Georgia’s ruling party has withdrawn from a European Union-brokered deal to end a political crisis and foster reforms, prompting opponents to accuse it of betraying the nation’s western partners and to threaten to boycott parliament and local elections.
European Council president Charles Michel helped secure an agreement in April that committed the Black Sea state's governing Georgian Dream party to judicial and electoral reforms and to calling snap parliamentary elections if it failed to gain 43 per cent of votes in regional elections scheduled for October.
Tension soared again this month, however, when the government was accused of inaction over a far-right attack on LGBT activists and journalists in the capital, Tbilisi, and Georgian Dream pushed through the appointment of judges to the nation’s supreme court in a move the EU and US said breached the April deal.
"Today, 100 days after the signing of the document, it is clear that it has fulfilled its function and reached its limits," declared Georgian Dream chairman Irakli Kobakhidze, who said it was pointless to remain bound to a pact that had not been signed by the country's main opposition force, the United National Movement.
“Although more than half the opposition deputies have not yet signed the agreement, we see that our international partners do not consider it necessary to urge the radical opposition sign the document and participate in its implementation,” he added.
Mr Kobakhidze said it would be “detrimental” to the national interest to continue “one-sided” adherence to the deal during local elections, and announced that as a sign of “goodwill” Georgian Dream would consider calling a snap national ballot if it failed to get more than 53 per cent support in October’s regional vote – raising the threshold from the 43 per cent agreed earlier.
Critics lambasted Georgian Dream – which was founded by the country’s richest tycoon, Bidzina Ivanishvili – of running scared before local elections and of turning away from the West and its call for more democratic reforms.
"They've betrayed our western partners, the Georgian people, peace [and] stability. I invite the opposition to hold consultations on the way forward, that could include boycotting the local elections," tweeted Mamuka Khazaradze, leader of the opposition Lelo party.
Zurab Japaradize, leader of the opposition party Girchi – For Greater Freedom party, said Georgian Dream had scrapped the deal "for only one reason: it saw no chance of getting 43 per cent of votes after breaking practically every point of the agreement".
Fifteen Georgian civil society groups said jointly that the scrapping of the deal was a “rejection of Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic course and the peaceful development of the country through democratic reforms” and “is a way to deepen the pre-election political crisis and polarisation and only serves a desire to retain power”.