Georgia’s government and the majority of its opposition parties have signed an EU-brokered agreement to end the political crisis that has been ongoing since the country’s October-November parliamentary elections last year. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, was today (20 April) in Tbilisi to meet with the leaders and parties that signed his proposal. Michel published the new agreement – titled, ‘A way ahead for Georgia’ – on 18 April, urging parties to sign it following a failed attempt by his personal envoy to bring the crisis to an end last month.
Georgia has been in a political crisis since October 2020 when opposition parties alleged that the parliamentary elections had been rigged by the incumbent Georgian Dream party, boycotting parliament. The crisis further erupted in February when Nika Melia, the leader of the largest opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), was arrested for refusing to pay bail on charges of inciting violence during anti-government protests in 2019 – charges that his supporters allege were politically motivated.
The agreement stipulates a number of measures aimed to tackle the main grievances of the sides. Whilst opposition signatories agree to end their boycott of parliament, the deal covers electoral and justice reforms, grants pardons for all violations and convictions from the 19-21 June 2019 protests, and promises repeat parliamentary elections in 2022 if Georgian Dream fails to receive at least 43% of the vote in the country's municipal elections in October 2021.
Speaking together at a press conference this afternoon, the prime minister of Georgia, Irakli Garibashvili, thanked Michel for his “tremendous” personal involvement in the deal, announcing that “the crisis in Georgia is over”. The European Council President responded by saying, “it is a pleasure to be here and to meet with political leaders, who will from now on work together in an inclusive parliament”. Michel thanked the Prime Minister for his “courageous political choices [and his] vision for the future of this country”; he equally thanked the opposition politicians for “for their commitment to putting polarisation aside”.
However, despite many suggesting that the crisis is over, some think it has simply evolved into a different form. Georgia’s third president, Mikheil Saakashvili – UNM’s founder and former leader – today urged UNM to sign the deal as soon as Melia is released from prison, “without posting bail and in a dignified manner", adding that he will soon be returning to Georgia to campaign in the October 2021 local elections. If he returns Saakashvili faces a number of charges for crimes he allegedly committed during his time in office, and is likely to be immediately imprisoned. His UNM has 34 of the 60 mandates won by opposition parties in the 150 seat parliament.