Rose Revolution Leader Starts New Party
But some in the Georgian opposition distrust the savvy politician who served under Shevardnadze and Saakashvili. From EurasiaNet. by Molly Corso 1 December 2008
Seven months after her abrupt decision to leave Georgia's ruling party, former Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze has officially joined the opposition. Once a strong political ally of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, political analysts now believe she could be his biggest threat.
With Yulia Tymoshenko.
Burjanadze, 44, formally launched her political comeback on 23 November – the fifth anniversary of the Rose Revolution – with the opening of her new political party, Democratic Movement-United Georgia
The move came after weeks of increasingly aggressive anti-Saakashvili rhetoric from the Burjanadze camp, a marked departure from her signature style of quiet diplomacy.
"The authorities have lost confidence both within and outside the country," she said during the party convention Sunday [23 November]. "Today we need wise policies and restoring [Georgia's] image of a reliable partner and then we need a dialogue with everyone in order to secure our country's interests through this dialogue."
Few details are known so far about the party's platform, although it is widely believed that Burjanadze will pull ideas from her Foundation for Democracy and Development
, a think-tank she created in July.
The ruling National Movement Party has been silent about its former ally's rebirth as an opposition leader. The party’s head office would not comment on Burjanadze or her new party.
While political insiders have long predicted the former Saakashvili ally would defect to the opposition, before the August war with Russia her success as a potential contender against Saakashvili had been undercut by low popularity ratings and a lack of support from Georgia's more established opposition parties.
However, the August war created an opportunity for the former speaker to distance herself further from the Saakashvili government, according to political analyst Malkhaz Matsaberidze.
In interviews since the war, Burjanadze has underscored that the war happened months after she left her post as parliamentary speaker in May – what Matsaberidze characterizes as a conscious attempt to convince Georgians that she is not linked with the Saakashvili administration's largest crisis to date.
But Burjanadze's transition from Rose Revolution leader to head of an opposition party has been complicated by her long support of the Saakashvili government. Manana Nachkebia, a member of the opposition New Rights Party, noted that while Saakashvili has "many questions" to answer about his presidency, Burjanadze has "many more."
While Georgian media have speculated that Burjanadze could form a bloc with either the New Rights or the moderate Republican Party, both opposition camps have denied the reports.
According to Nachkebia, the New Rights still have "sharp disagreements" with Burjanadze. "We are not going to hinder her," she said. "But we are not working with her."
Matsaberidze noted that Burjanadze has always carried a mixed political bag of accolades and "black stains." She built her political career as a protege of former President Eduard Shevardnadze; she was a member of his parliament from 1995 to 2002 and was speaker of parliament from 2001 to 2002 when she left the ruling party. In 2003, Burjanadze, together with Saakashvili and the late Zurab Zhvania, overthrew Shevardnadze during the Rose Revolution.
In addition to her legacy as parliamentary speaker, Burjanadze served as acting president twice: in 2003 before the emergency presidential elections that brought Saakashvili to power, and in 2007 before the emergency presidential elections that kept Saakashvili in power following violent clashes with protestors in Tbilisi. However, her political star has been repeatedly tarnished by a bad sense of timing. "Burjanadze has always been late going into the opposition," analyst Matsaberidze said, noting if she had left Saakashvili's government after the 7 November 2007 protests her position would be stronger.
Now, former colleagues believe her timing could not be better. According to Keti Makharadze, a former member of Burjanadze's political bloc in parliament, postwar Georgia is ready for a "stable" politician like Burjanadze, regardless of her political baggage.
"Attitudes have changed” in Georgia since the war, Makharadze said. "Stability is the word … in that reality, Nino's type of presidency would be a fit."
Burjanadze's understated party congress underlined that message. Dressed in a white suit, the former parliamentary chairperson addressed a crowd in the thousands, and exited the hall to the strains of Handel's Water Music.
With Barack Obama.
Makharadze noted that Saakashvili, as had Zhvania, feared Burjanadze's "caliber" as a politician. She said that during her term in parliament on the Burjanadze ticket, the speaker was "under pressure" not to form a proper political team of supporters. In 2008, Burjanadze abruptly left the ruling party after the National Movement refused to put more of her supporters on the party list prior to the May parliamentary elections.
Analyst Matsaberidze agreed that, despite Burjanadze's lack of pure popular support, she has always been a "quiet threat" for Saakashvili.
"Burjanadze, unlike Saakashvili, is [a] pragmatic politician," he said, noting that for Georgia's allies and foes that is an "appreciated" change from Saakashvili.
Kornely Kakachia, director of the School of Politics and International Relations at the private University of Georgia in Tbilisi, said that the current vacuum of viable opposition leaders also gives Burjanadze an advantage, since she is a well-known, albeit uncharismatic, politician.
Kakachia, noted, however, that the August war with Russia has forced Burjanadze to accelerate her political comeback campaign. In order to secure public support, rather than a gradual build-up, she now has to act fast – especially if she succeeds in her calls for early elections, he added.
In addition to developing a real platform, Kakachia stressed that Burjanadze has to prove to Georgians that after years in second place she is really ready for the presidency.
"She used to be the second person … even the third person," he said. "She needs to prove that she can do something, that she can act."