Georgian Opposition Seeks 'Peaceful' Ouster of Saakashvili But Faces Uphill Fight
by Paul Goble

On-going series: Crisis in the Caucasus - 2008
The Russian / Georgian Conflict and Its Impact on Azerbaijan

Window on Eurasia: Original Blog Article

Vienna, November 7 ­ A year to the day since President Mikhail Saakashvili used force to disperse a demonstration in Tbilisi, an action for which he has now apologized, more than 10,000 Georgians staged a demonstration there to demand "an independent investigation" of the August war and "the peaceful change of government" in their country.

Organized by both five opposition parties and various groups not represented in the parliament, the demonstration marks the first step in a five-month action plan designed to culminate in the replacement of Saakashvili and the restoration of media and other freedoms in Georgia.

The immediate goal of the opposition is the "return of Imedi television back to its legal owner before November 23" ­ the fifth anniversary of the Rose Revolution ­ and the opening up of the country's electronic media to all parties, something that revolution was carried out in the first place to ensure.

Then, the opposition figures say, they will form "a united political organization" at an assembly to be held sometime between December 10 and 20. Some of them are looking forward to the creation of a single Democratic Party while others appear to be in favor of a looser confederation of groups.

Among those pushing for a single party are Gia Tortladze and Georgy Tsagareishvili, two former activists of the United Opposition. The3y declared yesterday that they are even now working to establish a new political organization, the Democratic Party of Georgia, which they said would have a center-right orientation.

That group whether tightly organized or not, the opposition figures now say, will organize demonstrations on January 25th to demand that the results of the January 2008 presidential and the May 2008 parliamentary elections null and void because of what they say were massive violations by government officials of the country's election laws.

And if after these actions, "the authorities do not take into consideration the demands of the Georgian people," then, "on April 9, 20009, a national disobedience campaign and continuous round-the-clock protest rallies will be staged outside the parliament building [in Tbilisi] and in other cities and regions of the country.

That campaign, the opposition figures said today in a broadside, "will last until President Saakashvili and his government resign."

During today's demonstrations, opposition leaders explained why they feel compelled to launch what would be in fact a peaceful revolution but a revolution nonetheless. Levan Gachechiladze, who lost to Saakashvili in the presidential race, said that the Georgian president's actions in August and at other times left the people no other choice.

"This country belongs to us," he said, and we will not allow anyone to harm it. We must remember that in the regions of Georgia conditions are extremely bad. Together we will save Georgia" from the errors of its leadership during the war with Russia and from their increasingly repressive regime.

Meanwhile, other opposition figures created the Path of Ilya Union of Social-Political Organizations and Parties. Named in honor of Ilya Chavchavadze, that group has as its immediate goal the restoration of relations with and the normalization of ties to the Russian Federation.

Other opposition figures are discussing what they should do, with personal ambitions and hostilities often preventing them from coming together in any concerted effort for long. That has long been a Georgian problem where some people say "with two Georgians, you will have at least three political parties."

And there are two other reasons why the opposition may not succeed: On the one hand, many Georgians and their friends as well are fearful about the consequences of yet another extra-constitutional resolution of Georgia's problems. And on the other, Saakashvili himself appears to be listening to the opposition and at least in some ways meeting its demands.

Today, the Georgian government website posted a declaration by President Saakashvili and a list of steps he said his government has taken or will take to respond to the opposition.

Most important, the Georgian leader said that it is "our duty" to remember what happened last November 7th and not repeat "the mistakes made by the Georgian authorities." Those events, he added, show "how important it is for the government and the president to listen to the people and to maintain dialogue even with minor groups."

Saakashvili has made similar declarations in the past, and many Georgians will not be inclined to believe him this time around, especially as international coverage of the events leading up to the war, as in today's "New York Times," tilts away from the version of events he has insisted on.

But unless the opposition really can unite, Saakashvili is likely to be able to play one group off against the other, even as his authority declines and the temptation grows for him to use repressive rather than democratic measures to resolve the current crisis within Georgia and between Georgia and its northern neighbor.

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