Georgia: ruling party, opposition sit down at negotiation table 2 weeks after elections, protests
Two weeks after the parliamentary elections in Georgia, it is still unclear what fate awaits the 10th convocation of the country’s main legislative body.
The situation remains the same: the opposition claims that the government falsified the elections and is now demanding a repeat vote. At the same time, all eight opposition political forces that made it over the one percent electoral threshold refuse to take up their mandates in parliament.
During these two weeks, political rallies have been taking place in the streets, and tensions between the two political forces are growing. The opposition has held several large-scale rallies, the main demand of which was repeat elections. The authorities have violently dispersed the demonstrations using water cannons and have detained several activists.
The government and the opposition agree on the need for dialogue. But both sides set preconditions that the other will not agree to.
The opposition says it will only talk to the government about early elections. The government says that a full-fledged dialogue is possible only if the opposition recognizes the results of the elections.
However, while both sides still hold their own, there have been some changes in recent days.
Meeting with ambassadors
On November 12, for the first time since the parliamentary elections, the opposition and the government sat at one table, at which a four-hour dialogue ensued between the leaders of the eight leading opposition parties and government representative, Chairman of the Parliament Archil Talakvadze.
The meeting took place at the residence of the US Ambassador to Georgia, Kelly Degnan, with the direct mediation of the Ambassador and other foreign diplomats. The meeting was also attended by the ambassadors of the European Union and France.
After the meeting, both sides refrained from radical statements and limited themselves to cautious comments, although their positions remained the same.
The opposition says the large-scale rally scheduled for November 14 is still in place. The main demand of the opposition, early elections, and its decision not to enter parliament also remained unchanged.
However, the opposition admits it sees potential in resuming talks with the government.
At the end of the meeting, Archil Talakvadze made a statement on behalf of the ruling party. He mentioned that this was only the first round of dialogue, and a second round is already planned.
“Of course, the public should not expect that serious agreements will be reached at the first meeting, but, I repeat, the political dialogue began positively and we exchanged arguments. The most important thing is that we listened to each other in a constructive environment, and I believe and hope that this political dialogue will end with a concrete result,” – Talakvadze said.
The opposition also agrees that the negotiation process will be long-lasting, as the parties take rather radical positions.
However, leader of European Georgia David Bakradze also stated that, despite this, ‘compromises take place if the parties approach this with responsibility.’
“Let’s not expect that something will be decided in one or even two meetings. This is a very complex topic. The country is in a political crisis, and our task is to try to find a compromise step by step,” Bakradze said.
At the same time, he stressed that “the opposition takes a firm position in the process of searching for this compromise.”
“You cannot find a compromise based on what is illegal and bad for the country. But I think that there is room for compromises, and with a responsible approach the parties will be able to come to an agreement, ”Bakradze said after the meeting.
“It is too early to talk about a compromise, we are firm in our position – we expect changes in certain positions from the government,” said Giorgi Vashadze, leader of the Agmashenebeli Strategy party.
According to the leader of Girchi, Zurab Japaridze, the very holding a meeting with the government is a positive sign. He said that at the meeting the sides exchanged positions and agreed on the next dialogue.
“On the whole, it is good that our meeting was a success, because I personally have a problem that I haven’t talked to a government official for 4 years, so the very beginning of negotiations is already good,” Japaridze said.
One of the leaders of Lelo, Badri Japaridze, also noted that the demands of the parties remain the same:
“We have the same requirements. We shared the requirements and ratings with each other. Today we have only fixed our positions, nothing more,” Badri Japaridze said.
Apart from general statements, neither the opposition, nor government representatives, nor mediators elaborate on specific issues that were discussed at the meeting.
The riddle of Grigol Vashadze
Grigol Vashadze represented the United National Movement at the meeting held at the Ambassador’s residence.
Vashadze was the only oppositionist who did not want to communicate with the media after the meeting and left the meeting without comment.
Vashadze has recently been in the spotlight for his statements.
On November 10, the leader of the largest opposition party, the United National Movement, posted a statement that the opposition should agree to a dialogue with the government.
“Georgia is in a very dangerous situation – it faces four main issues: economic, social, political and demographic. This is compounded by the out-of-control global coronavirus epidemic. I call on all political parties to sit down at the negotiating table, use the legislative rostrum instead of street rallies and lead the state out of a deep crisis,” Vashadze said in a statement.
Vashadze is the leader of the political force that takes the most radical position in the elections. The United National Movement is the party that first of all states that there should be no compromise on this issue and that street rallies are important.
Consequently, the position of Grigol Vashadze caused great confusion not only among the opposition forces, but also in his own team.
His party members shrugged their shoulders and said that Vashadze had not coordinated his statement with them and that Vashadze’s position was unacceptable for the party itself.
After his statements caused a stir, Vashadze posted additional explanations on Facebook and wrote that the protests should continue, but they should add a political dimension.
A day later, on November 11, in an interview with TV channel Rustavi 2, Vashadze explained that the international community supports this dialogue. He said that the diplomats almost planned a dialogue between the government and the opposition, but it failed.
Vashadze said he spoke to diplomats on a daily basis, although he did not name specifically which embassies and diplomatic missions were involved in the process.
When asked why the negotiations failed, Vashadze replies: “I can’t say that.”
However, at the same time, he said that he considered it incredible to enter parliament in the current conditions:
“In today’s conditions it is unthinkable for people who have ideology and values to enter parliament. If there is a solution, it should be a combined approach – protest and dialogue.”
The opposition casts doubt on Vashadze’s statements that some kind of dialogue was being prepared, which failed.
The leader of the “European Georgia” Giga Bokeria openly states that Vashadze is lying.
Zurab Japaridze, the leader of Girchi, also asked a question on Facebook:
“I watched the interview of the chairman of the National Movement at Rustavi-2. Well, I’m not going to remain in a state of bewilderment or hypocrisy, so I will ask openly: is the leader of the National Movement lying? What negotiations are we talking about? Who plucked them and when? For what reason?”.
This whole story testifies to the fact that, despite the public statements about the unanimity of the opposition, there are some differences within the opposition. Whether the opposition will be able to overcome these problems and maintain unity is one of the main questions for today’s voters, who believe that the elections were rigged.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Georgia on November 17.
The previously drawn up list of meetings does not include a meeting with opposition leaders, although the opposition demands this meeting and has mentioned this with US Ambassador Kelly Degnan.
Political experts agree that this is the second time in the last year that Georgia has faced a political crisis in which the opposing sides are unable to negotiate without foreign mediators.
One such crisis was also associated with parliamentary elections – the opposition held constant street rallies for several months, demanding changes in the electoral system. The government made a concession only after foreign diplomats got involved in the process.
Therefore, Mike Pompeo’s visit could be critical in resolving the current political crisis.