COMMENT: Georgian protests ebb as opposition fractures

By bne IntelliNews June 8, 2009

Galt & Taggart in Kyiv -

Independence Day on May 26 was to have inspired more significant anti-presidential protests, but instead proved a day of fracture between opposition sides. Street protests are dwindling, moderates are moving towards dialogue and President Mikheil Saakashvili looks to have weathered the recent spate of demonstrations. We expect the summer to be lower key than recent months. The next protests are scheduled for the first anniversary of last summer's war, though we believe opposition disunity and a lack of a political platform will prevent them from reaching the necessary size to force Saakashvili to resign.

R.I.P. opposition unity?

The impact of lasting protests seeking the resignation of President Saakashvili began to fade as the liberal and radical wings of the opposition fractured over a short-lived move by some to blockade key Tbilisi transportation hubs. The opposition had planned for Independence Day to be a turning point that would inspire larger protests, ongoing since April 9, but opposition leaders have split on future tactics, and now lack the solidarity that is central to pushing for Saakashvili's resignation.

The moderate wing of the opposition, led by Georgia's former UN envoy Irakli Alasania, denounced the more drastic actions on May 26, instead calling on dialogue with the government and the involvement of the international community. The more radical Joint Opposition, spearheaded by ex-Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze and former presidential candidate Levan Gachechiladze, is now the remaining proponent of street action.

Preliminary results from a recent poll by Caucasus Research Resource Centers showed more than 85% of respondents support negotiations between the two sides.

A summer lull

We expect the summer months will be relatively calm with few triggers capable of spurring turmoil. One date to look for is August 8-9 when the opposition is planning protests on the first anniversary of the war. Owing to continued disunity in opposition ranks and a lack of a true political platform and alternative, we do not believe the demonstrations will be significantly larger than those on May 26. Additionally, continued police restraint has been, and we believe will be, a key factor in preventing any potential deterioration of the situation.

The breakaway region South Ossetia, the focus of last summer's war with Russia, held parliamentary elections at the end of May and preliminary results show a strong victory by the pro-Russian party. A question mark hangs over responses to the event from both Tbilisi and Moscow, and we do not rule out that a potential escalation of regional tensions may stem from the two sides' moves in the coming weeks. As a positive, a number of EU- and Nato-hosted mechanisms for dialogue have been scheduled for the coming weeks.

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