|Opposition leaders at the presentation of a joint memorandum on January 29. Photo: InterPressNews|
Twelve opposition parties have signed a joint 17-point memorandum and warned of “permanent protest rallies” starting from February 15 if their demands are not met.
The joint memorandum was signed by the nine-party opposition coalition, plus the New Rights, Industrialists and Party of Future on January 29. The Labor Party, whose leader Shalva Natelashvili is in Austria for medical treatment, has refused to sign the memorandum, saying that although it adheres to some of the points outlined, the party has its “own independent strategy.”
The document, which describes Mikheil Saakashvili as “the self-declared ‘President',” calls for a vote re-count of the January 5 presidential election, with international monitoring, and for the punishment of those responsible for the alleged ballot-rigging.
A recent resolution on Georgia by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has also called on the Georgian authorities to “pursue vigorous investigation of all allegations of intimidation, harassment and violation of electoral law and bring to justice all perpetrators of electoral fraud.”
Another opposition demand is for a constitutional amendment stipulating that the cabinet resign automatically after parliamentary elections. Currently, in accordance with the constitution, the cabinet has to resign only after a presidential election.
The opposition also wants to hold parliamentary elections in April, before the term of authority of the sitting parliament expires. The ruling party has already indicated that elections would most likely be held sometime in May.
The resignation of Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili and the restructuring of his ministry, remains in the list of opposition demands. Merabishvili is one of a few ministers who has retained his post in the new cabinet.
The opposition has also demanded the establishment of what it calls a “monitoring system for law enforcement agencies.” The system, the opposition says, should include a parliamentary investigative commission to be set up on a parity basis between opposition and ruling party MPs, and local councils in the regions to investigate wrongdoings by law enforcement officers.
Regarding free media, the opposition has demanded that the board of trustees of the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) be appointed on a parity basis. It also wants the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) to be reconstituted. The appointment of a new GPB general director should, the opposition has also demanded, be made through agreement between the opposition and the authorities. The GPB general director is elected by the board of trustees.
Lifting media restrictions, involving a ban on video recording and photo coverage in court buildings and courtrooms, has also been demanded. The ban was imposed last August.
For what it says is a requirement for free and fair parliamentary elections, the opposition has demanded equal representation at all election administration levels, with a new chairman of the Central Election Commission to be appointed by agreement between the opposition and the authorities.
It has also demanded the abolition of the current first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all system, by which majoritarian lawmakers are elected. Although the ruling National Movement Party proposed a constitutional amendment in November to scrap the system, the proposal hasn't been yet discussed by Parliament.
Another opposition demand is for a ban on the president and top level government officials from participating in election campaigns. There is currently nothing in the election code preventing cabinet ministers from campaigning in favor of any given political party.
“If these demands are not met by February 15, I call on all Georgians to come to a protest rally outside Parliament at 2 pm on February 15,” Levan Gachechiladze, the nine-party opposition coalition's former presidential candidate, said. “If these demands are not met, we will have permanent protest rallies and we will launch the second wave of the national democratic movement in order to restore justice in Georgia.”
“This memorandum has been developed through our coordinated efforts,” Davit Gamkrelidze, the leader of the New Rights Party and a former presidential candidate, said. “Our joint position is that Mikheil Saakashvili has crowned his criminal activities by rigging the vote and stealing the second round [of the presidential election] from his own people… Now we all need firm guarantees that nobody will ever be able to falsify an election in Georgia or steal the vote… That is the goal of this joint memorandum.”
Davit Usupashvili, the leader of the Republican Party, said on January 29 that the memorandum contained “unconditional demands,” which were not a matter for negotiation. “For example, our demand for the composition of the election administrations on a parity basis can not be negotiated,” Usupashvili said. He also said, however, that other points outlined in the memorandum were negotiable. “For example, we are ready to listen to what the authorities have to say about what type of monitoring can be imposed on the law enforcement agencies and we are ready to accept their proposals if they offer something better,” Usupashvili added.