Nino Burjanadze, a former parliamentary chairperson, invited several opposition politicians, including one who demanded her resignation six months ago, to her office to share ideas on how to overcome the crisis following the August war.
Davit Gamkrelidze, the leader of the New Rights Party; Levan Gachechiladze, a former presidential candidate running on the opposition coalition’s ticket and Davit Usupashvili, the leader of the Republican Party, attended a roundtable discussion on the current situation in the offices of the Foundation for Democracy and Development (FDD) – an NGO founded and headed by Burjanadze. Also in attendance were some media commentators, analysts and experts, including members of the FDD's board of advisors.
Gamkrelidze, who along with fellow party members, was on hunger strike in March outside Burjanadze’s office in Parliament, when she was the parliamentary chairperson, demanding her resignation, said his presence at the meeting “may seem strange.”
“If it weren't for this crisis situation, I can hardly imagine sitting together at the same table [with Burjanadze],” Gamkrelidze, who last week demanded President Saakashvili’s resignation, said at the meeting. “But the current crisis in the country forces us to put aside the past. Regime change, the change of the government is now necessary.”
After the meeting, Gachechiladze also indicated he supported calls for President Saakashvili’s resignation.
Burjanadze, however, showed caution in this regard.
“My position about early elections will depend on the results of the study of evidence and answers to tough questions,” she said after the meeting, referring to her earlier calls for an investigation to find out what led to the war with Russia. She said on September 12 that it was essential to find out whether it was possible or not to have averted the war.
A few hours before attending the meeting, Usupashvili met with his party activists and delivered a lengthy speech on how he would proceed to overcome the current crisis.
The Republican Party is in favor of gradual changes, involving comprehensive reform of the election system and constitutional amendments, which would eventually lead to internationally-administered parliamentary elections tentatively in spring, 2009.
“After the August events we are witnessing a new campaign of attempts by the authorities to maintain power by all means,” Usupashvili said at the meeting with his party activists. “This is the major priority of each and every step undertaken by the authorities.”
“The best scenario would be if Saakashvili quit,” he continued. “But it is unlikely that Saakashvili will come out, admit his mistakes and resign.”
Usupashvili said that the mechanical replacement of a president would not help to overcome the crisis, “because in the face of the existing parliament and existing powers for the president, it doesn't make much difference who is the next president.”
He said that early parliamentary elections “largely administered by international organizations” would be the best way out of the crisis.
He, however, added that constitutional amendments increasing Parliament’s powers should precede early polls.
The freedom of broadcast media and reform of the election system, he said, are other vital components that must be in place before early elections.
“I believe it is quite possible to gain western support for these efforts,” Usupashvili said. “Without financial and political support from the west, Saakashvili would fail to survive even one day. So we should understand where the key to resolving this problem is… So we need in this struggle a partner, someone who will be reckoned with by the authorities.”
He also said that an influential western heavyweight politician’s involvement was needed to mediate in creating conditions for free and fair elections.
“We should ask Europe and the United States to select someone - a serous and heavyweight figure, possibly a former leader of any [western] state – who will work on the matter,” Usupashvili said.
The urgent need for free broadcast media was one of the key issues discussed at a three-hour long meeting in the offices of the Foundation for Democracy and Development. Burjanadze said afterwards that it had been agreed to establish “a working group” to tackle the problem.
Burjanadze has already confirmed her intention to set up a political party. Her foundation, which was established in July, was believed to be a grassroots organization that would serve as a platform for her political comeback.
Burjanadze, who, until her resignation, had served for four years as the parliamentary chairman – the second highest ranking official in the country after President Saakashvili – is vulnerable to political attacks from her opponents.