Irakli Okruashvili, ex-defense minister, is gearing up to make a comeback in Georgian politics, opposition politicians, who have met him recently, say.
A lawmaker from the opposition Republican Party, Levan Berdzenishvili, who along with his party leader, Davit Usupashvili, met with Okruashvili, said the former defense minister was planning to set up a new party.
“I think he will include in his team some celebrities who have not been involved in politics so far. I mean, for example, some TV ‘stars’ like Nika Tabatadze [ex-chief executive and a former anchor of Rustavi 2 TV] and others from the same television station,” Berdzenishvili told Civil.Ge.
Disappointed by being shuffled from the defense to the economy ministry last November, Okruashvili quit the cabinet. At the time, however, he said he'd re-enter politics later. No public statement has been made by him since then.
Some in the opposition are quite enthusiastic about Okruashvili’s comeback, hoping that he will be able to change the political status quo by challenging, if not President Saakashvili himself in the 2008 presidential elections, then at least the current monopoly of power enjoyed by the ruling National Movement party.
There has been speculation that Saakashvili may pull support from the current ruling majority and replace it with a new force on the eve of the 2008 parliamentary elections.
“If Okruashvili manages to create a competitive political force, which enters into dialogue with Saakashvili, I do not think it will be a great tragedy, because if this dialogue takes place, it means that Bokeria and his team will have to pack up and go away; and we can only welcome that,” Berdzenishvili said, referring to the influential lawmaker from the ruling party, Giga Bokeria.
Bokeria himself was noncommittal, saying that as Okruashvili’s plans were still unclear, it was too early to comment.
“I have not heard anything about his plans. I do not know what kind of political group he plans to create… Georgia is a free country and any person, who wants to go into politics, can do so,” he told Civil.Ge.
Bokeria said it would only be possible to judge “how serious a contender he may become” only after Okruashvili has revealed his “political interests.”
Zviad Dzidziguri, a lawmaker from the opposition Conservative Party, also believes that Okruashvili is considering a political come back, which may change the current political alignment.
“I welcome the involvement of any one, who can change the political balance in favor of the opposition; because what we have today is a huge misbalance in favor of the ruling majority, which totally controls all branches of government,” Dzidziguri told Civil.Ge.
Others, however, have sounded a more cautious note.
“I always believed that cooperation with Okruashvili was senseless. He was always out of control, which was why we criticised him. It is still unclear what kind of politician he will be,” MP Pikria Chikhradze of the New Rights Party told Civil.Ge.
Even Berdzenishvili said that it would be a tough challenge for Okruashvili to establish a new party, as “he is not a team player and not flexible enough.”
“He is a hawk, he is ‘ultra’ and he is a kind of Pinochet-type politician,” he added.
In any case, a more serious problem could await Okruashvili. Berdzenishvili believes that the presidency is Okruashvili's ultimate goal.
Presidential and parliamentary elections, in line with a recent constitutional amendment, will be held simultaneously sometime between October and December 2008. Okruashvili will turn 35 on November 6 2008. As this is the minimum age at which someone can contest the presidency and as it is up to President Saakashvili to set the exact date for the poll, Okruashvili could be ineligible to even run, if polling day is before November 6 next year.
Political analyst Ia Antadze thinks that Okruashvili's positioning and message could also be a problem.
“His popularity was based on his strong and assertive style and his charisma was based on the idea of restoring the country's territorial integrity, with the possible use of force. But the recent policy of promoting an alternative provisional administration in South Ossetia [by the Georgian authorities] has changed the situation and undermined the image on which Okruashvili’s support was based,” Antadze said in a commentary for the RFE/RL Georgian Service.
She said although there is an obvious opening in Georgian politics for a strong opposition leader, it is still unclear whether Okruashvili is the person to fill the position.