Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili. (Interpressnews.)

TBILISI, DFWatch–The government in Georgia has introduced a ‘moratorium’ on prosecuting former officials from the National Movement party of Mikheil Saakashvili, out of fear that it may restrict democratic rights.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili said he calls on law enforcement bodies to avoid restricting the lawful rights of people who are participating in the election campaign.

The National Movement party lost power a year and a half ago, and many former government officials have since been put on trial or are under investigation for things they did while in power.

Saakashvili and his supporters have argued that this is selective justice and revenge, but the Georgian Dream coalition has said it is cleaning up crimes in high places.

Speaker of Parliament Davit Usupashvili less than two months ago argued against having a moratorium during election time: “It is hard to find a year in the calendar when there are no elections in Georgia. If elections are conducted in Georgia, it doesn’t mean that the police and the Prosecutor’s Office should take a vacation,” he said, adding that if there is something to investigate, it should be done.

It is unclear what prompted the coalition to change its position, but the change of heart came after strong pressure from Western nations, who have tended to believe more in Saakashvili – now a university lecturer in New York – than in the current elected Georgian authorities.

It is also not clear what exactly the moratorium will mean, what branches of the state will be covered by it, and whether it also will limit the activities of judges, whose independence from the executive is one of the cornerstones of a democracy.

Gharibashvili explained the need for a moratorium Monday by saying that he has seen ‘periodic aggression’ against former government members. He called on law enforcement bodies to “avoid restricting the lawful rights of people participating in the election campaign”.

Apparently, there was also such a moratorium in place last October during the presidential election, as President Giorgi Margvelashvili said Monday that the moratorium in October 2013 was quite effective.

“Measures which were taken worked effectively and last year we conducted unprecedented election in open and competitive environment,” he said adding that taking the same step now is quite justified.

The National Movement party, whose hard-handed rule for almost a decade alienated large sections of the population, lost power in the parliamentary election a year and a half ago. In the campaign ahead of local elections to be held in June, it has been met by crowds of demonstrators demanding that they are banished from Georgian politics.

Member of Parliament for the party Davit Darchiashvili demanded the release of his party’s activists. He called the election campaign ‘abnormal’.

Gigi Ugulava, also a National Movement stalwart who recently was suspended as Tbilisi mayor pending a corruption trial, called it hypocritical of the government to announce a moratorium.

He named several activists who are detained, including the head of the local government (gamgebeli) in Khoni and his deputy.

“And what about Zura Otiashvili, our candidate, who is accused of some crime at customs work. He was ousted from the City Council and is in preliminary detention. He should have been our candidate for gamgebeli in Dusheti district.”

Georgia will hold local elections on June 15.