The opposition ended its 17-day hunger strike on March 25, failing to gain concessions on key election rules.
Speaking to several thousand protesters outside Parliament, Koba Davitashvili, the leader of Party of People, part of the eight-party opposition coalition, said: “We are ending the hunger strike, but we are continuing our struggle.”
The announcement came a few hours after President Saakashvili made it clear on March 25 that the authorities would not yield to the opposition demand and shortly after Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church Ilia II called on the opposition to end the hunger strike. Opposition leaders cited the Patriarch’s appeal as the main reason behind their decision. The eight-party coalition launched the hunger strike on March 9 and lawmakers from the New Rights Party joined them on March 10.
“Saakashvili declared war against us and we accept this challenge. We will defeat you [referring to President Saakashvili] together with your [Chairman of the Central Election Commission Levan] Tarkhnishvili,” Davitashvili said at the rally.
He also said that the opposition was suspending protest rallies outside Parliament. This elicited boos from many in the crowd, with one woman calling the opposition leaders “traitors.” Davitashvili, however, called on supporters to gather outside Imedi TV on March 26 to, as he said, protect the television station, which he said the authorities were trying to seize. Some opposition activists on hunger strike were also unhappy with the announcement. One even confronted Giorgi Khaindrava, an individual member of the eight-party coalition, letting him know of his disapproval. Later in the evening, Khaindrava told protesters not to disperse and called on them to maintain an overnight vigil in support of Imedi TV. The rally, however, was dispersed and tents outside the parliament removed by midnight.
Davitashvili also warned: “If the May 21 parliamentary elections are rigged, like the January 5 [presidential election] was, the opposition will call for a people’s rebellion.” “If Saakashvili wants a new revolution, he will have it, but it won’t be a velvet revolution,” he added.
The end of the hunger strike clears the way for the opposition election campaign. With the coalition and the New Rights Party both having been engaged in the hunger strike, many suspect they will run a joint campaign, while the Republicans, who recently quit the coalition, are expected to run independently.
There will be 150 seats up for grabs. Half will be filled by lawmakers elected through the party-list, proportional system and the rest by majoritarian MPs elected in the 75 single-mandate constituencies. The ruling party is better positioned to gain more majoritarian seats as the law stipulates that a candidate winning more than others and more than 30% of the vote would be declared the outright winner in the first round without the need for a runoff.