Georgia Protesters Intensify Push to Oust President Mikheil Saakashvili

Daily News Article   —   Posted on April 15, 2009

Note:  This article is from the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

(from Telegraph.co.uk) - Georgian opposition leaders said on Monday they would move daily street protests to President Mikheil Saakashvili’s office as up to 20,000 rallied for a fifth day to demand his resignation.

Thousands of opposition supporters have been protesting against Mr Saakashvili since Thursday in the biggest demonstrations against his rule since a war with Russia last August.

The opposition leaders said they would keep up continuous protests until the leader of the former Soviet republic quit over his record on democracy and last year’s disastrous war.

Turnout dipped over the weekend and there were signs that some opposition leaders were looking to hold talks with the president on finding a way out of the stand-off.

Some 60,000 people rallied at the start of the campaign on Thursday, followed by 20,000 on Friday, blocking Tbilisi’s central avenue and the main roads running past the president’s office and the public broadcaster.

Critics accuse Mr Saakashvili, who came to power on the back of the 2003 Rose Revolution, of monopolising power and exerting pressure on the judiciary and the media.

Last year’s war, when Russia crushed a Georgian assault on breakaway South Ossetia, has emboldened opponents who say the 41-year-old leader has made too many mistakes to remain in power until 2013.

But analysts doubt the opposition can remain united or muster the numbers over a sustained period to force him out. Despite the defection of some senior allies and repeated cabinet reshuffles since the war, Mr Saakashvili’s position appears to remain strong.

On Sunday he insisted that he still enjoys the backing of his Western allies, despite America’s concerted drive to achieve reconciliation with Russia.

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Questions

1. a) Name the capital of Georgia.
b) What is the population of Georgia? (see link to State Department website under “Resources”)
c) Who is the president of Georgia?

2. a) What do protesters want President Saakashvili to do?
b) Why?

3. What do opponents accuse President Saakashvili of doing?

4. How many people have been protesting against President Saakashvili?

5. Why do analysts doubt the President’s opposition can force him out of office?

6. Read the “Background” below. For how many years and how many terms can the President serve?

7. Read an explanation of why Georgians want President Saakashvili to resign after winning over 90% of the vote in his first term cfr.org/publication/15185. Be prepared to explain.


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Background

THE GOVERNMENT OF GEORGIA:
Georgia has been a democratic republic since the presidential elections and constitutional referendum of October 1995. The President is elected for a term of 5 years, limited to 2 terms; the constitutional successor is the Speaker of Parliament.

Parliamentary elections on November 2, 2003 were marred by irregularities and fraud according to local and international observers. Popular demonstrations ensued in the streets of Tbilisi; protestors carried roses in their hands and these peaceful protests became known as the Rose Revolution. Former President Eduard Shevardnadze resigned on November 23, 2003… President Mikheil Saakashvili was elected to a 5-year term in January 2004. Parliamentary elections were re-held in March 2004 and President Saakashvili’s party, National Movement, combined with Speaker Burjanadze’s party, the Burjanadze-Democrats, won the majority of seats. …

In September 2007, following the arrest of former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, nine opposition parties formed the United National Council (UNC) and issued four demands to the government, including moving up parliamentary elections from the fall to the spring of 2008. The Council organized protests throughout Georgia in October and staged a large rally in front of the Parliament on November 2. Opposition leaders began to demand the president’s resignation, and violence ensued when the police dispersed protesters in front of the Parliament on November 7. As a result, President Saakashvili officially resigned on November 25 and called snap presidential elections for January 5, 2008.

On January 5, 2008, President Saakashvili was reelected to a second 5-year term with 53.45% of the vote. Levan Gachechiladze, the UNC candidate, earned 25.68%. Voters also overwhelmingly voted in two plebiscites in favor of NATO integration and spring parliamentary elections.

In the May 21, 2008 parliamentary elections, Saakashvili’s United National Movement won an overwhelming majority with 119 out of 150 seats. International observers agreed that the government made efforts to conduct the elections in line with international standards. Despite these efforts and due to allegations of voter intimidation, lack of balanced media, and a lack of fair adjudication of complaints, half of the opposition boycotted the new Parliament. As a result, by-elections were held in Tbilisi and Adjara on November 3, 2008.

Resources

Read a previous article on opposition to President Saakashvili at studentnewsdaily.com.

Read an interview explaining why Georgians do not support Saakashvili they way they did when first electing him at cfr.org/publication/15185.

For background information on Georgia (including geography), go to the State Department website at state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5253.htm

For a map of Georgia, go to WorldAtlas.com.