(CSMonitor) - Thousands of antigovernment demonstrators protested for a third day in front of Georgia's parliament Sunday in what could become an opposition-led repeat of the Rose Revolution that brought down an unpopular leader and swept current President Mikhail Saakashvili to power on a wave of reformist hopes.
The 10-party opposition coalition, formed just a month ago to protest planned changes to the electoral system, suprised most observers by drawing more than 50,000 supporters onto the streets of the capital, Tbilisi, on Friday. Repeat rallies over the weekend were much smaller, but suggested the movement might have staying power. Though some opposition leaders held out the possibility of compromise, others began demanding Mr. Saakashvili's resignation.
"I think Saakashvili has already lost his chance," says Georgy Khaindrava, a former minister in Saakashvili's government turned opposition leader. "No one wants this government; everyone wants a new one."
The upsurge suggests that Georgia's dismal history of turbulent political change might be on the verge of repeating itself. Since the tiny mountainous republic of 5 million gained independence from the Soviet Union, it has had three leaders, each of whom came in on an intense wave of popularity only to run afoul of surging public discontent.
Zviad Gamsakhurdia, elected with 87 percent support in 1991, was killed in a civil war that brought the popular former Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze to power the next year. Mr. Shevardnadze appeared to stabilize Georgia and put it on the path to democracy, but he was accused of rigging a parliamentary election and forced to resign in the Rose Revolution. The US-educated Saakashvili, once a protege of Shevardnadze, won subsequent presidential polls with a 97 percent majority.
But Saakashvili's reforms have since managed to anger Georgians from almost all walks of life.
"I don't like the conditions of the past four years," said Manana Ravtadze, a child-care worker at Saturday's rally. "I want our president to stand in front of the people and tell them of his mistakes."
Zero-tolerance crime legislation has put large numbers of young people in prison for minor offenses. Privatization has led to complaints by small property holders that their rights are being violated. Intellectuals worry about a perceived erosion of democratic rights. Food and energy prices are climbing, while unemployment remains stubbornly high.
"[The protests are] not just about politics, it's about the people's anger," says Tina Khidasheli, a leader of the moderate Republican Party. "What Saakashvili managed in four years was to create the feeling that the president was against each person individually."