Authorities had to resort to anti-oligarchic slogans and smear campaign to repel enliven opposition’s attacks over multiple issues, the opposition leaders say. Some analysts suppose that the ‘anti-oligarch’ policy of the authorities might have even more far-reaching goals, rather than to just discredit certain opposition groups.
The Parliamentary Bureau approved a request by lawmakers from the ruling National Movement party on March 20 and instructed the Committee for Procedural Issues to probe into the business activities of MP Valery Gelashvili of the opposition Republican Party.
Mayor of the capital city Tbilisi Gigi Ugulava said on March 18 that construction firm Evra, founded by MP Valeri Gelashvili, whom he described as “oligarch,” could have been behind fire, which destroyed one of the schools in the Avlabari district of Tbilisi on March 18.
Ugulava said that MP Gelashvili’s construction firm wanted to gain a territory where the school was located. But MP Gelashvili who denied allegations vowed to sue the Tbilisi Mayor over libel.
On March 19 Gigi Ugulava further stepped up accusations and said that “oligarchs will be wiped out once and forever and Georgian politics will never be again a subject of their manipulations and blackmail.”
These accusations of Ugulava followed a statement by President Saakashvili who said on March 16 that the opposition’s recent calls for Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili’s resignation were triggered by the authorities efforts to curb “very well-organized oligarchic, including the Russian oligarchic capital.”
A wealthy businessman Valery Gelashvili joined the Republican Party last June amid financial dispute between the Evra company and the authorities over construction of the Presidential Residence. Less than a month later, on July 14, 2005, MP Gelashvili was attacked by unknown armed men in downtown Tbilisi and severely beaten up. The case is not yet investigated. Opposition blamed authorities of masterminding this attack.
Parliamentarians from the ruling National Movement party further stepped up harsh criticism of MP Gelashvili on March 20.
“There is not place for bandits like Gelashvili in the Georgian Parliament,” MP Bidzina Bregadze told reporters on March 20.
Valery Gelashvili will most likely be stripped of his MP credential, if the Parliamentary Committee for Procedural Issues proves that he is directly engaged in the management of the Evra company, which is a violation of law.
But the opposition has already described a campaign against MP Gelashvili as continuation of “political repressions” against the opposition parliamentarian. Leaders of the opposition New Rights, Conservative, Republican, Labor, Freedom and Georgia’s Way parties gathered on March 20 to jointly condemn allegations by the authorities.
Opposition also says that the authorities’ accusations aim at shifting public attention from the Sandro Girgvliani murder case.
“The authorities are trying to step up political repressions against opponents and launch smear campaign in order to overshadow its inefficiency while dealing with numerous problematic issues,” MP Davit Berdzenishvili of the Republican Party said at a joint news conference with other opposition leaders.
“I call on the authorities to wake up; such methods will not bring anything good to our country... We [the opposition] will unite and closely cooperate to jointly struggle in order to put the end to the regime of political terror in our country,” MP Koba Davitashvili leader of the Conservatives Party said.
Reporter for the RFE/RL Georgian service and a political analyst Ia Antadze argues that the authorities’ ‘anti-oligarch’ tactic might also be a kind of warning to Tbilisi-based influential financial and media tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili and his television station Imedi.
“I do not rule out that this [policy] may grow into a wider scale campaign involving Imedi television, which is owned by Patarkatsishvili and which has recently offered some coverage against authorities, in particular the Interior Ministry,” Ia Antadze told Civil Georgia.
The Imedi TV report indicated on February 12 that some top-level officials from the Interior Ministry could have been linked to the Sandro Girgvliani murder case, which subsequently resulted in the opposition’s calls for Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili’s resignation.
Leader of the opposition New Rights party MP Davit Gamkrelidze also supposed during the live talk show Reaction aired by the Imedi television on March 17, that the authorities might target the television and its owner Patarkatsishvili.
Analyst Ia Antadze also said that intensive anti-opposition campaign might also be a sign that the opposition, which suffered with low popular support, “already, more or less, matters” for the authorities.