Georgian Prime minister resigns amid protest In Tbilisi against ‘failing’ system [update]

Thu 14 Jun 2018

Georgian Prime minister resigns amid protest In Tbilisi against ‘failing’ system [update]

On May 31 the Tbilisi City Court announced the verdict in the case of the killings of David Saralidze and Levan Dadunashvili. However, the court failed to say who had killed the 16-year-old David Saralidze. As a respond of the verdict protest leader Zaza Saralidze, the father of one of the victims and many other Georgians started with protests against the chief prosecutor Irakli Shotadze, who has eventually step down. Still, the demonstrators increased their demands for the entire government to resign. According to Zaza Saralidze and other ordinary discontent Georgians  the corrupted justice system influenced by the elite must be destroyed and justice need to prevail. The protests comes amid a period of several unrelated protests and strikes in Georgia calling for system change. In the wake of the protests the ruling Georgian Dream party, announced a gathering in the party's office on June 12. A day after the meeting Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili announced his resignation

Murder case

Two 16-year-old teens, Davit Saralidze and Levan Dadunashvili, were found dead in a Tbilisi neighborhood in December. According to witnesses the boys were part of a group that started a street brawl with some other kids from a private school. Allegedly several people got involved in the brawl before two men started to use knifes to end the fight.  The killings immediately sparked outrage and subsequently two suspects were arrested.

After an investigation and court case of a half year, the two suspect were found guilty of being involved in the killing of the two teens. The Tbilisi City Court handed down a prison sentence of nine years for attempted murder. However Zaza Saralidze, the father of Davit, protested the sentence. Aquising the court and prosecutor's office of meddling in the case and evidence. He insisted that the prosecutor's office put two others persons on trial instead of the two suspects, allegedly because of their relations within the office. Furthermore he questioned how a suspect can be charged with only attempted murder when his son died because of the attack.

Break the system

Angered by the verdict, Saralidze called out on social media for justice. "Just because I am an ordinary man and not a member of the elite, they have doomed me to injustice! So I am asking you, ordinary people like me, to please come stand by my side. Justice should be restored!" Thousands of Georgians responded to Saradilze’s call by gathering in front of Tblisi’s old parliament building. In reaction to the mass support the father received, Georgia’s Chief prosecutor, Irakli Shotadze stepped down.

Following Shotadze's resignation protesters started demanding the resignation of the entire government. Saralidze stated that he still wanted justice and that the prosecutors demise was not enough. "We are against injustice. We are against the arbitrariness of the authorities and the rotten political system, which must collapse," On June 1st sympathy demonstrations started other cities around the country, including Akhaltsikhe, Borjomi, Gori, Kutaisi, and Zugdidi.

Government’s reaction

In order to seek dialogue, President Georgi Margvelashvili went to the protests to talk with Saralidze. The president voiced his solidarity and called on Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili to look into the matter. The government of Kvirikashvili reacted at first with restrain. The PM only pressed the interior ministry for a new investigation into the Saralidze case. In the meantime the anti-government rallies intensified with more people joining the protests including senior members of the opposition United National Movement (UNM).

More incidents between the protesters and law enforcers occurred in the capital over the weekend of June 10, eventually leading to the arrest of dozens of protesters and the dismantling of the protest camp in downtown Tbilisi on June 11.

Amid the intensified tension with protesters, the ruling Georgian Dream party announced a gathering in the party's office, fueling reports of possible government reshuffles in reaction to the protests. However, a day after the meeting, on June 13, Kvirikashvili announced the resignation of his cabinet on television.  "I tried to be the prime minister of every citizen… I was and I am a team player. Keeping it in mind, I've captured the mood in the team and taken a decision’’ the PM stated. Kvirikashvili cited that he and the party, which is led by businesses tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, disagreed on several key issues.

According to analysts, the unexpected resignation of Kvirikashvili could hint at possible infighting in the Georgian Dream possibly related to the unrest in the country.  Under the constitution, the ruling coalition now has a week to form a new cabinet.

Sources rferl I rferl II rferl III Georgian Journal