After weeks of unity following the war with Russia, the truce between Georgia's opposition and the government has finally ended. Opposition leaders are now scrambling to define their position against President Mikheil Saakashvili and his role in the war.
On September 17, three founding members of the United Opposition Movement -- the Conservative Party, the People's Party and the former opposition presidential candidate Levan Gachechiladze -- called on the government to hold early elections, and to fire the heads of Georgia's so-called "power ministries," the Minister of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Defense.
Other, long-familiar demands were made as well: the removal of "restrictions" on Georgia's state-financed public television station, and the adoption of a new election code. President Saakashvili had already indicated support for another of the statement's demands -- an independent investigation into the events leading to the August 8-12 war with Russia.
In recent weeks, a string of opposition leaders have tried to distance themselves from the government after publicly standing by Saakashvili during the height of the conflict with Russia.
"After the events in August when a crisis was created in the country, there is a new reality that calls for reaction. ? It is very important to work on those questions because the response of the government is not very adequate," Kakha Kukava, a senior Conservative Party member, told EurasiaNet.
"When there was a war situation, the opinion of the people was concentrated on foreign policy, but now that the numbness has worn off ? I believe that people's opinion is changing every day," Kukava elaborated.
While opposition leaders are united in their quest to identify the officials responsible for Georgia's missteps during the war, they are increasingly divided over their demands for action.
Earlier in September, the New Rights Party -- a former member of the United Opposition Movement -- broke ranks with the majority of the country's opposition parties and demanded Saakashvili's resignation and early presidential elections. "[S]omebody should be responsible for everything that happened. ? The highest ranked person should be held responsible," said Giorgi Mosidze, the international secretary of the New Rights.
"For the development of Georgian society, the development of Georgian statehood -- democratic development and economic development -- it would be better to elect a new president and parliament," Mosidze asserted.
The New Rights' former allies -- including the Conservative Party and the Republican Party, maintain that such "radical" demands are "unrealistic."
"We think that radicalism is not the highest priority. Reality is. You can write whatever you want on paper, but if you don't realize it, it has no worth," Kukava said.
According to Mosidze, the New Rights have support among other opposition parties, including the possible support of a new, potentially powerful player -- former Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze. A spokesperson for Burjanadze confirmed that the former parliamentary speaker is returning to politics. However, she denied that Burjanadze, who now heads a Tbilisi think tank, is ready to call for early presidential elections.
Burjanadze is not the only former Saakashvili ally inching back toward the political arena. According to media reports, former Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli is also considering a political comeback. In a telephone interview with EurasiaNet, Noghaideli refused to comment on his political ambitions, but stated that he "hoped" he would not be part of the opposition.
Kukava and his allies, including the Republican Party, are focusing their efforts on gaining international backing. "At the moment, I believe it is right to demand parliament elections," Republican leader Davit Usuapashvili said in a September 10 interview. "It will be, I believe, more acceptable for the international players."
While most of the country's opposition focuses on early parliamentary elections, few are planning on participating in local elections scheduled for November 3. The Christian Democratic Party -- the largest opposition party represented in parliament -- is using the election to secure their position as Georgia's "constructive" opposition, according to the Christian Democrats' general secretary, Levan Vepkhadze.
"Our constituency does not demand a revolution," Vepkhadze said, adding that the party will lose supporters if it turns its back on the "spirit" of constructive dialogue. "For them, it is enough that we participate in the election."
Vepkhadze stressed that the Christian Democrats are not forgetting their opposition roots. Rather, he said, the party is focusing on a parliamentary commission that will investigate the events leading up to the war. The 10-member commission -- half of the members will be from the parliamentary opposition -- will convene soon, he said.
The commission is unlikely to win united opposition support, though. The body will not include representatives from opposition parties not represented in parliament. Most of Georgia's largest opposition parties chose to boycott the legislature after the May 2008 elections. They have denounced as government collaborators those parties and individuals who opted to take their seats. "To make the correct decision, you have to have correct information," said the Conservative Party's Kukava. "You can never make a good decision against the background of emotion and hysteria."
Molly Corso is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.