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Georgian President’s New Year's Proposals Meet Cool Reception


Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili

Speaking on Georgian TV late on New Year's Eve, President Mikheil Saakashvili proposed to the new government headed by Bidzina Ivanishvili a five-point agenda that he claimed would help reverse the "downward spiral" toward "chaos" Saakashvili said had been precipitated by what he termed the new leadership's vindictive and destructive actions.

Ivanishvili has not yet responded to those proposals, but two respected members of his Georgian Dream (KO) coalition's parliament faction have cast doubt on the president's sincerity, as has a former close associate of ex-President Eduard Shevardnadze.

Saakashvili prefaced his proposals by arguing that a democratic transfer of power is not an end in itself and democratically elected leaders have on occasion set about "destroying democracy." He imputed to Ivanishvili's government a whole list of "mistakes," including reassessing major infrastructure projects and thereby jeopardizing the creation of new jobs; focusing on "the destruction of the political opposition" rather than on delivering on its election campaign promises to improve socio-economic conditions; creating "the threat of chaos and civil confrontation" by pressurizing local councils; and sabotaging strategic ties with Georgia's Western allies.

Saakashvili's five proposals were as follows:

-- To refrain from "aggressive and insulting rhetoric," "portraying each other as criminals and traitors," and "hate speech," so as not to "split the society apart."

-- To end what he termed "the repressive campaign of persecution, arrests, questionings of the opposition, as well as the senseless revision of the past and witch hunt," and the "persecution of the free media."

Saakashvili was presumably referring to the arrests of several former senior government officials suspected of having committed serious crimes (including torture, murder, and large-scale fraud) and the summoning of others for questioning.

The "persecution of the free media" may refer to the investigation launched in early November to determine why the public broadcaster owes 3.8 million laris ($2.29 million) in unpaid taxes.

In his own New Year's address to the Georgian people, Ivanishvili hinted at leniency for members of the previous government "who wittingly or unwittingly were in the service of lies and violence." He said they should be treated with dignity and no effort should be spared to enable them "to take their dignified place in society."

Koba Davitashvili, a member of the Georgian Dream parliament faction, told journalists on January 4 that parliament was ready to consider an amnesty for former officials if Saakashvili's United National Movement (ENM) requested it. But he said such an amnesty would be contingent on the ENM publicly admitting that former officials were arrested for having committed crimes.

-- Not to undermine Georgia's relations with the West or hinder its integration into Euro-Atlantic structures.

Saakashvili did not specify in what way he considers the new government is engaging in such a policy. Ivanishvili has repeatedly affirmed his commitment to Georgian membership of NATO and the European Union. In his own New Year's address to the Georgian people, he said 2013 will bring the country nearer to achieving those goals.

-- To stop attacks on local councils, by which Saakashvili may have meant efforts to investigate suspected attempts by local councils to rig the outcome of the October 1 parliamentary elections in favor of Saakashvili's ENM.

The Prosecutor-General's Office said on December 26 it was investigating the alleged use by the ENM of government funds to finance election campaigning in Mingrelia in western Georgia.

-- To convene an international conference, to be chaired jointly by himself and Ivanishvili, with the aim of "restoring" the confidence of both potential local and international investors.

Again, Ivanishvili has repeatedly affirmed his interest in attracting investment, including in his New Year's Eve address.

Irakli Menagharishvili, who served from 1995 to 2003 as foreign minister under Shevardnadze, said Saakashvili's five-point plan "lacks sincerity." So, too, did a second member of Georgian Dream's parliament faction, respected legal expert Vakhtang Khmaladze, whom Ivanishvili has identified as a possible Georgian Dream candidate in the presidential election due in October.

Davitashvili went even further, describing Saakashvili's proposals as "a classic example of political pharisaism." Davitashvili was for years a close associate of Saakashvili but broke with him in early 2004 to protest what he termed undemocratic amendments to the Georgian Constitution.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.

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