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New Parliament and ‘Alternative Center’
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 7 Jun.'08 / 15:25

The new parliament, heavily dominated by the ruling party, held its inaugural session on June 7 – earlier than expected. The opposition, having failed to organize promised large-scale rally, said it still had to decide on a exact plan of action.

Opening Session

The inaugural session opened at 10 am local time on June 7 with a seven-minute speech by President Saakashvili in which he underlined the importance of national unity.

“Whatever personal insults and attacks are made against us, it does not matter; our major value is the unity of Georgia,” he said. “We have no right to divide Georgia into radicals and moderates; our goal is to reach out our hand to each citizen of Georgia.”

In his address Saakashvili acknowledged what he called the previous parliament’s positive role and thanked its chairperson, Nino Burjanadze, for, as he said, “a good job.” Burjanadze quit the ruling party in April, citing disagreement over the party list of MP candidates. She has said nothing on the matter since then. She is widely expected to make a political comeback.

Routine legal procedures followed the president’s address, culminating with the election of Davit Bakradze, ex-foreign minister, as the new Chairman of the Parliament – the highest post in the country after the president.

Petre Tsiskarishvili, ex-minister of agriculture, was elected by ruling party lawmakers, who hold 119 of the 150 seats in the new legislative body, as the parliamentary majority leader. Maia Nadiradze, who has been sidelined by the ruling party, held the position in the previous parliament.

One hundred and seventeen ruling party MPs attended the first session. MP Ramaz Tedoradze – a political unknown elected on the Labor Party’s list, as well as two majoritarian MPs elected in Kazbegi and Tsageri single-mandate consistencies on the Republican Party’s ticket, were also present. Both of the majoritarian MPs are also political unknowns who formally are not Republican Party members.

Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church Ilia II and foreign diplomats also attended the session. Later Ilia II visited protesters outside the Parliament.

Ruling Party’s Offer to Opposition

Davit Bakradze, the new chairman of Parliament, called on the opposition to forgo their proposed boycott and reiterated on June 7 that the ruling party was ready to offer them a number of parliamentary posts.

The proposal includes: at least two vice-speaker posts (it is expected that there will be five in total); posts in parliamentary committees and the possibility to set up a faction by six lawmakers. A minimum of ten MPs were needed to form a faction in the previous parliament. The Christian-Democratic Party and the Labor Party have have six MPs each and the eight-party opposition bloc has 17.

Membership of a faction gives certain political privileges - including the right to vote in the parliament’s bureau (the body which determines the parliamentary sessions’ schedule), guaranteed seats in committees, investigation commissions and parliamentary delegations.

“This is not a full list [of proposals],” Bakradze said. “We expect proposals from them as well; proposals that will serve the purpose of having full-scale representation of the opposition in this parliament… We expect cooperation from them.”

Most of the opposition, however, is less than receptive to the proposals, preferring instead to boycott the new parliament.

Outside the Parliament

Parliament’s inaugural session had been expected for either June 9 or 10.

President Saakashvili’s decree released late on Friday convening the session for June 7 caught the opposition by surprise.

The opposition eight-party coalition and Labor Party had planned a protest rally for late June 8. The opposition, which demands repeat parliamentary elections, had hoped to put pressure on the authorities through a large-scale protest rally.

The president's announcement forced the opposition to call for a spontaneous rally for late on June 6. A few hundred people gathered outside the parliament by midnight and a few dozen kept vigil all night.

Police and Parliament's security sealed off the legislative body. Two water cannon vehicles and about 19 bus loads of riot policemen were deployed around Rose Square (formerly Republic Square), close to the parliament, in the early hours of June 7.

Lawmakers from the ruling party started to gather in the parliamentary chamber about an hour and half before the session. Only a few hundred protesters were gathered at that time outside the parliament.

The rally saw a series of speeches by opposition leaders from the Labor Party and eight-party opposition coalition. The Republican Party and Christian Democratic Party said earlier they would not join the rally, saying they could not understand its purpose.

The speeches mostly reiterated the opposition's commitment “to continue the struggle” and determination not to enter Parliament.

In a symbolic gesture to confirm their commitment opposition leaders, including Levan Gachechiladze, Davit Gamkrelidze Koba Davitashvili, Zviad Dzidziguri – from the eight party coalition, as well as Shalva Natelashvili, the Labor Party leader, and others, cut up their MP IDs with scissors.

Those who attended the opening session of Parliament, particularly opposition MPs, were called “shameless” by speakers at the rally. The Christian-Democratic Party, although it did not attend the first session, is against the boycott.

Some individual members of the eight-party opposition coalition (Gia Tortladze and Gia Tsagareishvili) have also indicated that they may take their seats in the new parliament if the boycott fails to secure unanimous opposition backing. Jondi Bagaturia, leader of Georgian Troupe party, also part of the eight-party coalition, also seems undecided. Paata Davitaia, leader of the small On Our Own party, which has quit the opposition coalition, has said he will not take his seat.

“Those who enter this Parliament will lose the status of opposition [politician],” Davit Gamkrelidze, the New Rights Party leader, said. He also said that Georgia had no “legitimate president” after the January 5 presidential elections and now also had no “legitimate parliament.”

The rally dispersed about an hour after Parliament had convened. Gamkrelidze, however, said that it was not the end of the struggle.

“Saakashvili wanted to move the [political] struggle from Parliament onto the streets and he will have this struggle on the the street,” he said. “It will be an alternative [political] center… and this center will be the entire Georgia.”

He also said that consultations among opposition parties would commence to outline an exact action plan.

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