Contenders and their Chances
By Giorgi Kalandadze, Civil Georgia
The issue of succession in Parliamentary Chairmanship is crucial for determining the new course the Georgian parliament will take. According to the latest news, Nino Burdjanadze – Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and Elguja Medzmariashvili – leader of the pro-presidential faction “Tanadgoma” emerge as lead contenders.
According to the information from today’s political consultations, both candidates have equal chances. Two important factions – “The New Right” and “Revival Union” still remain undecided before the Parliament session scheduled for 11:00 am on November 6. Meeting between the President Shevardnadze and these factions would certainly influence their decision.
9 parliamentary factions plan to boycott the session on November 6 if the protests in front of the Parliament building continue. On November 5 members of these factions signed a statement posing three demands: disbanding of the protesters; consultations regarding the constitutional changes; and consultations on the new parliamentary chairman.
Only the third demand was satisfied so far. Actively consultations took place on November 5 also involving the President. As a result Nino Burdjanadze and Elguja Medzmariashvili were named as the most likely candidates for chairmanship.
In a surprise decision the former leader of the Majority Niko Lekishvili often regarded as Zhvania’s most probable successor, told the journalists on November 5 that he is not going to run for the post.
The position of the “Revival” faction is still to be voiced. Formerly the main opposition “Revival” is closely controlled by Adjara Autonomous Republic leader, Aslan Abashidze. President Shevardnadze consulted Abashidze during President’s visit to Batumi on November 3rd. According to unofficial information, Aslan Abashidze endorsed the leader of “Tanadgoma” faction Elguja Medzmariashvili during his conversation with President Shevardnadze.
“Tanadgoma” faction consists of intelligentsia loyal to president Shevardnadze since his return to the country in 1992. The faction itself was established only two months ago when dissolution of the CUG-led Majority became imminent as a result of Zhvania’s drift away from the president and Shevardnadze stepping down from the chairmanship of the CUG.
Elgudja Medzmariashvili is the best-known scientist among the members of “Tanadgoma” faction. He has been leading development and deployment of the orbital reflecting antenna*, which Medzmariashvili dedicated to Shevardnadze. But the close ties between the runner-up for chairmanship and President Shevardnadze go way beyond the scientific achievements. Before the Presidential Elections of April 9, 2000, Medzmariashvili was leading social gatherings of intelligentsia in support of Shevardnadze – movement that has spread through the entire country.
Today Elguja Medmzariashvili is one of the closest persons to President Shevardnadze. The president mentions his ‘foster child’ – the orbital antenna – among the greatest achievements of modern Georgia. Interestingly enough, the anntenna project designed by the Georgian scientists was strongly supported by Russia’s financial tycoon, Boris Berezovski, at that time Executive Chairman of the Commonwealth of Independent States and President Yeltsin’s favorite. Currently Berezovski is persecuted by the new Russian leadership for financial machinations.
Two factions – “Tanadgoma” and “Alliance for New Georgia” – are openly supporting Medmzariashvili. These two factions are the part of the coalition created with Shevardnadze’s significant participation. Unofficial sources say that during the meeting of the General Council of the Citizens Union Party on October 21, President has offered Medzmariashvili to join the coalition of pro-presidential forces.
“Medzmariashvili is one of the most talented and refined creators. Along with this, he really caught the tune of the parliamentary life. However, I am not going to interfere into internal decisions of the Parliament. I would not mind working with other important candidates as well” – Shevardnadze stated on November 5.
One of these “other important candidates” is the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Nino Burjanadze. According to the preliminary information, 6 factions: “Citizens Union”, “Traditionalist”, “Industrialists”, “New Abkhazia & Christian-Democrats”, “Majoritarian” and “Abkhazia”, and a group of independent parliamentarians – approximately 130 MPs in total – are supporting her.
Nino Burjanadze is far better known to the public than her contender, Elguja Medzmariashvili. Burjanadze is known as an academician, formerly teaching at Tbilisi State University’s department for international law and relations. She has remained the leading figure on Parliamentary Commitee Chairperson positions in last two parliaments. She also represents Georgia at OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Usually regarded the member of the “new reformer” team, Burjanadze avoided radicalism and maintains working relations with all parliamentary forces.
Although now in opposition grouping, Burjanadze is not alien to Shevardnadze and may have Shevardnadze’s support. She is a daughter of one of the leading businessmen in baking industry Anzor Burjanadze, personal friend of President’s family. Her husband, Badri Bitsadze, Chief Military Prosecutor is also loyal to the president. Zhvania’s team is favoring Burjanadze’s candidature as well.
Both of the candidates endorsed after today’s consultations are the compromise, moderate political figures. Nino Burjanadze is more obvious, better known candidate although her affiliation with the “young reformers” may alienate some political forces fearing revamped influence of Zurab Zhvania.
Elguja Medzmariashvili, on the other hand is a political unknown, chosen for the personal loyalty to the president. He also has very few political enemies, and the factions looking for the parliamentary revanche may rather endorse the weak chairman than endorse the figure with a clear political ambition.
As November 6 parliamentary session approaches, it is hard to place bets on any of the contenders. Tomorrow may bring many surprises.
*Orbital structure for telecommunication systems, developed by the team of scientists from the Technical University of Tbilisi, led by Elguja Medzmariashvili. In 1999 the reflecting antenna was successfully launched from the Russian space station “Mir”.