All 59 of the United National Movement (UNM) Members of Parliament walked out of the Georgian Parliament on 8 November in protest of the arrest of three senior defence officials (see story in this issue) on allegations of abuse and what they deem an unnecessary tax audit of the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB).
David Bakradze, parliamentary leader of the UNM, told journalists on Thursday that his party would not work under the hostile conditions imposed by the Georgian Dream administration. After staging the walk out on Thursday, Bakradze stated that the UNM was suspending its work in parliament given the “current conditions” in which “the authorities are trying to establish control over the military and the televisions.” He did not specify under which circumstances the UNM parliamentarians would return. UNM lawmakers accuse the Ivanishvili administration of political motivations in these two developments, stating that the Georgian Dream fabricated the charges laid against the chief of staff of the military to put their own candidate in place. A charge which the government denies.
With regard to the tax audit, UNM lawmakers say this has been in development ever since the campaign. “I clearly remember the threatening tone which the current Prime Minister used, when he was talking with journalists saying that they will have to change their rhetoric. I think that it is the beginning of his revenge,” said UNM member Maia Nadirashvili. Davit Darchiashvili supported his UNM colleague stating that, “The government is overstepping its legal rights and is trying to interfere in the administration of GPB.” President Mikheil Saakashvili, in a televised address on Wednesday, went so far as to call the audit “completely unacceptable” and “a threat directed against free media.” The audit, which the GPB said was initially scheduled for 2013, took place ahead of schedule and without warning. However, Aleko Mchedlishvili, a Revenue Service Officer, explained that the Revenue Service is not required to provide the agency under review with advance notice. “It is random and any time the Revenue Service feels the need to conduct an audit it has the right to do so.”
Following the October elections it was revealed that the GPB might owe over 4 million GEL in taxes, which might have prompted the current audit. While GPB directors and UNM lawmakers decry the “long term effects that their audit and investigation will have on GPB” government officials feel confident that that the audit will not disrupt day-today activities at the public broadcaster. The walk out will, however, effect the day-to-day activities of the legislature, as UNM Members of Parliament will not be participating in key debates and reviews, especially of the upcoming budget plans for 2013. “We won’t be able to continue our usual work [over the] next few days,” said Bakradze, “pretending as if everything develops democratically and normally.” Expressing the interest of the UNM to discuss the draft for next year’s budget with the Deputy Minister of Finance, Bakradze explained that they could not go on in the current condition as “much more” was at risk.
That “much more” is democracy itself according to the UNM who fear that political retribution will ripple through the ranks of the newly minted opposition. “Today,” exclaimed Bakradze, “everybody has seen the performances of the majority, full of aggression towards the opposition, where our colleagues were speaking about the list of people to be arrested. We won’t continue working as if nothing has happened in the country,” Bakradze said. The leader of the opposition described the prosecution as “the first very serious test for the new government,” explaining that the administration’s actions will define “if it is ready to work according to the law or will choose the path of political and personal revenge.” Opposition MPs left the parliament in Kutaisi for Tbilisi in solidarity with former Minister of the Interior Bacho Akhalaia.
The Prime Minister and his government remain adamant that neither the investigation of Akhalaia nor the audit of the GPB are politically motivated and are based in lawful procedures.
Report prepared for CEW by Karina Gould