Georgian Opposition Plans Boycott

Political standoff continues as opposition plans to boycott new parliament

Georgian Opposition Plans Boycott

Political standoff continues as opposition plans to boycott new parliament

Several of the opposition parties which won seats in Georgia’s new parliament are planning to boycott the legislature, alleging that the May 21 parliamentary election was rigged against them.

With the governing National Movement party set to receive 120 out of the 150 seats, according to official results, the confrontation between the authorities and the opposition looks set to continue.

President Mikheil Saakashvili, who said he was surprised by the scale of the victory achieved by his National Movement, said he hoped “the parliament won’t be left without representatives of the opposition”.

The nine-party coalition United Opposition and the Labour Party, which received 17.7 and 7.4 per cent of the vote, respectively, announced they would not be taking up their seats at a mass opposition rally in Tbilisi on May 26. Tens of thousands of people attended the rally.

“We don’t recognise the results of a poll that was rigged by the authorities,” said United Opposition leader David Gamkrelidze.

Most of the parties involved then signed a memorandum proposing the creation of an “alternative parliament”.

However, there are some dissenters from the plan. Paata Davitaia, leader of the “We Ourselves” party, said he would support a boycott of the official parliament, but could not support the idea of an alternative.

“We already had these kinds of parallel structures in the early Nineties, and that led the country to civil war,” he said. “I can’t take responsibility for processes like this.”

Giorgi Targamadze, leader of the Christian Democratic Movement, has asked for more time to consider his options. “We will take our decision regarding the opposition memorandum in a few days’ time,” said Targamadze. “Our party won’t remain in parliament alone with the National Movement But we also need to clarify issues regarding the alternative parliament.”

No one has yet said exactly what structure and functions the new body might have. The alternative parliament is supposed to start work in the second half of June, and will be housed in the offices of the New Rights movement. The post of speaker of the opposition parliament will be given to David Gamkrelidze, who was second on the United Opposition’s party list.

The opposition is also planning to hold a protest rally outside the Georgian parliament on June 10, two days after the final results of the election are due.

A final verdict on the parliamentary election has not yet been delivered either by international or local monitors.

A preliminary report by international monitors said that “overall, voting was assessed positively by the large majority of [international] observers.” But it recorded a number of concerns, including inaccurate voters’ lists, suspiciously high numbers of “mobile voters”, intimidation of election observers and proxies. The report ended by saying, “Counting was assessed less positively, with significant procedural shortcomings observed, as was tabulation.”

A local non-governmental organisation, Fair Elections, which has yet to release its final report, conducted a parallel count which broadly corresponded to the official results. But Eka Siradze, director of the organisation, told IWPR that they were worried by several aspects of the election – for example, more voters than had actually been registered cast their votes in mobile ballot boxes.

“Our observers recorded cases of voters being put under pressure, and of observers, including our own, being put under pressure,” she said. “We will soon publish a detailed report on this, but we can’t say for definite how this influenced the parallel vote count which we conducted.”

The fact that the National Movement won an overwhelming 71 of the 75 seats elected by the first-past-the post system has also raised eyebrows.

Political analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze said the party chose a lot of businessmen as its candidates in these constituencies.

“These businessmen promised people quite specific things – for example that a factory would be built in their region, jobs created and so on,” said Sakvarelidze. “These businessmen also spent much more money during the election campaign.”

The authorities have said that the new parliament will begin working whatever the opposition does.

Political analyst David Darchiashvili, elected as a National Movement member of parliament, said the opposition had no good evidence to support allegations poll rigging.

“The results of the 21 May election are a good indication of what society’s general mood is,” he said. “It’s true that the results in a number of polling stations where gross violations were observed have been annulled, and more results may still be annulled, but there’s no chance of any significant changes.”

Mikheil Machavariani, deputy speaker of the outgoing parliament, warned that the opposition boycott could pitch the country into a new and “fatal” confrontation, and said the National Movement was prepared to make significant concessions to prevent this.

“Although we have a constitutional majority in this parliament, we are ready to give up important levers of power to the opposition, including the positions of heads of parliamentary committees,” he said.

Archil Gegeshidze, an expert with the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, said the authorities’ crushing victory paradoxically left them in a quandary.

“I think that the authorities themselves did not want or expect a result like this,” he said. “The results were ensured in advance, independently of them, by the state machine that was up and running as soon as the elections started. These results are a challenge to the authorities, who are now at a loss and don’t know what to do.”

Gegeshidze said that he could not see how an alternative parliament could be effective.

Kakha Gogolashvili, another political analyst, described the election results as “absolutely logical”. “I think the opposition is again adopting the wrong tactics by organising an alternative parliament,” he said. “The election showed that a large part of the society won’t back tough actions like this. Besides, it’s obvious that the opposition has lost some of its support since the November events [when police broke up opposition protests] and the presidential election.”

One statistic should worry both government and opposition – the fact that there was a very low turnout of just 52 per cent. In Tbilisi alone, around 100,000 fewer voters came to the polls than in the presidential election in January.

Analyst Gia Khukhashvili said one reason turnout was low that the opposition had failed to mobilise voters and to stay united. It had also alienated people by calling for protests without explaining the reason for them, he said.

“But that still doesn’t mean we can say the election results are an accurate reflection of the mood of society,” he said. “It’s just that the authorities were able to mobilise their supporters and the opposition wasn’t. But [the mass protests on] May 26 showed that the opposition fire has not gone out amongst people.”

Sakvarelidze said Georgian society remained strongly polarised. He said, “On the one hand the opposition’s new initiatives are doomed to failure – they are losing their parliamentary platform. On the other hand, they are winning back the hearts of those who are unhappy with the authorities.”

Tamar Khorbaladze is a correspondent with 24 Hours newspaper in Tbilisi.

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