Georgians Support Opposition’s Demands, Not Opposition – JAMnews's Margarita Akhvlediani
2 December, 2019

Protests in Georgia have erupted again after the Georgian parliament failed to adopt an electoral reform that would mean switching to a fully proportional electoral system in 2020 instead of 2024. The government agreed to the reform in response to the protests that started in June this year. 

While the protest continues, Margarita Akhvlediani, editor-in-chief of JAMnews in Tbilisi, told Hromadske how the protests look right now, what is different about this protest compared to the previous one, and what can happen as a result of these demonstrations.

Let us know what’s happening now in Tbilisi and in the country and to what it all leads, what should be discussed and decided? 

Now it’s time for negotiations, mainly, though, people are still in the street. Not many, maybe up to 100, in front of the parliament, and there were some [...] in Kutaisi and in other main cities in Georgia today during the day. But mainly it is time for negotiations. 

There were already several rounds of negotiations of the united opposition with the ruling party. But they can’t agree, and the situation is kind of not adequate. Because now they are discussing not the particular requirement by the opposition that there will only proportional model of parliamentary elections, and the election must be conducted right now, not next year.

Now the discussion is over much softer offer - it’s about the so-called “German model” which offers actually no amendments to the Constitution. At least the opposition and mainly the experts in the country claim that no amendments to the Constitution are required.

But the ruling party doesn’t agree even to this. The situation is strange, and it’s difficult to say. Even right now, the leaders of the united opposition are finishing to discuss what to do next. They offer to involve European experts in the dispute. There was an idea that if the Venice Commission, for instance, would say that they agree that no Constitutional amendments are needed, then the ruling party should agree. And if the Constitutional amendments are needed, then the opposition would agree. But the ruling party doesn’t agree to anything! And it is a problem now.

It looks like an obvious political crisis. But how it impacts daily life in Georgia? And to what it also may lead apart from the fact that we don’t know whether these snap elections will take place. How big are these protests compared to any others in Georgia? And how strong is the opposition? Do you think that the opposition in case of an election can come to power?

I don’t think that it can happen right now because it’s not actually about the revolution in the country, it’s mainly about changes to the electoral system, and the new parliament will be elected based on the new system, and then the changes would come.

So, maybe for the first time during the last in Georgia, it’s now about revolution, not about a coup, but mainly about a discussion. So I don’t think it’s possible now that the revolution would happen because there is also a big divide between the different parts of the population. The slogan is “All of us we are against the one” where “one” is the oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, head of the ruling party. But actually the population, while they mainly are against this oligarch, doesn’t support the National Movement, the leading opposition party which now leads the protests. And that is why so many people would support the changes into the electoral law, but they don’t support what exactly is happening now in front of the parliament.

Maybe it sounds a bit complicated, but not only the opposition is kind of divided, but people are divided, the population is divided.

The police used water cannons to disperse the demonstrators. Did the police's tactics change? Are you concerned about any major case when, for instance, the police would also disperse those who are currently in front of the parliament? Or the level of the emotions is not that high any longer?

It depends on what I should compare with. Because in summer we survived just absolutely violent dispersal of the protest. Up to 20-30 thousand people were in the streets, and they were dispersed. Many were injured, some lost their eyes because rubber bullets were used.

And, of course, compared to that dispersal, now police have definitely learned its lesson. So lately it was a kind of, let’s say, polite dispersal of protesters if I can say so.

Now the situation is not that violent, as it was in summer. Everybody learned their lessons, including the opposition leaders and the activists that participate in the protest. They are not so aggressive now, they’re not trying to enter the parliament, they just stay there and block the entrances to the parliament.

It’s difficult to say what will happen because now it’s a deadlock. And everything is about political issues, there are no real demands that the government should go or something. It’s about the changes to the electoral code. Maybe it even sounds a bit funny to some of my friends beyond Georgia because ordinary people who probably have never heard of electoral law or the “German model” are now staying in front of the parliament and demanding it. Political education has come to Georgia immediately, in a couple of weeks. And everybody now understands what is “German model” and why we need it.

/Interview by Nataliya Gumenyuk

/Text by Vladyslav Kudryk

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