Thousands of anti-government protestors mustered for a fourth day at Georgia’s Parliament on Monday in what increasingly looks like an opposition-led bid force President Mikhael Saakashvili from power.
The demonstrators are employing the same tactics those that brought Saakashvili to power in the Rose Revolution —three weeks of peaceful street demonstrations in November 2003 that culminated in the resignation of unpopular leader Eduard Shevardnadze.
Speaking on state TV on Sunday night, Saakashvili blamed the rolling street rallies on Moscow, which, he said, was aiming to destabilise Georgia and drive it from the pro-Western path it’s followed under Saakashvili, who has pledged to join NATO and move closer to the European Union.
“Consider the fact that this situation is taking place on the eve of elections in Russia, and the goal — to foment disorder in the country — is as clear as day,” Saakashvili said.
The 10-party opposition coalition, formed just a month ago to protest planned changes to the electoral system, surprised most observers by throwing a Rose Revolution-sized crowd exceeding 50,000 supporters onto Tbilisi streets on Friday.
Repeat rallies of many thousands over the following days, though smaller, show that the movement could have enough staying power to drive Saakashvili from office, a key demand of the protesters.
The upsurge suggests that Georgia’s dismal history of turbulent political change might be on the verge of repeating itself. Since the tiny mountainous republic of 5-million gained independence from the USSR it has had three leaders, each of whom came in on an intense wave of popularity only to run afoul of surging public discontent.
Zviad Gamsakhurdia, elected with 87 per cent support in 1991, was killed in a civil war that brought the popular former Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze to power the next year.
Shevardnadze appeared to stabilise Georgia and put it on the path to democracy, but he was accused of rigging a parliamentary election and forced to resign in the Rose Revolution.
The US-educated Saakashvili, once a protege of Shevardnadze’s, won subsequent presidential polls with a massive 97 per cent majority.
But Saakashvili’s reforms have since managed to anger Georgians from almost all walks of life.
The opposition coalition was formed a month ago after the strange arrest of former Defense Minister Irakly Okruashvili, who was charged with “political negligence and corruption” after he formed an opposition party and accused Saakashvili of plotting to murder key opponents.