asiaNet Eurasia Insight
Two events precipitated upheaval in Georgia's political establishment in recent weeks. The first occurred on September 17, when President Eduard Shevardnadze announced his resignation as leader of Georgia's ruling Citizens' Union of Georgia movement (CUG). Two days later, Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili submitted his resignation, citing the government's reluctance to battle pervasive corruption.
Shevardnadze's departure as CUG leader could cause the ruling movement to disintegrate, officials said. According to one leading legislator, Roman Kusiani, at least three new parliamentary factions will emerge out of the CUG, the Prime-News agency reported September 29. Meanwhile, opposition parties are taking advantage of the ruling movement's disarray to step up their attacks on the president, as well as government policy.
Saakashvili's resignation stemmed from the defeat of a bill that he sponsored on rooting out corruption in government. Under the bill, government officials would have been required to disclose and document all sources of wealth and income.
In early 2001, Shevardnadze vowed a vigorous fight against corruption. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archives.] Since then, however, government anti-corruption efforts have lagged.
In resigning, the 33-year-old Saakashvili accused Shevardnadze and his government of corruption. "It's impossible to work in a government full of corrupt ministers, who instead of leading the country out of a deep social-economic crisis, just defend their personal interests," he said in a television interview.
Saakashvili has also accused Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze of intentionally fomenting unrest in the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He claimed that Tarmagadze seeks the imposition of martial law throughout Georgia.
Vowing to stay active in the fight against corruption, Saakashvili said he would work to form a popular movement, which would seek to organize mass protests. The main aim of the movement would be to force the government's resignation and call fresh parliamentary elections. He is also seeking to regain the parliamentary seat that he resigned to join the government.
Some domestic political observers are expressing concern that Saakashvili's political activities could re-ignite political violence in Tbilisi. The capital suffered considerable damage in 1992, when anti-government forces ousted then-President Zviad Gamsakhurdia.
Parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania has appealed to MPs in the ruling faction to remain loyal to Shevardnadze, but Saakashvili's actions suggest that the president is losing the trust of younger, reform-minded technocrats. "Why shouldn't we challenge the president," said another young MP, Georgi Baramidze. "Is he the Dalai Lama or what?"
Despite growing opposition to his presidency, Shevardnadze retains considerable influence in parliament, underscored by the fact that parliament endorsed Roland Giligashvili, the president's nominee to replace Saakashvili as justice minister, by a vote of 118 to one.
The domestic uncertainty catches Georgia at a time when Russia is exerting growing pressure on Tbilisi in connection with the Kremlin's campaign to crush Chechen separatists. [For background see the related Eurasia Insight article].
Government discord makes it tougher for Tbilisi to stand firm against Moscow's desire to infringe upon Georgian sovereignty in pursuit of Chechen separatists. Moscow claims Chechens use the Pankisi Gorge in northern Georgia, near the Russian frontier, as a safe haven.
Dimitri Bit-Suleiman is a freelance
journalist based in Georgia.