08TBILISI503, THE TROUBLE WITH GEORGIA’S OPPOSITION

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI503 2008-03-24 11:45 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO2740
PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0503/01 0841145
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 241145Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9150
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 TBILISI 000503 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR EUR/CARC 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/24/2018 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM GG
SUBJECT: THE TROUBLE WITH GEORGIA'S OPPOSITION 
 
REF: A. TBILISI 444 
     B. TBILISI 364 
     C. TBILISI 437 
 
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Mark X. Perry for reasons 1.4 (b) and 
(d). 
 
1. (C) Summary:  Recent protests and a hunger strike (ref A) 
by opposition MPs demonstrate the continuing radicalization 
of Georgia's opposition.  The opposition's confrontational 
style and inability to negotiate effectively with the 
government beg the more important question: Why is Georgia's 
opposition so ineffective?  In Georgia, the problem is not 
the lack of an opposition, but rather the state of the 
opposition and Georgian political culture.  Fragmented, 
devoid of effective leaders who shine in the spotlight, 
politically immature, and without a clear agenda, the 
opposition is at pains to articulate any public platform or 
goals.  Although they compelled the ruling National Movement 
(UNM) to negotiate (ref B), they have been unable to cement 
an agreement among themselves or with the UNM.  One 
underlying cause of the opposition's incoherence is that 
Georgia has no history of multi-party governance.  No 
precedent exists in the country's history for a democratic 
transfer of power.  This lack of political experience 
challenges all of Georgia's parties and largely explains the 
current situation.  Despite the opposition's poor state, they 
have made some notable progress and we should not write them 
off just yet.  They, or those who will follow them, are 
critical to Georgia's democratic development.  The 
government's current denunciations of the opposition 
notwithstanding, many Georgians recall current authorities 
using the opposition's same tactics not so long ago.  End 
Summary. 
 
----------------------- 
Opposition Protests, 
Hunger Strike Continues 
----------------------- 
 
2. (U) A review of the past few weeks provides a snapshot of 
the opposition's inconsistent and often extreme tactics.  On 
March 9, the United National Council of Opposition (UNC) 
staged a protest before Parliament.  The opposition New 
Rightists began a hunger strike (ref A) the next day in 
Speaker Burjanadze's Parliamentary office.  On March 14 
Burjanadze called on the opposition to halt their hunger 
strike and resume dialogue.  The opposition responded with a 
call for Burjanadze's resignation and another street protest 
on March 16.  Meanwhile, MP and former presidential candidate 
Levan Gachechiladze has used increasingly vulgar language to 
publicly deride both Burjanadze and President Saakashvili. 
The hunger strike continued on March 21.  The same day, 
Burjanadze refused the "compromise proposal" the opposition 
put forth after meeting with the Georgian Orthodox Church 
Patriarch.  These actions confirm Post's earlier forecast of 
further radicalization in Georgia's opposition, but beg the 
more important question: Why is Georgia's opposition so 
ineffective? 
 
-------------------------------- 
The Problems with the Opposition 
-------------------------------- 
 
3. (C) During his November 2, 2007 visit to Tbilisi, EUR 
Assistant Secretary Daniel Fried said that, like any 
functioning democracy, "Georgia needs a strong, active 
opposition."  In Georgia, the problem is not the lack of an 
opposition, but rather two things: the state of the 
opposition itself, and Georgia's immature political culture. 
The country lacks any experience with a multi-party system or 
a democratic transfer of power between governments.  During a 
recent roundtable on election code reform, an Estonian 
elections consultant told Poloff, "The problem here is with 
the (political) culture.  Neither side trusts the other.  The 
Georgians are basically where we were in 1994." 
 
------------------- 
Internal Challenges 
------------------- 
 
4. (C) Currently, the opposition (including the UNC as well 
as the Republican, New Rights, Christian Democrats, and Labor 
parties) suffers from multiple problems.  First and foremost, 
the opposition is fragmented into multiple, disparate 
parties.  Egotistical personalities regularly form new 
individual parties (five new ones in the past two weeks) they 
can chair, rather than play a supporting role in an 
established party.  Many of these weakened parties now face 
widening cracks within their own ranks (the Republicans left 
the UNC, key lieutenants have left Okruashvili's Movement for 
 
TBILISI 00000503  002 OF 004 
 
 
a United Georgia, and 15 of Gachechiladze's election 
headquarters staff quit citing his "uncertain" political 
vision). 
 
5. (C) Complicating matters, even when the opposition MPs 
work together they have no power to check the UNM's 
constitutional (two-thirds, plus one) majority in Parliament. 
 Having been rendered impotent in the voting process, the 
opposition MPs have taken the symbolic stand of boycotting 
Parliament on all issues except national security.  This only 
further removes them from any involvement in the democratic 
process. 
 
6. (C)
General difficulties the opposition parties face 
include a dearth of skillful, charismatic political leaders. 
To overcome this lack of natural talent, many opposition 
leaders compensate with increased volume.  Furthermore, no 
opposition parties have clearly articulated programs or 
platforms in a broad way to the public. 
 
7. (C) A further problem is that the opposition possesses no 
meaningful funds with which to pursue its agenda.  Opposition 
leaders often argue that Saakashvili's UNM extorts "campaign 
contributions" from large businesses in Georgia.  True or 
not, the opposition parties have no significant benefactors 
since the death of businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili. 
 
8. (C) In the face of their powerless position, the 
opposition has generally displayed little strategic thinking 
or consistent tactics.  The main "unity" of the united 
opposition largely consists of jointly trying to oust 
President Saakashvili from power, so that they can seize it 
themselves - hence the second problem.  Opposition parties 
tend to do little real research to identify issues with 
voters, and don't always trust the results of independent 
research, such as the Post-funded IRI political surveys (ref 
C). 
 
------------------------- 
Some Real Accomplishments 
------------------------- 
 
9. (C) Despite the myriad challenges, the opposition is 
neither totally inept, nor stupid.  Since November 2007, the 
UNC has held together longer than anyone thought possible, 
notwithstanding the Republican Party's recent departure.  The 
opposition challenged Saakashvili in the January 5 election 
and showed the entire country that Saakashvili's once 
unanimous support no longer exists.  With a combination of 
public pressure in the street and reaching out behind the 
scenes, they brought the UNM to the negotiating table on a 
diverse range of issues.  Consequently, the UNC did achieve 
some measure of success over the past six months.  Examples 
include: Saakashvili's resignation and the ensuing 
presidential campaign, lowering the party-list threshold for 
Parliament to five percent, restoring parliamentary elections 
to the spring, and adding opposition representation to the 
electoral commissions. 
 
---------------- 
Closing the Deal 
---------------- 
 
10. (C) However, politics in Georgia is a rough business, and 
the UNM plays the game better than anyone on the other side. 
The opposition and UNC have been unable to come to consensus 
among themselves on many issues.  The UNM has, and will, 
exploit this vulnerability every time.  Republican Party 
Chairman David Usupashvili told Poloff, after trying to 
negotiate between the UNC and Burjanadze, that he 
"understands now why every opposition politician wants their 
own party, so they can always get their way." 
 
11. (C) The art of compromise does not much exist in Georgia, 
and can hardly be seen at all among the opposition 
politicians.  Even when they can reach agreement with the 
government, they have been hard pressed to close the deal. 
Often, the UNM will agree to something (such as lowering the 
threshold or changing the majoritarian system), but will 
exploit the opposition's inability to agree to newly-attached 
conditions prior to setting the government concessions in 
stone.  The opposition has not figured out how to pocket a 
concrete agreement, and use it to build their political 
capital toward future issues.  Rather, when they realize they 
have been had by the UNM, their primary reaction has been to 
resort to the street and denounce the government.  Often, 
they follow this emotional action with equally immature 
rhetoric. 
 
------------------- 
All is Not Yet Lost 
 
TBILISI 00000503  003 OF 004 
 
 
------------------- 
 
12. (C) The UNC is badly worn down from their hunger strike 
and has lost public standing.  Still, the opposition has some 
opportunity with a public that appears hungry for an 
alternative to the UNM's perceived heavy-handedness.  The 
fact that people are tired of the protests does not reflect 
increased support for the current government.  A recent 
survey by the local think tank, the International Center for 
Conflict and Negotiation, showed that Saakashvili and his 
government are not all that popular.  The results showed that 
respondents anticipate some significant change in government 
after the parliamentary elections.  IRI's February poll 
results (ref C) showed that roughly one-third of the country 
does not like Saakashvili, nor many of his cabinet members. 
Although UNM government leaders currently denounce the 
opposition's protests and rhetoric, many Georgians remember 
well these same officials protesting and joining in hunger 
strikes not so long ago when Shevardnadze was President.  In 
fact, many in the current government were allied with many in 
the current opposition in bringing about the Rose Revolution. 
 For example, Gachechiladze served as Saakashvili's 
parliamentary campaign manager in 2001, and the two worked 
closely together during the revolution. 
 
13. (C) Some opposition politicians, notably Usupashvili and 
the Industrialists' Zurab Tkemeladze, have opposed calls for 
further radicalization.  They continue to desire legitimate 
compromise with the UNM that will allow their parties a bona 
fide chance to earn true representation in Parliament. 
Without better funding and some engaging candidates (like 
Saakashvili, who is a natural at working the crowds and 
debating the issues), this remains a daunting task.  Given 
the UNM hard-liners' propensity to press their current 
advantage and stack the deck for elections and composition of 
Parliament in their favor, the opposition has their work cut 
out for them. 
 
------------- 
The Way Ahead 
------------- 
 
14. (C) The future of democratic development in Georgia 
requires that a stronger opposition form, in order to make 
Parliament a bona fide check on the executive branch.  This 
will also require the evolution of Georgian political culture 
to accommodate multiple parties, political compromise, and 
governance without an unchecked majority. 
 
15. (C) How can this happen?  Among the current opposition, 
there is not a great deal with which to work.  The opposition 
is incredibly weak and the UNM has demonstrated scant 
willingness to make unilateral moves to surrender any of 
their real power, even in the interest of building democracy. 
 The UNM's argument is that it cannot willingly give up power 
to an opposition so radicalized that it has announced it will 
impeach President Saakashvili.  After the May parliamentary 
elections -- the last in Saakashvili's presidency -- this 
argument will be less convincing.  Post continues to 
encourage dialogue and compromise between the sides.  As 
importantly, Post continues to believe that truly fair 
parliament
ary elections are the best way forward - and is 
providing assistance toward these. 
 
------------------------------- 
Other Opposition Possibilities? 
------------------------------- 
 
16. (C) The UNM has flaked off a bit at the edges already, 
but it has never been riven in two.  Besides a slow maturing 
by today's opposition leaders, another possibility is a major 
fracture in the UNM.  Last year, Irakli Okruashvili was 
unable to pull away sufficient support to make himself 
viable.  We know that Speaker of Parliament Nino Burjanadze 
has toyed with the idea, but for the time being has rejected 
it.  Such a split has occurred in other countries of Central 
and Eastern Europe within a short time after their democratic 
revolutions, but Saakashvili's movement has proved unusually 
durable.  There is no guarantee that two, or perhaps more, 
parties resulting from a split would be stronger or any less 
personality-driven than in the current situation. 
 
17. (C) Another unrealized possibility lies in the trade 
union movement in Georgia.  The 350,000 union members in 
Georgia have distinct needs and concerns, which are shared by 
a large number of their family and friends.  The unions have 
only recently ousted corrupt and ineffective leaders and are 
just beginning to find their voice as representatives of the 
workers in collective bargaining, against some significant 
odds.  For the time being, they have pronounced themselves 
apolitical, which has been a historically wise choice in the 
 
TBILISI 00000503  004 OF 004 
 
 
former Soviet Union.  However, the labor unions, loosely 
unified under Georgia's version of the AFL-CIO, the Georgia 
Trades Union Council (GTUC), form a block of votes that 
properly organized could be mobilized for any candidate, as 
is the case in the United States.  The GTUC member unions can 
be somewhat fractious, but if the union leadership could 
articulate a program, and party candidates would compete for 
their support, it might result in a stronger, more 
issues-based opposition.  The Embassy recently sponsored an 
International Visitor program for the GTUC president and 
several other labor leaders, who came away impressed by the 
way the labor movement in the United States participates in 
the political process.  More such experiences and 
encouragement might spark a salutory move into politics on 
the unions' part, despite the risks. 
 
------------------------ 
May Elections and Beyond 
------------------------ 
 
18. (C) For now, however, the responsible opposition that 
exists should be encouraged toward competing to the best of 
its ability in the upcoming elections and must avoid the 
temptation to boycott.  Similarly, any push by the UNM to 
unfairly gain an exaggerated advantage in Parliament (whether 
by coercion or administrative means) should be rejected, as 
this will only further alienate the government from the 
people and lead to more opportunity for an undemocratic 
opposition personality to emerge.  The best outcome for the 
foreseeable future is likely to be a Parliament in which the 
opposition has a greater role, obliging it to become more 
responsible.  This would lay the groundwork for the 
opposition to put forth ideas that resonate with the public, 
and to find candidates who can effectively carry that message. 
PERRY

Wikileaks

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