Opposition parties, campaigning for elections to be held in spring 2008, instead of late next year, have intensified their international efforts in an attempt to promote a moderate, less radical, image.
Three politicians – Salome Zourabichvili, leader of Georgia’s Way Party, and former foreign minister; Davit Usupashvili, leader of Republican Party and Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, leader of Freedom Party – have been tasked by a ten party opposition bloc to promote their joint agenda among Georgia’s western partners.
The three leaders met with Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, in Brussels on October 25.
Speaking in a live interview with the Tbilisi-based Imedi TV from Brussels, Salome Zourabichvili said that she and her colleagues had explained to “our European friends” what the opposition's goals were.
“They often receive distorted information about us,” Zourabichvili said. “They sometimes hear that we are a pro-Moscow force or that we are not a serious force… We said during the meeting that we have very moderate demands. We are not radicals. They often hear that we want some kind of a new revolution.”
The opposition has been keen to highlight what they call their “moderate demands”, following official claims that their aim, and Moscow's too, was to create instability.
Koba Davitashvili, leader of opposition Party of People, said that the opposition’s goal was to “contain very radical demands” which were widespread among the public.
In an interview with the Georgian daily 24 Saati (24 Hours), published on October 26, Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, who is a close associate of President Saakashvili’s, said that the opposition’s only goal was to stage a revolution.
“To tell you the truth, I don't understand the essence of their demands,” he said. “Do you really believe that they want [elections in April]? I do not believe this. These people are impatient. They don't want elections, because they know that they'll lose, as they did in last year’s October [local] elections.”
He also said that media and business tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili was masterminding the opposition’s revolutionary plans.
“Through his media outlets and money, Patarkatsishvili is trying to create a virtual reality. This may work in Russia but not in a small country like Georgia,” Ugulava said.
He also said that the authorities were willing to engage in dialogue, but wondered how it could happen when the opposition “only wants to piss on your pants". This, he said, was the opposition's "only goal.”
The opposition bloc outlined their positions in a joint manifesto signed on October 17 and then specified four major demands in a letter to President Saakashvili and Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze. These demands include: holding parliamentary elections in spring 2008; creation of new election administrations with representatives from political parties; change of the current majoritarian election system – a first-past-the-post, “winner takes all” system; release of “political prisoners” and “prisoners of conscience.”
The opposition leaders tasked with wooing international opinion have also said that the promotion of Georgia’s NATO aspiration was another important message they had been trying to convey to western policy-makers. Zourabichvili said that Usupashvili and Gamsakhurdia were due to meet NATO officials in Brussels on October 26, while she would continue her engagements in Paris. She said that despite official Georgian statements, France was still “undecided” on NATO membership for Georgia.
“I am telling French officials that it is very important for Georgia to have MAP [Membership Action Plan] by April 2008 [when the alliance holds its summit in Bucharest]; MAP is a chance which should be given to Georgia, which will further reinforce stability in our country,” Zourabichvili said. “I do not think that protest rallies will endanger this process. On the contrary, we tell [the Europeans] that these protest rallies show that we are a democratic state and what we are trying to do is to strengthen democracy in Georgia.”