In another embarrassing incident at a time when the Bush Administration is pressing for NATO membership for Georgia, key members of the Caucasus nation’s opposition have launched an attack on President Mikheil Saakashvili, condemning him as an anti-democratic human rights abuser bent on creating an “authoritarian regime.”
Former Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili called America’s policy in Georgia “confused,” insisting that support for democracy shouldn’t mean “support for a small group of people.” She also said “the main problem for Georgia is a lack of democracy.”
Meanwhile, top opposition figure Levan Gachechiladze accused Saakashvili of “building an authoritarian regime,” and said that his unchecked centralization of power had allowed the president to launch an attack on South Ossetia, which led to a brief war with Russia.
This is not the first time Georgia’s opposition has been critical of Saakashvili since the war. In early September, opposition leader David Gamkredildze called the shelling of Tskhinvali “criminal and irresponsible” and insisted that the president no longer has any right to his position.
Interior Minister Shota Utiashvili condemned the opposition’s comments, accusing them of being manipulated by the Russian intelligence services into destabilizing the country. Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria pointed to Saakashvili’s official approval rating of 70 percent, a number the opposition has dismissed as propaganda.
Georgia’s quest for NATO membership has been stalled in the wake of the August conflict by questions about their democratic credentials. In particular, a police crackdown on opposition protests in November of last year brought considerable condemnation from human rights groups. These new criticisms are likely to add further fuel to that concern.