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29 July 2021

Georgian Dream Abandons April 19 Agreement

The ruling party of Georgia, Georgian Dream, has abandoned an agreement struck on April 19 that was mediated by the Council of the European Union and meant to protect democracy and limit electoral violations. This move has been widely criticized by members of the opposition and the international community at large.

Georgian Dream Abandons April 19 Agreement

Georgian Dream party announces pulling out from the “Charles Michel Document.” July 28, 2021. Image: Georgian Dream/Facebook

On July 28, when all of Georgia was on the verge of celebrating the country’s first gold medal in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Georgian Dream announced that they are pulling out from the April 19 Agreement (AKA the Charles Michel Document, setting out a roadmap for ending Georgia’s political crisis). Having previously signed the deal, the ruling party are now calling it null and void. The decision came shortly after parliament’s Interim Investigation Commission published their final report on the violations observed during the 2020 Parliamentary Elections. That report states that those elections were free, fair and competitive and that, although violations did occur, they did not have a significant effect upon the results.  Chairman of the ruling party, Irakli Kobakhidze, said that in the 100 days since the Michel document was signed, Georgian Dream has made every effort to fulfill its obligations within the agreement. It had arranged the release of Giorgi Rurua and Nika Melia (widely considered political prisoners), the established plenary sessions in parliament, amended the election code, and promised changes to the constitution. Despite all these rapidly achieved successes, Kobakhidze claimed, the political opposition had shown an inability to cooperate with Georgian Dream in fulfilling the April 19 Agreement and thus should be considered responsible for its voiding.

The “radical opposition is doing nothing but wait for the local elections,” Kobakhidze speculated, referring to the October 2021 poll, which, should any party fail to take less than 43% of the vote, would trigger a snap election. This approach, he described as “political sabotage.” Despite the announcement, it became clear that GD was not abandoning the spirit of the agreement, despite going it alone. This was confirmed by Georgian Dream MP Mamuka Mdinaradze, who insisted that the party still intended to implement every reasonable point embodied in the April 19 document. 

How Did the Opposition React?

The decision of Georgian Dream has been met with widespread condemnation from the opposition.  Giga Bokeria, party chairman of European Georgia, suggested that this step proves that the ruling party cannot be trusted, a notion which should further consolidate political unity amongst those that oppose them. Zurab Japaridze of the libertarian Girchi party decided to withdraw from parliamentary business, saying that if “there is no agreement, there is no obligation.”

The centrist party, Lelo for Georgia, published a statement calling Georgian Dream’s decision an attempt at destabilization. The party is open to cooperation amongst opposition factions, while other opposition groups call on the EU and the US to pressure Georgian Dream into holding up their end of the deal.

International Reactions

Russia’s reaction to the situation was intriguing, with TASS publishing a statement announcing the possibility of resuming direct flights between Georgia and Russia. These had been suspended in 2019 when Moscow reacted angrily to the ‘Gavrilov Affair’ demonstrations in Tbilisi, which they saw as being ‘anti-Russian.’ Some observers have suggested that the Kremlin might interpret Tbilisi’s voiding of the Michel Agreement as a snub for the EU, interpreting the possible re-starting of Russia-Georgia flights as being a reward of sorts.

A statement from the American Embassy in Tbilisi described the US attitude as “deeply disturbed and exasperated by the unilateral decision of the Georgian Dream party to withdraw from the April 19 Agreement…” and called on all parties to implement the agreement.

Georgian President Salome Zurabashvili tweeted about an informal meeting with Charles Michel.  Image: @Zourabichvili_S/Twitter

Meanwhile German MEP Viola von Cramon criticized both United National Movement (the biggest opposition party) and Georgian Dream for failing to make the Michel Agreement work. On July 28, European Council President Charles Michel, the main force behind the agreement which bore his name, had a face-to-face meeting with the Georgian President, Salome Zurabashvili, to discuss the situation. He later published a tactfully worded statement ‘noting’ both Georgian Dream’s decision to drop the agreement and the United National Movement’s intransigence in not signing it in the first place. Suggesting that the spirit of the April 19 Agreement remained “a European way towards building a stronger democracy” he called on all parties to put the interests of Georgia’s citizens first. Michel also stated that further consultations are planned with various political actors aimed at finding a solution to the crisis.