With the electoral system reform talks remaining halted for over three months already, differences seem to be emerging on tactics within the group of eight opposition parties, having an agreement to speak with one voice on electoral issues.
On June 15 after a lengthy meeting of representatives from the parties making the group of eight, the New Rights Party said it was willing to try to engage in talks with the ruling party separately in order to find out what the prospects for resumption of electoral system reform talks were. The New Rights Party also made it clear that its initiative, described as “individual consultations” would not mean that it was pulling out from the group of eight or the group was collapsing.
The initiative, however, followed mixed reaction within the other members of the group with some expressing skepticism about the productiveness of the initiative and some saying that it amounted to disbanding of the group of eight.
Offering, what is dubbed as “individual consultation”, does not in fact represent any major new development, because something similar has already occurred when Mamuka Katsitadze of the New Rights Party met with MP Pavle Kublashvili, ruling party’s chief negotiator on electoral issues, on May 4. The meeting was agreed with the group of eight and was also dubbed as “individual consultation” with a goal to try to pave way for restoration of talks on electoral reform talks. That meeting did not yield any concrete result. That meeting at the time did not result in any differences within the group of eight.
“Individual consultations does not at all mean that the group of eight is disbanding; on the contrary, we are offering this initiative for the purpose of saving the group of eight as a format and the idea behind this format,” Davit Gamkrelidze, the leader of the New Rights Party said on June 16.
He said that recent remarks by some of the ruling party lawmakers’ that they were ready to find way out of the current impasse in talks over electoral system reform, were giving ground for trying to find out how sincere those statements were.
Gamkrelidze also said that there was no need “to dramatize” the New Rights Party’s proposal, adding that through “individual consultations” it would at least be able to find out whether the ruling party was ready for a compromise.
MP Mikheil Machavariani of the ruling party, who is a vice-speaker of the parliament, said in a newspaper interview that the authorities were ready for a compromise and expressed hope to reach an agreement this summer. MP Machavariani is not the ruling party’s negotiator on electoral reform issues.
The New Rights Party says that their initiative does not mean that decisions will be take separately.
“Decisions will be taken jointly by the group of eight and not by separate parties, which will engage in talks with the ruling party individually,” Mamuka Katsitadze of the New Rights Party said on June 16.
The Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM), however, said engaging separately in talks with the ruling party was in itself questioning rational behind existence of the group of eight.
“Let’s be frank; it means that the group of eight no longer exists, because this group was made up for only a single purpose, we were united for one single reason – to negotiate with the authorities on the electoral issues with a joint position. If one starts individual talks it means that the group of eight has been disbanded,” MP Levan Vepkhvadze of CDM said on June 16.
He said that the initiative was not “a negative one in itself” and it could bring results. “But the fact is that individual consultation in itself rules out the format involving the group of eight,” MP Vepkhvadze added.
But other members from the group of eight say that the New Rights’ proposal to engage with the ruling party to find out its position on further talks does not at all amount to disbanding of the group, because the move does not imply making “separate deals” with the ruling party.
“I do not agree that it means the group of eight is on the verge of collapse. This is simply an attempt by one of the group’s members to receive the ruling party’s response on our [electoral reform] proposals,” Irakli Chikovani of Our Georgia-Free Democrats party told RFE/RL Georgian service on June 16.
“We can not ban any of our members to talk with the ruling party, although I do not think it will yield any results,” Zviad Dzidziguri, the leader of Conservative Party, said. “Each member of the group always had such freedom to act; if the New Rights think that it can help achieve some results, there is no problem if they act this way; although I doubt it will be productive.”
The ruling party reiterated on June 16 that it was ready to engage in consultations with separate parties.
“We have said it for multiple times that we are ready for individual meetings and we are still ready for that,” MP Pavle Kublashvili, ruling party’s chief negotiator on electoral issues, said on June 16.