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Ruling Party to Clarify Stance in Memorandum
/ 12 Feb.'08 / 12:32
Civil Georgia

The authorities are expected to lay out their position and deadlines for implementation of some opposition demands in writing in the next few days.
“This joint memorandum [of the opposition and the authorities] will be a kind of action plan outlining what we have already agreed and laying out deadlines for implementation,” Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze told lawmakers in Parliament on February 12.
She said that the agreement had been reached following late-night consultations with the opposition on February 11.

“We have prevented deadlock in the talks as a result of these consultations,” Burjanadze said.

The joint memorandum, she said, would be developed by joint working groups and would be unveiled in the next few days, “at most the day after tomorrow” – February 14. She also said that agreement was possible on most of the demands put forth by the twelve opposition parties in a joint 17-point memorandum on January 29.

“The agreement is that the authorities will lay out their positions on concrete issues in writing with concrete deadlines for their implementation,” Davit Usupashvili, leader of the opposition Republican Party, told the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) on February 12. "Opposition will discuss this document. I hope the agreement will be possible."
Ruling party negotiators, meanwhile, say they are willing to agree to 13 of the 17 opposition demands.  
The first demand outlined in the memorandum is for a re-count of disputed votes in the January 5 presidential election and access to footage recorded by CCTV cameras at some polling stations.

MP Bezhashvili said that the footage was already public. “The opposition can watch that footage and if they find some violation, an investigation will follow,” he told the Georgian daily Rezonansi. He said that criminal charges had already been initiated against four people suspected of election fraud. Punishment of those responsible for alleged ballot-rigging is one of the 17 demands. The ruling party, however, has refused to agree to a recount.

MP Bezhashvili said that agreement had also been reached on the third opposition demand. He said a constitutional amendment would be introduced allowing for a new confidence vote for the cabinet after the parliamentary elections. The opposition, however, actually demanded that a new cabinet be named after the parliamentary elections.

The opposition is also demanding the investigation of the excessive use of force by the police on November 7, when an opposition protest rally was broken up. The ruling party, although agreeing to set up an investigative commission, also wants what it calls, “the attempted overthrow of the government through mass disorder” to be part of the proposed commission's remit. “We should have a broad approach in investigating the November events,” MP Bezhashvili said. “This investigative commission should be composed of both [government and opposition] figures.”

The opposition also wants oversight of the Interior Ministry, something the ruling party seems amenable to, but not within the timeframe favoured by the opposition. 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. The opposition also wants the reorganization of prominent Interior Ministry agencies like the Special Operations Department and the Department for Constitutional Security, which the opposition says, are often used for “political repression” and “intimidation of political opponents.”

“We have agreed to set up a working group which will develop a mechanism for the oversight of the law enforcement agencies,” MP Bezhashvili said. “That will be followed by relevant structural changes of the law enforcement agencies. The new parliament elected [after the spring election] should pass relevant legislative amendments.”

The opposition, however, wants those changes ahead of the spring elections, as it wants to have oversight over the Interior Ministry before the polls. Accusations that opposition figures were intimidated by law enforcement agencies were widespread ahead of the presidential election.

There seems to be clear agreement on the abolition of the first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all system for electing majoritarian lawmakers – a key part of the opposition memorandum.

MP Bezhashvili said that the authorities were willing to allow increased opposition representation in the election administrations. “They will also be able to have representatives in the District Election Commissions [DEC],” MP Bezhashvili said.

The ruling party’s position, however, remains unchanged on a number of other opposition demands. It refuses to dismiss Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili and newly appointed General Prosecutor Eka Tkeshelashvili. Calls for the dismissal of Central Election Commission Chairman Levan Tarkhnishvili also seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The release of what the opposition calls “political prisoners” also remains disputed.

Regarding the dismissal of the GPB director-general, Tamar Kintsurashvili, ruling party lawmakers say this is beyond their capacity. Only the GPB board of directors can dismiss her, they say. The station currently has no board, but a new board, according to the parliamentary chairperson, will be formed by the end of February.

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