08TBILISI1608, GEORGIA: GOVERNMENT CONFIDENT OF PUBLIC SUPPORT

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI1608 2008-09-19 07:03 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO6439
PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #1608/01 2630703
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 190703Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0111
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 001608 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR EUR/CARC AND GCG 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/12/2018 
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM RU GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: GOVERNMENT CONFIDENT OF PUBLIC SUPPORT 
AND OPPOSITION NOT UNITED ON MUCH 
 
REF: A) TBILISI 1525 B) TBILISI 1602 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D) 
 
1. (C) Introduction and Comment: Tbilisi Mayor and 
Saakashvili insider Gigi Ugulava told the Ambassador that 
polling data indicates that Saakashvili and his Government 
enjoy broad public support, but noted that the Government 
needed to use the next 12-18 months to focus on 
rehabilitation and reconstruction in the country in order to 
ensure stability.  In Ugulava's view, Saakashvili needed to 
stay focused on domestic issues and reassure the public by 
giving them realistic expectations of what would be ahead. 
On the opposition's side of the fence, smaller opposition 
parties signed on to the government-sponsored Charter of 
Georgian Politicians, but four key groups refused to sign 
touting the agreement as no more than government propoganda 
to shirk responsibility for its actions during the crisis. 
The Charter envisages a joint anti-crisis commission, whose 
role remains unclear although President Saakashvili in his 
September 16 state of the union address called for the group 
to have an implementing role in supporting IDPs.  The New 
Rightists, Republicans, Labor, and the United Opposition 
(UNC) parties all refused to sign, leaving them free to 
publicly criticize government actions during the conflict. 
Upon her return from the United States, Nino Burjanadze did 
not sign the Charter because, according to her, "it was not a 
serious document."  She instead called for a transparent 
analysis of the government's actions during the crisis. 
 
2. (C) Ugulava -- buoyed by recent polling results -- 
believed that the government enjoys broad public support and 
made a compelling case for the stability of Saakashvili's 
government, at least for now.  The opposition seems intent on 
gaining political advantage from the current crisis, and is 
seeking ways to reestablish its credibility with voters after 
being soundly defeated in the presidential and parliamentary 
elections.  Whether it is seeking to shore up its public 
support or is worried about the chorus of critical opposition 
voices, the government has taken a step towards involving the 
opposition in governance by inviting opposition members to 
sit down with key MPs and international observers.  In his 
9/16 address to the Parliament (reftel B), the President 
called for important reforms to Georgia's democracy.  On the 
opposition's side, the four larger parties, by not signing 
the Charter, have turned down the opportunity to engage with 
the government and are sticking with their thus far, 
unsuccessful strategy -- gaining popular support, and 
eventually political power, based on a purely 
anti-Saakashvili platform.  Some, including the Republicans, 
may feel they have been burned during negotiations with the 
government in past, and likely believe the government will 
not grant the Commission any real authority.  Others, such as 
Labor, see no benefit to dealing with the government at all. 
And some, like former Speaker Nino Burjanadze, are still 
flirting with the idea of opposing Saakashvili.  While the 
government faces the very real challenges of managing its 
response to the current crisis, we fully expect these 
opposition figures to continue to be the Government's 
fiercest critics and seek political advantages wherever they 
can find them.  Whether they can translate these advantages 
into popular support remains to be seen.  End Introduction 
and Comment. 
 
Saakashvili Confidante Tells the Ambassador That the 
Government Enjoys Popular Support 
 
3.  (C)  During an August 10 meeting with the Ambassador and 
DCM, Government insider and Saakashvili confidante Tbilisi 
Mayor Giorgi Ugulava provided some interesting insights on 
the domestic scene.  Ugulava started out by noting that the 
polling commissioned by the Government from Greenberg, 
Quinlan, Rosner research had concluded that President 
Saakashvili needed to focus on domestic issues, specifically 
reconstruction and rehabilitation.  He said that Rossner,s 
polls and focus groups showed that Georgians are now 
concerned about social and economic issues, and the upcoming 
winter, not the international scene.  In general, Saakashvili 
and the Government enjoyed high approval ratings and 
Rossner,s polling found that there was a strong sense of 
unity among Georgians that was translating into support for 
the Government.  Fifty-seven percent of respondents believed 
that the Russians or Russian PM Vladimir Putin were 
responsible for the war compared to 18 percent who held 
President Saakashvili responsible.  Interior Minister 
Merabishvili had the highest rating of any minister in the 
Government.  (Note: Rosner's polling sent via email to 
EUR/CARC.) 
 
 
TBILISI 00001608  002 OF 003 
 
 
4.  (C)  With regard to the opposition, Rosner,s polls found 
that support and sympathy for the opposition had plummeted. 
The demands of several opposition politicians that 
Saakashvili and the Government step down had been m
et with 
anger by the population.  In the popular view, the opposition 
demands would lead to instability and a catastrophe for the 
country.  According to Ugulava, the opposition had no basis 
in popular opinion upon which to argue for a change in 
government. 
 
5.  (C)  The focus groups uncovered important differences 
between regions.  Tbilisi voters noted that although the war 
had been lost, Georgia had won in the battle for 
international support.  On the other hand, Gori residents 
were more angry and expressed great hate for the Ossetians. 
However, regardless of region, Rosner,s data showed a strong 
sense of unity in support of Georgia and the Government. 
Ugulava acknowledged that this sense of unity was temporary 
and that the Government would have to continue to work hard 
to maintain support.  In Ugulava,s view, people were worried 
that the end of the conflict could bring a return to the 
conditions of 1993 following the Abkhaz War when the economy 
collapsed and the Government was unable to respond.  This 
time, the Government had succeeded in restoring "normalcy' 
very quickly.  This was taking place even in Gori as the 
Government pushed ahead with making repairs and 
rehabilitating damaged buildings and infrastructure.  With 
regard to the IDPs, Ugulava said that "they blame Russia for 
everything."  As soon as the IDPs left the Tskhinvali area, 
they understood that Russia was openly pushing for regime 
change. 
 
6.  (C)  With regard to the issue of who started the 
conflict, Ugulava said that this was not an important 
domestic issue -- he believed people were not interested. 
However, he acknowledged that people here were asking why the 
Government didn,t know what the Russian reaction to Georgian 
actions in South Ossetia would be and that was a concern for 
the Government.  Ugulava said that the Government was making 
the argument to the population that they had no choice but to 
engage to protect the Georgian population in the villages of 
South Ossetia.  He also admitted that there had been an 
assumption in the Government that Tskhinvali could have been 
held, but only if the international community had defended 
Georgia,s actions immediately.  (The conversation with 
Ugulava took place before the New York Times' publication of 
its 9/16 article on Georgian intercepts showing Russian armor 
moving through the Roki Tunnel before Georgia commenced its 
attack on Tskhinvali.) 
 
7.  (C)  When asked about the possibility of political 
changes, Ugulava said that there was no push for a change or 
for a Government reshuffle -- and the Rossner polling 
supported this.  The opposition,s call for new elections was 
unpopular, because it was associated with rallies, 
demonstrations and instability.  The opposition statements 
calling for the Government,s resignation were "scaring 
people" and interpreted as a challenge to Georgia,s unified 
anti-Russian stance.   He suggested that the opposition had 
only its small group of supporters in the Vake region of 
Tbilisi as a sounding board and they were out of touch with 
the rest of the country.  In his view, Nino Burjanadze was 
not serious and did not have enough support. "She needs to 
show the public that she is serious competition, but she has 
no discipline."  Ugulava noted that her decision to get the 
Government to approve the sale of a large home to her for one 
lari (as she was leaving Government) made her vulnerable 
politically. 
 
8.  (C)  Ugulava suggested that it was important for the 
political elite to stay united behind the Government in order 
to reassure Ministers who were insecure about their futures. 
With regard to the business elite, Ugulava said that they 
were concerned about mortgage and banking problems.  They saw 
Saakashvili as the guarantor of stability and reform and they 
would continue to support him. 
 
The Charter of Georgian Politicians 
 
9. (SBU) Given the strong popular support enjoyed by 
President Saakashvili and the Government, the decision to 
reach out to the opposition appears to have been made partly 
in response to international concerns about the health of 
civil society and partly in an effort to bring some of the 
Government's harshest critics back into a dialogue.  All of 
the opposition politicians who participated in reftel 
discussions to form an anti-crisis coalition readily agreed 
to the first three tenets of the Charter, namely: 
territorial integrity, NATO membership and EU integration, 
 
TBILISI 00001608  003 OF 003 
 
 
and that all protests should take place by constitutional 
means.  However, there was disagreement among the parties on 
the fourth clause, which states that the government will 
undertake democratic reforms and form an anti-crisis 
commission.  Due to this fourth clause, the United National 
Council, Republican Party, the Labor Party, and New Rightists 
all refused to sign the charter.  Kakha Kukava, co-leader of 
the Conservative Party said it was yet another propaganda 
move by the authorities, adding that "the real opposition" 
would not accept it.  One member of Parliament from the 
ruling United National Movement (UNM) suggested in an 
informal discussion with Poloff that the charter was mostly 
for show.  This MP suggested that it would help prevent any 
drastic moves by the Opposition -- at least until Russian 
forces depart undisputed Georgian territory.  (Comment: This 
conversation was separate from the consultations, and the MP 
was not a key member of the UNM.  End comment.)  Some 
oppositionists believed the government could tout this 
Commission as an example of engaging the opposition without 
actually doing so, could prove to be a distraction from 
legitimate criticism of the government. 
 
10. (SBU) On September 5, the Charter was signed by: 
 
David Bakradze - Speaker of the Parliament, United National 
Movement (UNM) 
Mikheil Machavariani - First Vice Speaker of the Parliament, 
UNM 
Giorgi Targamadze - Leader of the Parliament Minority, 
Chairman of the Christian Democratic Movement (CDM) 
Levan Vepkhadze - Vice Speaker of the Parliament, General 
Secretary of CDM 
Bachuki Kardava - Chairman of the National Democratic Party 
Zurab Tkemaladze - Chairman of the Industrialists 
Paata Davitaia - Chairman of On Our Own (Abkhaz refugees 
political party) 
Jondi Bagaturia - Chairman of Georgia Troupe 
Gia Tortladze - Independent MP, Chairman of Parliament 
opposition faction 
Gia Tsagareishvili - Independent MP, member of the Parliament 
Minority 
 
11. (SBU) Speaker Bakradze declared the document "open for 
joining" until September 8, 2008, and called on other parties 
to join.  As of September 12, 2008, no other parties had 
joined, and the non-signatory parties were drafting their own 
parallel charter.  Koba Davitashvili, the Chairman of the 
Party of People and member of the United Opposition, and 
Marina Muskhelishvili from Georgia's Way (both members of the 
United Op
position) attended the consultations, but have not 
yet signed.  It is also unclear whether Konstantine 
Gamsakhurdia, leader of the Freedom Party, will sign. 
 
12.  (C)  Although she would not bring a huge electoral 
following with her, well-respected former Speaker of 
Parliament Nino Burjanadze is publicly flirting with the 
opposition and is considering her next move (additional info 
septel).  Upon her return from a visit to the United States, 
she told the press that she "would not sign the Charter, as 
it is a declaration of obvious principles and not a serious 
document."  Rather she said, only after the commission 
releases its findings will she announce her position on 
government responsibility for the crisis and whether she 
would support Gamkrelidze's and Natelashvili's recent calls 
for Saakashvili's resignation.  She defended her actions by 
saying the country needs transparent analysis of the crisis 
now and that difficult questions should not be prohibited. 
TEFFT

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