In the latest of a series of public attacks from formerly close allies of President Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia's former United Nations envoy Irakli Alasania has now declared himself in opposition to the Georgian leader, and called for early elections.
Echoing earlier criticism from ex-Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze and ex-Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, Alasania charged that the Saakashvili government has drifted from the commitment to reforms that characterized its debut in 2004.
The country, he told a crowd of reporters at a December 24 news conference, has reached a "turning point." Routine restrictions on civil liberties, a muzzled media, and crackdown on political dissent and roughshod treatment of private businesses have brought Georgia to the brink of crisis, in his words. "Today, Georgia's security is under threat, [its] state borders are breached, large swathes of Georgian territory are occupied ... people live in fear of renewed military conflict."
While perhaps less known outside of Georgia, within Georgia the 35-year-old Alasania has acquired the image of a political golden boy, a well-spoken, well-groomed public figure whose name the media routinely mentions for any vacant senior government post.
With that image in mind, a coalition of two moderate opposition parties, the Republicans and the New Rights Party, have already indicated that they would like to see Alasania as their leader. [For details, see the Eurasia Insight archive.] Alasania said that he is in discussion with both parties, but declined to elaborate further.
"Consultations," he added, are also underway with Burjanadze, whose own opposition leadership prospects are burdened by a history of cooperation with Saakashvili on some of Georgia's most controversial domestic political issues. Both Burjanadze and Alasania have now called for early elections - Burjanadze on December 24 specified a presidential vote, but Alasania did not.
Appointed Georgia's envoy to the UN in 2006, Alasania has managed to stay clear of the bare-knuckled political fights that have rocked the country for more than a year. That distance now appears to work to his advantage with many ordinary Georgians, even among those who are strong supporters of the Saakashvili government.
"I . . . think that as a politician and as a person he is heads and shoulders above the rest of the self-serving opposition crowd that is now trying to catch a fish in muddy waters," commented Tbilisi schoolteacher Vakhtang Gasviani.
Alasania resigned as Georgia's ambassador to the United Nations on December 4. He has since been replaced by Kakha Lomaia, the former National Security Council secretary and another longtime Saakashvili ally. [Lomaia formerly worked as executive director of the Open Society Georgia Foundation in Tbilisi. EurasiaNet.org operates under the auspices of the Open Society Institute in New York City.]
In his Wednesday evening press conference, Alasania said that he had planned to resign earlier, but had postponed his decision in the face of the Russian invasion.
Like Burjanadze and Noghaideli before him, Alasania held Saakashvili responsible for the August war with Russia - an event increasingly cited as the justification for any public criticism of the president.
Tbilisi's refusal to sign an agreement with Abkhazia and South Ossetia on the non-resumption of hostilities and on the return of Internally Displaced Persons as a strategic misstep that provided grist for Russia's war machine. Aside from shunning conflict resolution measures, Saakashvili overestimated Georgia's military capabilities and rebuffed goodwill overtures to Moscow, Alasania continued. In the end, a series of "unilateral, chaotic, non-institutional" decisions caused Georgia to walk into a carefully laid Russian trap, he claimed.
The charge carries some power in the hall of mirrors that makes up Georgian politics. Alasania formerly served as head of the Tbilisi-loyal Abkhaz government-in-exile, and reportedly has built a relatively constructive working relationship with the current Abkhaz government in Sokhumi.
The government and ruling United National Movement Party have not yet responded to the criticism.
Alasania called for Georgia to continue its integration with Western security systems, but added that Tbilisi should make peace with Moscow through "pragmatic and principled diplomatic steps." He did not elaborate.
Editor's Note: Giorgi Lomsadze is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.