Georgia’s Largest Party has a New Leadership.
Opposing factions within the Citizens Union have reached an uneasy compromise that maintains the party afloat. Zurab Zhvania and his “young reformers” compromised with also young and ambitious orovincial leaders. But it seems that this friendship was forged at the expense of older nomenklatura leaders that were among the original founders.
For all practical purposes, it can be argued that the Citizens Union escaped dissolution that seemed inevitable. Experts, however, differ on current leaders’ capability to reform the party based on December 22 compromise.
The declarations on ‘cleansing’ the party preceded its congress on December 22, but the congress went without any scandals. While the new leadership was being formed, President Eduard Shevardnadze preferred to remain among the common party members.
Zurab Zhvania and Levan Mamaladze (influential governor of Kvemo Kartli province), leaders of the two competing factions within the CUG agreed on an ‘armistice’ that redistributed main party positions and would shape the face of the CUG at least till Spring 2002, when the next party congress will be held.
Unofficial sources say that supporters of Zhvania and Mamaladze held consultations in party office till late night of December 21. As a result of the compromise between the factions, reformers’ most influential opponents, former state minister Vazha Lortkipanidze and former minister of economy Vano Chkhartishvili were not present on December 22. Both of them were the members of the party’s main governing body – the General Council. Which was abolished on December 22 congress together with the post of the Secretary General.
The party will be governed by the new new Organizational Council which reflects the new balance of power within CUG. The council consists of 9 influential CUG members – Zurab Zhvania, Edward Surmanidze, Giorgi Baramidze, Omar Gogiashvili, Levan Mamaladze, Mikheil Machavariani, Gigi Tsereteli, Eldar Shengelaia, and Mariam Molodini. The reformers have significant majority under this layout.
Perhaps the most moderate member of Levan Mamaladze’s team, Gela Kvaratskhelia was elected Executive Secretary of the Citizens Union. Zurab Zhvania will act as the head of the Organizational Council with the former Secretary General Edward Surmanidze serving as his deputy.
“We must become a strong political organization independent from the government. We may not expect that this would happen overnight. I hope, that the next meeting due within two-three months will finalize this process” – stated Zurab Zhvania, who resigned from the parliamentary chairmanship amid power crisis of November 2001, motivating his decision by disagreement with political course of the government.
Zhvania says, that events of November confirmed the conflict between the president and the party leaders, that expressed itself previously by “one-and-a-half year-long serious internal dispute on every key issue including the anti-corruption campaign”.
Despite apparent disagreement between the President and the CUG leaders, Shevardnadze remains in the party. On December 22 Shevardnadze dedicated his speech to the issues of Georgia-Russia relations and the large-scale economic projects. President did not address the issues of internal policy and party problems. He also did not consider necessary to name those ‘citizens’ who oppose party’s current leadership. In this connection Zhvania said: “Many will leave the party. But I do not want to make this process a scandal. I think all [of us] realize that completely different party is being formed today. ”
Supporters of Mikheil Saakashvili, former Justice MInister and one of the most active “young reformers” who founded the “New National Movement” some days ago, did not attend the party meeting. They have already established their own 10-member faction in the Parliament. These members mostly are those who were elected to the Parliament in 1999 under the CUG list and were in the CUG faction until Autumn 2001.
As a result of changes in the Citizens Union, Zurab Zhvania re-consolidated his control over country’s largest political party. Alliance with Levan Mamaladze, with somewhat marred track record of the recurring corruption and mismanagement scandals was the cost of this success. However, Zhvania managed to marginalize his archrivals – Lordkipanidze and Chkhartishvili, and endorsed moderate and relatively popular Kvaratshelia as party’s new leader.
At the same time Mikheil Saakashvili’s faction is most likely to play the role of the “radical reformers” both within the parliament and on civil arena, thus providing vital support to more centrist Zhvania’s CUG. On December 22 Zhvania said that the CUG will not be the government’s defender, but it will not support revolutionary changes either. With this banner, CUG enters the new year 2002.
By Giorgi Kalandadze, Jaba Devdariani, Civil Georgia