Georgia's opposition looks to the future

Georgia’s opposition has pledged to put up a single presidential candidate for the forthcoming elections after the resignation of Eduard Shevardnadze in an attempt to shore up popular support for the difficult programme of reform ahead.

Mikhail Saakashvili, who spearheaded the opposition protests and stormed into Parliament, causing Shevardnadze to flee, said a united presidential candidate would be selected before the end of the week.

He was reiterating statements made by the speaker of the Georgian Parliament, Zurab Zhvania, and the acting president, Nino Burdzhanadze. Saakashvili is widely expected to be the candidate, with Burdzhanadze and Zhvania in key posts.

A Georgian official said: “The revolution was Saakashvili’s, and he took no compromises.
He’s what the people want for a president. He can be a little hot-headed, but Burdzhanadze is calmer, more experienced, and the more sensible one. Hopefully she can maintain a little influence over him.’’

On Tuesday the Georgian Supreme Court invalidated the fraudulent November 2 elections that sparked the three weeks of protests leading to Shevardnadze’s resignation.

New presidential elections were announced for January 4. Burdzhanadze, who became acting president after Shevardnadze resigned, said parliamentary elections should not be held simultaneously for organisational reasons.

“We should stand side by side, independent of nationalities, independent of political interests,’’ she told a Parliament based on the results of the last elections — those of 1999, which were themselves criticised for irregularities. “Today we are starting a new era.’’

Saakashvili earlier warned MPs that if new elections were not called, the country would find itself in “a state of civil war’‘.

He also warned of a potential for future violence, referring to the belligerent comments of Aslan Abashidze, the head of the autonomous province of Ajaria, which has declared a state of emergency and said the recent “coup” threatened its interests.

Abashidze said Ajaria did not want independence from Georgia, but was severing links with Tbilisi until a new president was elected. Abashidze and the head of the other separatist region, South Ossetia, were invited to Moscow for “consultations”. The head of Abkhazia is expected to follow. — Â

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