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Opposition split over EU-brokered deal to end crisis in Georgia

19 April 2021
An opposition gathering on Monday in which the parties failed to express a joint position on the new proposals. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

Georgia’s opposition is split over whether or not to sign a deal proposed by the EU to bring an end to months of political crisis.

On Sunday, EU Council President Charles Michel fielded a new draft agreement that would include electoral and judicial reforms, the release of two opposition figures, and the possibility of early parliamentary elections.

Georgia’s Western allies have grown increasingly impatient with both the Government and opposition in Georgia over their failure to reach an agreement. In a joint statement on Sunday, the EU and US State Department called on ‘all Members of Georgia’s Parliament to sign the agreement’.

‘Accepting this compromise demonstrates courage and a commitment by all parties to put the needs of the citizens of Georgia first, ahead of the interests of any one political party’, the statement read.

Almost all opposition parties have boycotted parliament since October’s disputed election.

In a statement on Sunday, Georgian Dream vowed to sign the agreement while underlying that the current draft should not change further. Opposition parties have not announced any joint position on the new draft, with some voicing concern and others scepticism.

The Lelo, Strategy Aghmashenebeli, and Republican parties all committed to signing the deal on Monday. 

Both Girchi parties, two libertarian groups who fell out last December, agreed to sign the agreement. Girchi — New Political Centre signed the document immediately before entering parliament that day. 

The largest opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), who have dominated the opposition scene since being ousted from power in 2012, did not immediately clarify their position. However, both their top negotiator as well as party chair Nika Melia rejected the deal as unacceptable.

What’s in the deal

The latest proposals are an updated version of a deal that failed to gain support from either the government or the opposition on 31 March. The biggest change since then is a condition that early parliamentary elections be held in 2022 if Georgian Dream do not win more than 43% of the proportional vote in October’s local elections. 

The draft also includes a commitment by the authorities to make efforts to release Nika Melia and Giorgi Rurua within a week of signing the deal.

On Monday, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili announced she would pardon Giorgi Rurua, an opposition supporter and shareholders of the pro-opposition TV channel Mtavari Arkhi, once the deal was signed. 

In July 2020, Giorgi Rurua, who actively supported anti-government protests in Tbilisi a year earlier, was sentenced to four years in prison for possessing and carrying arms illegally. Opposition groups currently boycotting parliament have regarded his and several other prosecutions as being politically motivated cases, and have called him a political prisoner. 

[Read more on OC Media: Melia arrested as police raid UNM offices in Tbilisi]

The deal also includes improved provisions on reforming the judicial system and more balanced power-sharing in Georgia’s parliament, election administration, and the process of confirming the Prosecutor General, articles that some critics still found insufficient.

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