Georgia’s ruling party, Georgian Dream (GD) and opposition parties have signed an agreement on April 19, hoping to end the political deadlock, which the country was in since last elections in October 2020. The deal was brokered by the European Union (EU). With the agreement there seems to be an end to the ongoing political crisis, as the opposition parties that signed the deal have promised to take up their seats in parliament.
In return, the GD has agreed to find a way to release Nika Melia, the leader of the largest opposition party the United National Movement (UNM), and Giorgi Rurua, a shareholder of an opposition-minded TV channel, from prison. Early elections are also triggered if the GD fails to gain 43% of the votes in the upcoming local elections. This compromise was also included as opposition parties had long demanded re-elections.
Ongoing political deadlock after October 2020 elections
The Western-oriented Caucasus country has been without a full-functioning government since the October 2020 elections. The GD decisively won the election, gaining 48% of the votes. The largest opposition party UNM and its allies decided not to enter parliament. They claimed that the election was rigged. The observers of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OECD ODIHR) reported the overall election process was competitive and freedoms were respected, but there were allegations of pressure on voters and blurred lines between the government and GD party.
Opposition parties and their supporters took to the streets, demanding early-elections and the resignation of the government. The situation escalated further after the, alleged politically motivated, conviction of UNM-leader Melia, on the grounds of organising “mass violence” during a 2019 protest. Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia stepped down late February, to de-escalate the situation. However, with his successor Irakli Garibashvili immediately ordering the arrest of Melia, this had little effect. Melia was violently arrested while his supporters tried to protect him from the police in their party headquarters, an event which caused upheaval in western media.
Redrafted version of EU-proposed deal to lift political deadlock
In response to Melia’s arrest, the EU sought to mediate in Georgia’s escalating political crisis. However, a first drafted proposal by European Council President Charles Michel was rejected by the negotiators. A veteran Swedish diplomat and EU official, Christian Danielson, was tasked with continuing the mediation of the talks between GD and the opposition parties. The redrafted version, put forward by Michel on April 19, was signed by GD and most opposition parties. There were some opposition concerns though, that the agreement was still “incomplete”.
However, only the UNM failed to sign the agreement, but several UNM individuals did. The UNM also promised to sign the treaty when its leader Melia would finally be released from prison. The proposal read that this was to happen within a week of April 19, as an amnesty law is to be initiated for “violations and convictions stemming from the 2019 protests”. In response to the signing of the agreement, President Salome Zourabichvili stated that she would move forward with the release of Rurua, who was also detained due to his role in the 2019 protests.
Electoral and judicial changes working towards a Euro-Atlantic future
Several other electoral and judicial changes were agreed upon, including a new power-sharing agreement in parliament, a plan to more difficult it harder to lift the parliamentary immunity of MPs and the implementation of full proportional parliamentary elections. The GD and those opposition parties that signed the deal, agreed to acknowledge their differing assessments of the October 2020 elections and took note of the OSCE ODIHR statements. The agreement also included that when the GD fails to win 43% of the proportional vote in the upcoming local elections, the early elections will be triggered, a compromise for opposition parties pledging to take up their political mandates.
Michel was quick to note that this was just the starting point for the consolidation of Georgia’s democracy and its Euro-Atlantic future. He flew to Georgia on April 20 to celebrate the agreement. The deal lowers tensions levels, but Michel’s statement that “more hard work starts today” seems fitting. The UNM announced a new protest on May 15 against “the persecution of political opponents and electoral fraud”. Meanwhile, Georgia’s exiled ex-president and UNM’s founder, Mikheil Saakashvili, stated he would be returning to Georgia for the upcoming local elections, which could mean a new chapter in Georgia’s political story.
Image: Wikimedia (Salome Zourabichvili on the phone with Charles Michel, May 2020)