US, EU express solidarity with protesters in Georgia

The United States and European Union expressed solidarity on Monday with Georgia’s anti-government protesters who took to the streets after the ruling party backtracked on promises of electoral reforms, news wires reported. In the biggest anti-government protest in years, more than 20,000 demonstrators rallied on Sunday outside the parliament building in the capital Tbilisi urging the government to resign and calling for new legislative elections.

But the ruling Georgian Dream party general secretary and Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze flatly ruled out the possibility of early polls.Speaking during a news conference on Monday, he accused the opposition of “destabilising political processes with cheap and destructive performances.”

In a joint statement on Monday, the US and EU embassies said they “recognise the deep disappointment of a wide segment of Georgian society at the failure of parliament to pass the constitutional amendments required to move to fully proportional parliamentary elections in 2020.”“We fully support the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” they said.

On Monday morning, Georgian Dream MPs were not allowed into the building by a crowd of protesters who shouted “Rats!” and “Slaves!” and denounced Georgia’s richest man and party leader Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Opposition parties called for the rallies after forming a rare united front against the ruling party, whose MPs last week voted down legislation to hold parliamentary elections next year under a new proportional voting system. The opposition accused oligarch Ivanishvili, who is widely believed to be the man in charge in Georgia, of being behind the move. Protesters say the ruling party unfairly benefits from the current voting system. Twelve ruling party lawmakers,including two deputy parliament speakers, have left Georgian Dream to protest the controversial vote. The Georgian Dream party won nearly 77% of seats in the 2016 parliamentary election despite garnering only 48.7% of the vote. The opposition at the time denounced the polls as rigged.

The US and EU embassies said the failure to pass the legislation “has increased mistrust and heightened tensions between the ruling party and other political parties and civil society.”

In power since 2012, the ruling party has seen its popularity plummet amid widespread discontent over economic stagnation and perceived backsliding on its commitment to democracy. Critics accuse Ivanishvili of persecuting political opponents, suffocating critical media, and creating a corrupt political system where his private interests dominate government decision-making.

Ivanishvili announced “large-scale political reform” following a summer of protests that saw 240 people injured in a police crackdown.

 

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