Takin' it to the streets

The opposition is taking to the barricades in Georgia, demanding the resignation of President Mikhail Saakashvili:
Hours after Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili rejected the opposition’s ultimatum to step down, opposition leaders threatened to seize systematic control of the country using civil disobedience.

Opposition leaders announced a blockade of streets in front of parliament, the presidential residence and the Georgian Public Broadcasting headquarters every day between 3 pm and 9 pm in Tbilisi.

Levan Gachechiladze, the former presidential candidate, told EurasiaNet that the opposition plans to extend these blockades throughout the capital and, eventually, to the rest of the country until Saakashvili resigns.

Saakashvili is not a perfect democrat, but (despite some lame conspiracy theories) has gone a long way toward reducing corruption (it's far and away the most functional and least corrupt of the Caucasian states, certainly).

Mr Saakashvili seems to be handling things better this time around:
At a news conference on Friday, Mr. Saakashvili emphasized that the peaceful nature of the rallies so far proved that Georgia, which has about 4.6 million people, was developing as a democracy. The government has been repeatedly cautioned by Western diplomats to avoid skirmishes with protesters, and law enforcement is assuming a very low profile in the capital this week.

“By demonstrating peacefully — by the complete and total lack of violence, by ensuring the right to free movement and freedom of assembly — we proved the maturity of our state,” Mr. Saakashvili said.

My biggest worry with this situation is the precedent: in a new democracy, especially one as comparatively functional as Georgia's, changing president by mass protests is a worrisome development. Should the protests succeed (which I doubt will happen), trust in the rules of democracy will erode -- and that will cause problems down the road.

And other good may come of this; the Eurasianet piece notes that they have forced Saakashvili to consider expanding the level of democracy in the country:
"The way forward is by sitting down together, by listening to one another," Saakashvili said. He listed the election code, constitutional amendments to increase parliament’s powers and the direct election of "some" mayors and "local government officials" as topics up for discussion. (A separate English-language statement specified direct election of the mayor of Tbilisi, now selected by the city council).

If the protesters are truly concerned with democracy, they would be wise to push as far as they can on these issues, and then focus on defeating Mr Saakashvili in the next election.