “An overwhelming majority of independent observers believe that the January 5 presidential election was held amid total falsification and violence” — a claim designed to inflame passions in Georgia and obviously in conflict with international assessments of the election.

The salient demands include:

a) Internationally supervised recalculation of the presidential-election votes cast in disputed districts and criminal prosecution of those responsible for any violations;

b) Holding parliamentary elections before the expiry of the current parliament’s session (that is, in April at the latest, instead of the envisaged May date);

c) Release of persons “arrested for their political beliefs” and investigation into the forcible dispersal of the November 7, 2007, demonstration;

d) Resignation of Internal Affairs Minister Vano Merabishvili and (unspecified) restructuring of several of the ministry’s departments, including that for Special Operations (this department video- and audio-recorded presidential candidate Badri Patarkatsishvili discussing a coup d’etat);

e) Creation of parliamentary and territorial district commissions, with equal representation of government and opposition, to monitor and investigate the Interior Ministry and other law-enforcement agencies;

f) Parity representation of government and opposition representatives on the Public Broadcaster’s supervisory board and appointment of the Broadcaster’s general director by agreement of all political parties;

g) “Reformation” (not specified) of the currently existing electoral system in single-mandate districts, where a contingent of parliamentary deputies are elected;

h) Equal numerical representation of all “electoral entities” (that is, parties and blocs) on the electoral commissions at the local, district, and central levels and distribution of the commissions’ chair, vice-chair, and secretary positions also equally among all “electoral entities;” and

i) Prohibiting the president’s and other “political officials’” participation in the electoral campaign.

Point A seems to have been introduced for symbolic value, as the parties actually prepare for the parliamentary elections and indeed seek in point B to hold those elections earlier than envisaged. There are no known “political prisoners” in Georgia and the opposition seems unable to name any. (Its lone candidate to that status, Irakli Batiashvili, was amnestied last month after serving 18 months of a seven-year sentence for having egged on the Upper Kodori warlord Emzar Kvitsiani to take up arms against the Georgian government). The demands in points C and D, relating to November 7 and Merabishvili, pursue the tactical goal of splitting the authorities — a goal on which the opposition has focused in vain since the September start of its regime-change campaign. The investigative powers demanded in point E are a prescription for the collapse of public order and seem to stem from these groups’ political naïveté rather than deliberate design.

The demands stated in points F and G have already been conceded by the authorities: the Public Broadcaster’s leadership is being changed as demanded, and the single-mandate constituencies are to be abolished, rather than reformed, prior to the start of the parliamentary elections campaign.

In point H, equal numerical representation of all “electoral entities” would clearly give the opposition parties and blocs a majority on electoral commission seats at all levels, against the governing National Movement as one “entity.” The opposition held 6 out of 13 seats on electoral commissions at all levels during the recent presidential election. Inasmuch as the commissions took their decisions by a two-thirds majority, the opposition could easily have blocked the certification of election results in many precincts. But it only proved fraud in 18 precincts, out of Georgia’s 3,511 precincts. Point I is clearly designed to stop President Saakashvili, who remains the country’s most effective political campaigner, from campaigning for the National Movement.

The runner-up in the recent presidential election, Levan Gachechiladze (26% to Saakashvili’s 53.5%), introduced this set of demands to the public on January 29 on Rustavi Television. Gachechiladze warned: “If these demands are not met, I call on all Georgians to come to a protest rally at Parliament on February 15… An uncompromising fight and permanent protest rallies will be launched. I will fight to the end.” Gachechiladze described the Georgian government as “anti-Georgian” and the internationally respected education minister-designate, Ghia Nodia, as “the number-one anti-Georgian” (Rustavi-2 TV, January 29). While complaining of insufficient access to the media, opposition leaders regularly engage in such inflammatory rhetoric live on the supposedly pro-government Rustavi and Mze televisions.