Cones and Cannabis: Ogden on the Floundering Opposition


It has always seemed to me that being in any political opposition is rather easier than being in the government. After all, their role is simply to criticize and claim – but not show – what they would do differently; despite their exotic name, Britain’s Shadow Cabinet are simply a group of adults pretending they have jobs they do not actually have.

Given that Georgia’s Georgian Dream government has hardly lived up to the public hype of 2012 (with most people assuming that if they voted for a billionaire he would redistribute his wealth amongst them, more fool they), being in the opposition in Georgia should not prove to be overly daunting. If opposition parties could eloquently and clearly express issues such as Bidzina Ivanishvili’s continued influence on the ruling party, or the appointment of footballers to ministerial positions, or the regular replacement of those occupying senior government posts, they might see a noticeable shift in public support.

October’s elections were more a loss for the opposition than a win for the government. Every opposition party failed to show itself as a viable alternative to Georgian Dream, with the United National Movement making the gravest mistake of all in turning their campaign into a referendum on a potential return of Saakashvili. Had the former President come back to Georgia, he would undoubtedly have undertaken a crusade against those in the Georgian Dream government he perceives to have persecuted his former political allies, and a wave of mass arrests and unrest would have set back Georgia’s Western ambitions even further.

However, although I recall writing last summer that the elections were a chance for the smaller parties to cause a political upset, these, too, failed miserably. David Usupashvili’s Republicans, despite being sensible and competent, failed to connect with the average voter; their plans for NATO and the EU, while solid, meant little and less to rural dwellers to whom people from another region are ‘foreign’. I also had high hopes for Girchi, whose policies seemed consistent with a European state, and their party leadership displaying a modern – if perhaps a little eccentric – mentality.

Girchi then entered into an ill-fated alliance with opera singer Paata Burchuladze, a union which lasted several weeks, and did not partake in the elections at all. However, unlike Burchuladze’s party, Girchi survived the electoral period, with promises to return stronger for the next political cycle.

To many, their poor planning and lack of foresight over the union with Burchuladze showed that the party had a total lack of good judgment, yet while this sort of public opinion might be difficult to recover from, it would be by no means impossible. Girchi retains some former UNM ministers amongst its ranks, and as the UNM itself continues to fracture between Saakashvili supporters and detractors, Girchi might have surged ahead as the only sensible party offering a viable alternative. It would have taken time, determination, and skill, but it would have allowed Girchi to at least have won some seats in Parliament in 2020.

Instead, with what can only be perceived as a twisted and confused interpretation of Western values, Girchi launched its cannabis stunt on New Year’s Eve.

A few months earlier, Girchi had promised that unless the government launched a discussion over the legalization of marijuana in parliament, it would plant a cannabis plant live on social media…to which once might well ask, ‘Why?’. According to the Facebook page of party leader Zurab Japaridze, the stunt was intended to show the party’s support for social liberty, freedom of expression, and all the other Western values the party claims to embrace.

Despite some legalization taking place in certain states of the US, Portugal and the Netherlands, along with the lack of severity of Class B drug offences in the UK, cannabis remains illegal in most Western countries. Georgia suffers from a number of other problems (such as violence against women) that would have elicited far more sympathy from any would-be European (and Georgian) supporters. Exactly what video footage of committing a crime is meant to do to enhance the party’s prestige is anyone’s guess; daring the police to arrest members of the party and those supporters who signed their names on cups with cannabis seeds in them seems to have predictably backfired when police officers turned up at the party HQ yesterday.

Were I in the government, I would have ignored the stunt entirely. After all, the plants may not be cannabis at all, and any tests to reveal their true nature could embarrass the police (not that this negates the stupidity of the ploy).

However, the real tragedy is that a party of seemingly modern and forward-thinking Georgians has missed the opportunity to emerge as a real opposition force, and is behaving like a protest movement rather than a political party…and protesting something which few Georgians care about. As I have already written, being in the opposition is the easiest job in politics, but if Georgian politicians are incapable of even making effective criticism of the government, I can see Georgian Dream staying in power for some time yet.

Tim Ogden

CARTOON: By Brian Patrick Grady


12 January 2017 20:05