Georgia: Opposition announces plans for "alternative" parliament
|Publication Date||27 May 2008|
|Cite as||EurasiaNet, Georgia: Opposition announces plans for "alternative" parliament, 27 May 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4847a564c.html [accessed 21 September 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
5/27/08: Text by Molly Corso; Photos by Sophia Mizante
Georgia's largest opposition parties are threatening to create an "alternative" parliament if preliminary results that show the governing United National Movement swept the polls in the May 21 parliamentary elections are not annulled. Although final results have not yet been announced, the Central Election Commission's preliminary figures show the National Movement winning 120 out of 150 seats.
At a May 26 street protest in Tbilisi, opposition leaders announced that an "alternative" parliament would be used to give the opposition the voice they claim the "falsified" election results have denied them.
At a televised briefing with Polish President Lech Kaczynski to mark Georgia's May 26 Independence Day, President Mikheil Saakashvili stated that "the minority should ... respect the will of the majority. Dialogue is the only alternative. Nothing can threaten Georgia's institutions."
So far, however, the chances for such a dialogue appear close to nil. Georgia's leading opposition coalition has already announced plans to boycott the parliament. Currently, all opposition parties that cleared the 5 percent threshold to take seats in the legislature – with the exception of the Christian Democratic Movement – have agreed to the boycott.
Election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe offered tepid praise for the May 21 vote. "These elections were not perfect, but since I was here in January for the presidential election, concrete and substantial progress has been made. Problems and much work remain," said Joao Soares, head of an OSCE delegation to Georgia. While the OSCE assessment would seem to give the opposition grounds for discontent, the lack of evidence of grievous instances of vote-rigging undermines the opposition's contention that the election results should be deemed illegitimate.
In discussing plans for the alternative parliament with EurasiaNet, Giorgi Khaindrava, a former State Minister for Conflict Resolution, described the body as "a representative chamber [with] people who were chosen by Georgian society, but [who] were not given the opportunity to work officially in parliament."
While some local observers see the "alternative" assembly as a recipe for disorder, the opposition's vision remains sketchy. Based on one description, the alternative parliament sounds more like an outdoor discussion forum. Conservative Party member Zviad Dzidziguri, a leader of an opposition coalition, says that opposition parliament candidates will simply hold deliberations in front of the actual parliament building while the National Movement-run official parliament convenes inside.
"This alternative parliament will be an organ where we can discuss those political and international issues that are troubling for Georgia," Dzidziguri told EurasiaNet. "We have the right to discuss political questions. How we will discuss them is our right, our constitutional right. We are not going to bother anyone."
He added that the idea is still under development.
But former Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili, leader of the opposition party Georgia's Way, told EurasiaNet that the alternative parliament is secondary to the opposition's real goal – stopping the newly elected parliament from convening.
"It is not an alternative parliament. It is the parliament of those leaders who have been elected from the opposition that do not want to collaborate with an authoritarian state," Zourabichvili said.
The parliament is expected to convene no later than June 20, pending the release of final election results. One Tbilisi political scientist, however, questions whether the opposition – comprising 11 parties – has the leverage to stop the parliament from sitting. With an apparent constitutional two-thirds majority in the body, the National Movement has little reason to compromise with the opposition, argued Dr. Tina Gogheliani.
"At the moment, the president perhaps should [consider] a compromise, but there is no sign of compromise. There is deadlock," Gogheliani said.
The idea of an alternative parliament, she added, is unlikely to carry any real weight. "It [the alternative parliament] will be a kind of alternative, but everyone knows it will not be a functional one," Gogheliani said.
Whether or not the Christian Democratic Movement decides to join the parliamentary boycott could have a significant impact of the opposition coalition's political strategy. The Christian Democrats won over 8 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results, and has benefited from a rising tide of popular interest in issues related to the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The Christian Democrats have indicated that they will decide on the boycott question within a few days. Party leader Giorgi Targamadze is already on record, however, as saying that it will not join a single-party parliament. Gogheliani said that if the Christian Democrats do not join the boycott, Saakashvili's National Movement would be able to present the parliament as bipartisan, and deflect the boycott's political impact.
For now, the opposition appears to hope that street protests will place pressure on the government. The May 26 demonstration ran roughly in parallel with the official Independence Day military parade on Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi's main street. The several-thousand strong opposition march, though, reached parliament roughly half an hour after the military parade finished and the official guests had cleared the stage in front of the building.
Helmeted Special Forces police, equipped with truncheons and shields, had been mobilized inside parliament, and exchanged insults with protestors through iron gates. Opposition leaders, alternatively pacifying demonstrators and making demands of the Special Forces, claimed that the units had denied them entry into the building.
One potential clash, however, was narrowly missed when marching protestors en route to parliament came up against metal barricades and two buses stretched across a street to block their way.
Yelling vociferously, younger demonstrators tossed the barricades aside and began an assault on one of the buses, when police finally allowed the vehicle to be driven from the scene. A police tank headed toward the site that was seen by a EurasiaNet reporter also reversed direction and departed.
On May 27, the opposition resumed street protests with a demonstration in front of the headquarters of Georgian Public Broadcasting to complain about official media coverage of the opposition demonstration the previous day. Opposition leaders accused state television of coverage biased in favor of the Saakashvili administration.
Station director Levan Kubaneishvili vigorously defended Public Television's coverage, noting that the opposition rally/march received 39 minutes of news coverage. "There are a lot of other activities that need to be shown on television," he said.
Political scientist Gogheliani questioned the effectiveness of the opposition's campaign against public television. "They [the opposition] need to elaborate [a] much wiser strategy," she said. "[The opposition] needs to be more pragmatic and less emotional."
Editor's Note: Molly Corso is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi. Sophia Mizante is a freelance photographer also based in Tbilisi. With reporting by EurasiaNet Caucasus News Editor Elizabeth Owen in Tbilisi.