Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the presidential palace in Tbilisi on Sunday demanding President Saakashvili’s resignation.
Protesters say that term in office for Saakashvili, who was inaugurated for his second and final five-year presidential term on January 20, 2008, has already expired. Since then, however, the constitution was amended setting presidential election’s date for October, 2013.
The current constitution says that a president is elected for a five-year term. Mikheil Saakashvili was re-elected for a five year term in a snap presidential election in January, 2008, which was called after he resigned following street protests, which came to a violent end in November, 2007 – about thirteen months before expiration of his first presidential term. The same constitution sets October, 2013 as the date for the next presidential election, making President Saakashvili’s final term in office five years and nine months.
“Now it is up to the Parliament to act and to declare that the President’s term in office is already expired,” said one of the organizers of the rally Temur Shashiashvili, leader of a small political party Tetrebi, who was a governor of Imereti region during Eduard Shevardnadze’s presidency.
Among other organizers of Sunday’s gathering, dubbed as “rally for dignity”, and of the campaign, seeking President Saakashvili’s resignation, are several little-known non-governmental organizations, among them Unanimity for Public Rights. Organizers, who claim that they have collected about one million signatures of citizens calling for Saakashvili’s resignation, say that protest rallies would continue for nine more days.
Shortly after the victory in October, 2012 parliamentary elections, Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is now the Prime Minister, said that he wanted President Saakashvili to resign. In November Ivanishvili said that Saakashvili should remain on his post and presidential elections should be held in October 2013 as set by the constitution, but also added President’s powers should be significantly reduced; that plan, however, was then dropped and in late December PM Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream parliamentary majority initiated draft of constitutional amendment, which has yet to be discussed by the Parliament, under which President Saakashvili retains all of his current powers, except of the one which allows him to appoint new government even if the Parliament refuses to confirm President-nominated cabinet.
President Saakashvili, who will address the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg on January 21, was asked during a press conference on January 17 whether he thought that the Georgian Dream was behind the planned protest rally to demand his resignation; Saakashvili responded: “The government of Georgia is engaged on daily basis in organizing protests against what is now the opposition [Saakashvili is a chairman of UNM party] – I don’t know in which text-book of politics they have read it or maybe their instincts dictate them it. I think they’d better do their job instead of permanently telling people that they [the new authorities] face the threat and someone is hampering them to do their job… Governments, which mobilize people in the streets, usually end up very soon and very painfully.”