07TBILISI2710, OVERVIEW OF GEORGIA’S LEADING OPPOSITION PARTIES

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07TBILISI2710 2007-11-02 07:28 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXYZ0013
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSI #2710/01 3060728
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 020728Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 8057

UNCLAS TBILISI 002710 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
DEPT FOR EUR/CARC 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV GG
SUBJECT: OVERVIEW OF GEORGIA'S LEADING OPPOSITION PARTIES 
 
REF: A) TBILISI 2437, B) TBILISI 2483, C) TBILISI 2662, D) TBILISI 
 
2596 
 
1. (SBU) Summary:  Of the 191 political parties officially 
registered at the Ministry of Justice, 182 parties are formally 
operating, but only a few are really active on the political scene. 
The arrest of former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili (ref A) for 
corruption on September 27 acted as a catalyst for the majority of 
the leading opposition parties to form a coalition group, the United 
National Council (ref B).  The New Rightists and Industrialists are 
the only major parties to abstain from joining the Council.  Details 
of the major leading opposition parties - the New Rightists, 
Industrialists, Republicans, Conservatives, Labor Party, and 
Georgia's Way - are outlined below.  End Summary. 
 
Prospects of Unification Unclear 
-------------------------------- 
 
2. (SBU) One year before the parliamentary elections scheduled for 
fall 2008, the ruling United National Movement (UNM) seems likely to 
win a majority in the 150-member Parliament (to be reduced from the 
current 235 seats).  Experts and media surmise that given the 
current electoral system for single-seat MPs, UNM will win the 
majority of the 50 single-seat mandates.  (Note: Under the 
"winner-takes-all" system, the party which receives the highest 
percentage of votes in an electoral district takes all of the seats 
in the district - usually around 5 or 6.  End note.)  In addition, 
UNM is projected to win at least 30-40 percent of the remaining 
seats through the proportional party-list elections, guaranteeing a 
simple majority.  Some opposition members believe that the UNM has 
configured the current election rules so they can take 80 percent of 
the party-list seats, even if they win only 40 percent of the 
popular vote, and guarantee themselves another constitutional 
majority. 
 
3. (SBU) The prospects of the leading opposition parties, which had 
to rebuild following the Rose Revolution, are unclear.  Despite the 
recent formation of the ten-party opposition coalition, the United 
National Council, the objectives of its various member parties 
remain vague and contradictory outside of their four core demands: 
1) hold parliamentary elections in Spring 2008, as was originally 
mandated in the Constitution; 2) change the majoritarian system from 
winner-takes-all to a true single mandate system whereby each 
candidate is elected by the votes he or she receives; 3) change the 
Central Election Commission's composition to ensure political 
parity; 4) release alleged political prisoners. 
 
4. (SBU) The opposition parties' leitmotif is "Georgia without 
Saakashvili" or "Georgia without the President" (ref C).  Though the 
opposition's ideological and strategic tools for implementation are 
still in the formative stage, the newly coined slogan is supposed to 
recall the phrase "Georgia without Shevardnadze" used by the UNM in 
its ascent to power. 
 
New Rightists 
------------- 
 
5.  (SBU) New Rightists (NR) claim a formal membership of 16,000 and 
a well-developed network of regional organizations.  Largely due to 
its strong representation nationwide, NR, in coalition with the 
Industrialists Party, was the only opposition group to overcome the 
7 percent barrier in the March 2004 elections.  The stated political 
values of the party are:  limited government, rule of law, and 
personal dignity.  Of the various opposition parties, the New 
Rightists have come closest to articulating a true party platform. 
In the upcoming campaign the party plans to focus on three domestic 
issues: a stronger separation of the branches of government, 
protection of personal property, and enhancement of job security. 
For the past year NR criticized the authorities for subordinating 
all three branches of government to a powerful president, violation 
of property rights, and arbitrary dismissal of employees due to 
political changes.  NR will rely on these issues to widen the 
party's appeal.  The New Rightists are led by longtime Chairman and 
MP David Gamkrelidze, and MPs David Saganelidze, Pikria Chikhradze 
and Mamuka Katsitadze. 
 
6. (SBU) According to IRI polls, NR already has 5 percent of popular 
support, though the party leadership believes that they will win 25 
percent of the votes "provided the 2008 elections are free and 
fair."  The party has two weaknesses with the Georgian public:  its 
association with big business and former President Shevardnadze. 
Many people still remember NR's last minute support for Shevardnadze 
at the November 2003 parliamentary session, the last under 
Shevardnadze's rule. 
 
7. (SBU) In order to strengthen its chances, NR is taking steps 
toward reunification with its former election partner - the 
Industrialists party.  At the same time NR will be trying to bring 
well-recognized faces into the party, including Ana Dolidze, former 
GYLA chairman, and her husband Irakli Kakabadze, leader of the 
Equality Institute.  Both Dolidze and Kakabadze are living 
temporarily in the United States, and are actively critical of the 
Government of Georgia. 
 
Industrialists 
-------------- 
 
8. (SBU) Industrialis
ts (aka Industry will Save Georgia), like the 
New Rightists, refused to join the demonstrations leading to the 
Rose Revolution in November 2003.  Together with the NR, the 
Industrialists provided the quorum for the opening session of the 
Parliament, which many believe was rigged by Shevardnadze's Citizens 
Union of Georgia.  The party, which is not perceived as radical, and 
its leaders, Giorgi Topadze and Zurab Tkemaladze, have traditionally 
been on good terms with the authorities.  It overcame the 7 percent 
threshold in the 2004 election in coalition with NR, and has seats 
in Parliament.  The politically moderate position of the party may 
be largely due to its business connections, as the party's core 
sympathizers are generally older members of the business community. 
According to IRI, popular support for the party has remained stable 
at 4 percent.  With the proposed lowering of the election threshold 
from seven percent to five percent by President Saakashvili (ref D), 
the Industrialists may choose not to form a bloc with the NR and 
participate in the elections independently. 
 
9. (SBU) In the past the party's leadership has advocated 
protectionist policies for Georgian business, often criticizing the 
IMF for their restrictions on Georgia's economic policies.  At 
present, the party's main policies are still very similar to the 
NR's platform - especially as relates to protection of property 
rights and unhampered business development. 
 
10.  (SBU) Neither the New Rightists nor the Industrialists are 
members of the United National Council and are maintaining their 
distance since the formation of the Council around Okruashvili -- a 
figure they consistently criticized since he began his government 
career. 
 
Republicans 
------------ 
 
11. (SBU)  Republican party leaders characterize their party as 
liberal, but in the European sense, since their platform focuses on 
protection of personal property, reduction of taxes, and a push to 
reduce the size and power of government.  The party claims 3000 
members throughout Georgia and 40 regional branches.  According to 
party leaders, the party's weakness is undeveloped representation at 
the regional level.  It relies on the strength of several well known 
leaders, David Usupashvili, MP David Berdzenishvili, Tinatin 
Khidasheli, MP Levan Berdzenishvili, and MP Ivliane Khaindrava, who 
rotate the chairmanship. 
 
12. (SBU) Party supporters characterize the Republicans as the 
"party of intellectuals," and while many of its leaders are 
generally liked for their relatively moderate views and consistent 
logic, the party does not win many votes.  Lately, the party has 
advocated the introduction of a "parliamentary republic" system that 
would greatly reduce the power of the President.  The idea is poorly 
understood by the general public.  According to IRI polls, the party 
has 4-5 percent of public support. 
 
Conservatives 
------------- 
 
13. (SBU) Conservatives have formed a formal alliance or faction 
with the Republicans in Parliament, though this very coalition is 
said to be undermining the Conservatives' support.  The 
Conservatives' main base, former supporters of Georgia's first, 
ill-fated President, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, reportedly have not 
forgiven the Conservatives for their coalition with the Republicans 
- who were the intellectual force behind the 1992 coup against 
Gamsakhurdia.  According to IRI polls, Conservatives have 
approximately 3 percent of popular support.  It is possible in the 
pre-election period the alliance may dissolve and the Conservatives 
may move closer to Konstantine Gamsakhurdia's Freedom Party (which 
is also making some strides in the current political atmosphere) or 
Salome Zourabichvili's Georgia's Way. MPs Zviad Dzidziguri and Kakha 
Kukava are the two foremost leaders of the Conservative Party. 
 
Labor Party 
----------- 
14. (SBU) Like the Republican Party, the Labor Party has been in 
opposition since its establishment in 1995.  Unlike the Republicans, 
the Labor Party lacks pluralistic leadership and depends on the 
popularity of its leader, Shalva Natelashvili.  Most Georgian 
political observers do not consider Natelashvili a serious political 
figure, and the party has inflicted serious damage on itself by 
condemning the widely supported Rose Revolution.  Circulating rumors 
that Natelashvili is financed by Russia are also contributing to his 
unpopularity.  However, Natelashvili still maintains a base among 
the poorer segments of the population and those who have lost 
positions since the Rose Revolution.  His popularity also has risen 
lately following the GoG's policy of curbing small street vendors, a 
source of income to many vulnerable families.  Nearly all of the 
10-11 percent of support for the leftist parties in Georgia goes to 
Labor, and the party should have little trouble getting into 
Parliament with a 5 percent threshold. 
15. (SBU) The party's platform takes a strong socialist stance 
supporting free health care, free education, and widely available 
social services.  The Labor Party also advocates nationalization of 
strategically important industries and supports restriction of the 
President's powers.  However, Natelashvili's position as the 
leftmost Georgian politician is under competition from other leftist 
forces, including Koba Davitashvili's Party of the People and Jondi 
Baghaturia's People's Council. 
Georgia's Way 
------------- 
 
16. (SBU) Georgia's Way, chaired by Salome Zourabichvili, former 
Minister of Foreign Affairs, does not have a clear platform, though 
the party generally advocates liberal values like human rights, 
freedom of speech and a free press.  At a March 2007 assembly of the 
party, a much-quoted Zourabichvili said, "We have to bring back 
Georgian values; the tolerance and solidarity that we are losing 
today."  Zourabichvili is very critical of any policies and steps 
taken by the authorities.  While her party is a member of the United 
National Council, she prefers to maintain a distance from the 
coalition.  Zourabichvili's haughty, French personality has 
alienated some of her potential party members and supporters, and in 
that sense, her "Europeanism" may not be widely appealing to the 
public at large.  Her party has not entirely recovered from losses 
in the 2006 local elections, and popular support for the party is 
around 1-2 percent. 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
17. (SBU) The main goal of the United National Council is to force 
the government to hold pre-term parliamentary elections in April 
2008.  The Council sees the measure as the main solution for the 
current political crisis that they themselves have engineered with 
the help of the departed Irakli Okruashvili.  Beyond that, it does 
not offer any organized program for Georgia's political fortune or 
economic reforms.  Taken separately, none of the above opposit
ion 
parties have developed a consistent party platform of their own 
beyond attacking the current government.  As the elections approach, 
the opposition parties may try to focus on concrete issues but at 
this stage, the parties lack a short-term or long-term vision for 
the country's future that can be easily communicated to the general 
public. 
 
TEFFT

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