Georgian authorities and opposition may reach agreement

Mikhail Simonov, exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza
Georgian authorities and opposition may reach agreement

Tbilisi tries to overcome the political crisis, in which Georgia found itself after failed vote in parliament to pass constitutional amendments. The amendments included, among other things, transition from a mixed - majority-proportional - system of parliamentary elections to a proportional one with zero votes passing barrier.

This is what chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream (GM) party Bidzina Ivanishvili promised in the summer, when Tbilisi was overwhelmed by mass protests caused by appearance of State Duma deputy Sergey Gavrilov in parliament. The promise of informal ruler of Georgia brought down protest wave.

However, when it came to parliamentary vote, a group of majority deputies from GM didn't support the bill. The opposition and part of society, convinced that nothing is happening in Georgia without Ivanishvili's approval, believed that the majority voted based on his instructions, since Ivanishvili was afraid of defeat. Since then protests once again broke out in Tbilisi, and they're now lasting for two weeks. The united opposition and civil activists staged protests, trying to picket parliament and other state bodies in order to paralyze authorities' work. However, they were not very successful.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, who iniatially ignored everyone's dissatisfaction, finally explained what exactly happened yesterday. During the broacast of Imedi television company, he said that the majority deputies, during the course of party discussions, spoke out against changing electoral system. According to Ivanishvili, situation in the party itself was shaky, and in order to prevent a split, he sacrificed party discipline, allowing members of the same party to vote based on their own decision.

At the same time, Ivanishvili noted that indeed, he and GM didn't succeed in fulfilling their promise to switch to proportional election system, but this is not a reason to try to paralyze the country and conduct early elections. According to him, by not fulfilling its promise, the GM caused very serious damage, which voters would "evaluate" through their vote at new parliament elections in 2020, and the opposition should be patient and "see" how this story will end after the vote.

In general, these statements were expected from Ivanishvili - I tried to persuade my party, but it didn’t work out, and in Georgia democracy, freedom of opinion and speech are the most important things. It’s just not very clear why it was necessary to delay this statement for two weeks. Ivanishvili’s statement can be interpreted as a call to sit down and talk. Perhaps on the sidelines.

This is also evidenced by the fact that several prominent representatives of the GM, expectedly praising the words of their leader, have already openly declared their readiness end "the mess in the streets" and try to start cooperating. True, some of them clarified that they are ready to cooperate with anyone from the opposition, but not with the former ruling party the "United National Movement" (UNM).

The diplomatic corps accredited in Georgia, western institutions, which have long been calling on the authorities and the opposition to start a dialogue, generally approved initiative taken by the authorities. But at the same time they expressed concern, fearing that negotiations, scheduled for Saturday, would not be formal.

Authorities, of course, are aware of opposition's concerns. Apparently, they will announce formal negotiations with the opposition soon, where they will state their own concerns. 

Former speaker of the parliament, now member of the parliamentary majority, Irakli Kobakhidze noted that by agreeing to meet with the opposition, the government made concessions just because of the pressure from the diplomatic corps.

This turned out to be enough for opponents of the GM to believe that authorities are trying to gain more time in expectation that situation will resolve itself.

Nevertheless, the EU ambassador to Georgia, Karl Harzel, was pretty optimistic about the upcoming meeting. According to him, the authorities and the opposition should stop talking about each other and it's time to start conversation with each other.

Today, the first round of negotiations ended with no resolution, but perhaps another meeting will take place in the near future. In any case, representatives of diplomatic missions accredited in Georgia strongly recommend not to stop dialogue that has just begun.