The arrest of a 33-year old member of Georgia’s Parliament on May 19 has seriously damaged the Saakashvili government’s reputation. MP Giorgi Kenchadze, an activist in the National-Democrats ruling party, has been charged with influence peddling by extorting some US$100,000 from Ajarian businessmen.According to an investigation, Kenhcadze offered to use his position in the government to benefit the businessmen. Prosecutor General Irakli Okruashvili said that the investigation is tracing possible accomplices of the corrupt MP.
Georgian media has already speculated that a fair investigation may implicate several high-ranking officials, including insiders of President Mikhail Saakashvili. This incident is not the only problem facing the ruling party and its eclectic parliamentary faction.
The shaping of an intra-parliamentary opposition was one of the main political trends in recent days. Many members of the faction stepped into the parliament on the coat-tails of Saakashvili, Prime-Minister Zurab Zhvania and Parliament Chair Nino Burjanadze — leaders of the “Rose Revolution.” Akaki Asatiani, chair of the union Traditionalists-National-Democrats, said that the pro-governmental faction is following Saakashvili solely for personal profit and influential posts. (Resonance, May 15).
Two weeks ago, seven MPs, including Zviad Dzidziguri, defected from the 139-member ruling party. This faction represent the national-liberation movement, followers of Georgia’s late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. According to Dzidziguri, they disagreed with the ruling party about the 2004 state budget, which Parliament approved despite what they considered to be serious flaws.
The dissenting MPs, who complain that the government and the faction’s leadership deprive ordinary MPs of political initiative, are expected to form a new opposition faction. In an interview with Mtavari Gazeti (May 12), defecting MP Dzidziguri said that if the ruling party’s parliamentary faction continues to pressure its members, the parliamentarian majority will split into the several groups.
However, others disagree with him. “Like Eduard Shevardnadze, today Saakashvili is playing the role of locomotive,” said MP, David Gamkrelidze, chair of the “New Rightists -Industrialists,” so far the sole opposition faction in the parliament. He said that as long as Saakashvili’s rating is high, the parliamentary majority does not face dissolution in the immediate future. (Mtavari Gazeti, May 18).
The fight for spheres of influence and power in the ruling party’s camp is particularly visible in post-Abashidze Ajaria. The struggle for the post of Batumi (capital of Ajaria) mayor is an example. Recently Saakashvili supporter David Berdzenishvili (MP of the National-Democrat faction) has expressed interest in the mayoral post which is currently held by Edvard Surmanidze, another MP from the National-Democrats and protégé of Prime-Minister Zhvania. Berdzenishvili’s action has irritated his partisan comrades who learned about his plans through television. They openly scolded Berdzenishvili for violation of party discipline. (Week’s Palette, May 17-23).
How long the “Cold War” between the different groups in the ruling party will last and what the results will be remains to be seen. What is obvious is that many members of the new parliament do not intend to remain silent. Rather, they intend to remain visible and emerge as independent players.
If this trend continues, fractionalization of the parliamentary majority is likely to take place. Such a scenario could create more problems for President Saakashvili, who has constitutional right to dissolve Parliament.