By Eka Janashia (04/23/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On April 7, Georgia’s Minister of Internal Affairs Alexander Chikaidze warned the public that the opposition United National Movement (UNM) party plans to implement a EuroMaidan scenario in connection with the upcoming local elections by using criminal elements and Ukrainian EuroMaidan activists.
The minister claimed that EuroMaidan activists from Ukraine are already training Georgian counterparts in mobilizing rallies and setting up tents in the center of Tbilisi under the cover of non-governmental organizations. By destabilizing the situation, they will compel the authorities to use coercive measures and then showcase violations of citizens’ rights in Georgia. According to Chikaidze, UNM is purchasing second-hand tires to stir violent protest with burning barricades while the Ministry of Internal Affairs is doing everything to prevent disorder and “the groups that are now trying to destabilize the situation will be strictly punished in accordance with the law.”
While in Ukraine, the authorities’ reversal of the country’s European path caused popular unrest, there are no corresponding intentions in Georgia, Chikaidze said. Conversely, the minister stated that compared to previous years, the protection of human rights, privacy and freedom of opinion has been radically increased and there is a real perspective of signing an Association Agreement with the EU in June, which will bring Georgia closer to Europe.
Commenting on the minister’s statement, Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said that Chikaidze just spoke about “those unattainable wishes that some abnormal people may have” and added that anyone who dares to carry out a destabilizing scenario “will be punished very severely.”
Surprisingly, Chikaidze’s announcement was not endorsed by some of the Georgian Dream (GD) leaders. Majority MP Tina Khidasheli criticized Chikaidze, saying that such statements demonstrates the weakness of the government; if the MIA expects a coup d’état in the country, it should act immediately rather than discuss the issue publicly.
UNM termed the minister’s accusations “total nonsense” and a “very cheap attempt” to veil current political setbacks. UNM’s secretary for foreign relations, Giga Bokeria, insisted that instead of paying attention to rising crime, security concerns related to Russia and economic stagnation, the government has invented an absurd story and seeks to sow panic.
UNM laments that the government deliberately seeks to destroy a pro-Western, democratic opposition party through policies of intimidation and repression. To illustrate these claims, UNM quotes the case of MP Nugzar Tsiklauri. On March 30, Tsiklauri was allegedly assaulted by eight masked men with electroshock devices trying to drag him into a car. After the failed attempt, the attackers left the scene while the injured lawmaker was taken to a hospital.
Another complaint from UNM concerns the pre-election environment. UNM insists that the main opposition party is not awarded the possibility to conduct a proper election campaign and that its members have in several cities been prevented from meeting with locals and discussing projects suspended by the government.
On April 11, UNM MP Irma Nadirashvili provided details on the government’s misconduct. According to her, the attack on UNM representatives in Anaklia was coordinated by Goga Nachkebia, head of the Special Operations Department (SOD) of Samegrelo region while in Kakheti; the UNM’s planned events were interrupted by employees of the local self-government body. The head of the department for relations with local self-government bodies of the Imereti regional administration, Kote Lomidze, orchestrated parallel protest rallies in Tskaltubo to hinder UNM’s campaign, whereas in Tbilisi and Batumi this responsibility was assumed by activists of the Democratic Movement-United Georgia party led by Nino Burjanadze.
While the pre-election environment grows tenser, some analysts point to emerging rifts within the ruling GD that could lead to a disintegration of the coalition. The disagreement between President Giorgi Margvelashvili and former PM Bidzina Ivanishvili demonstrates a first sign of such a rift (see the 04/02/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst). In addition Gubaz Sanikidze, a GD member and leader of the political party National Forum (NF), stated on March 18 that he did not exclude the possibility of leaving the coalition.
Khidasheli’s recent statements also deserve attention in this regard. Firstly, her criticism of Chikaidze, the head of one of the key ministries, was unexpected. However, Khidasheli gave an even starker statement at a session of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on April 10, where she declared that it was not the president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, who provoked Russia to invade Georgia in 2008. “Whether you respond to Moscow’s provocations or keep silent, the result will be the same,” she said. This approach directly contradicts that of GD, which has since it came to power 2012 endeavored to launch a probe into the Georgian governments’ faults during the August 2008 war (see the 04/17/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst).
The appearing rifts within the coalition may be indicative of Ivanishvili’s waning sway over Georgian politics. Although he left politics several months ago, his reputation has remained a primary source of legitimacy for the country’s key political figures – Georgia’s president and PM. Thus, Ivanishvili’s declining political assets cast a diverse shadow, especially ahead of the local elections.