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Opposition, Ruling Party Launch Talks
/ 1 Feb.'08 / 19:43
Civil Georgia

The first round of talks between the opposition and ruling party, in which both sides laid out their positions rather than sought to reach concrete agreement, has shed some light on possible compromise.

The three-hour long talks, which were held in Parliament on February 1, come three days after twelve opposition parties outlined 17 demands in a joint memorandum.

The opposition was represented at the talks by MP Zurab Tkemaladze of the Industrialists Party; MP Mamuka Katsitadze of the New Rights Party; Davit Usupashvili, leader of the Republican Party; MP Giorgi Tsagareishvili of the Movement for United Georgia; MP Kakha Kukava of the Conservative Party; Paata Davitaia, leader of On Our Own party; Koba Davitashvili, leader of Party of People. The ruling National Movement Party was represented by: Nino Burjanadze, the parliamentary chairperson; Mikheil Machavariani, the vice-speaker of Parliament; MP Levan Bezhashvili and MP Pavle Kublashvili. Newly appointed Justice Minister Nika Gvaramia was also there, but left the meeting after an hour.

Both opposition and ruling party negotiators said the meeting had been very useful, helping to clarify some of the issues outlined in the opposition memorandum. They were, however, reluctant to give details, fearing public scrutiny could scupper the process.

Speaking after the talks, ruling party MP Levan Bezhashvili, who chairs the parliamentary committee for legal issues, said agreement had been reached on some issues. He said the next round of talks expected for February 5 would be used to seek ways to implement what had been agreed.

“The opposition has clarified various points [in the memorandum],” MP Bezhashvili said. “We have agreed on some of the issues… including, for example, the composition of election administrations, the date of elections, the composition of the public TV board of trustees on a parity basis. They were informed of our position and we have agreed that we will come to the next meeting with concrete proposals.”

He also suggested that it would be possible to agree to an opposition demand 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 new cabinet, led by PM Lado Gurgenidze, won a parliamentary confidence vote on January 31.

“We think that after the parliamentary elections, and taking into account the new political realities, it will be possible to again raise the issue of the composition of the government,” MP Bezhashvili said.

Opposition demands for oversight of the Interior Ministry, however, seem to have fallen on deaf ears for the moment. The opposition has 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.

“We think there should be oversight, but there's no time to develop relevant legislation and the issue will probably be shelved till the next parliament,” MP Bezhashvili said. Opposition demands for the resignation of Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili seem also to have been dismissed.

“This was an important meeting,” Vice-Speaker Mikheil Machavariani said. “We have clarified issues [outlined in the opposition memorandum]. Our colleagues listened to our views regarding various issues. The meeting was very useful. It demonstrated that it is quite possible to clarify things. I will refrain from going into details at this stage… We have defined how we plan to continue working on each issue.”

MP Kakha Kukava of the opposition Conservative Party said the next round of talks on February 5 would reveal to what extent the authorities were willing to compromise.

“On Tuesday we will know on which of the 17 issues [in the memorandum] we have reached agreement, compromise or deadlock,” he told reporters after the talks. “We insist that all 17 demands are met… The authorities will now hold internal consultations.”

“We have heard the authorities' initial response [to the opposition demands],” Koba Davitashvili, leader of opposition Party of People, said. “Concrete decisions will be taken at Tuesday’s meeting. Some issues seem beyond agreement, but progress is possible on others. But we reiterate that all of our demands are of equal importance and we do not plan on compromising on one at the expense of another.”

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