Irakli Alasania, the former Georgian ambassador to the UN now seen as a potential successor to President Mikheil Saakashvili, warned in an extensive March 10 interview that "we should not become hostages" to the radicalism that he said pervades "a large part" of Georgian society.
In late February, Alasania gave the Georgian leadership 10 days (until March 5) within which to schedule a nationwide referendum on whether or not an early presidential election should be held. The authorities ignored that challenge, in line with Saakashvili's repeated assertion that he will not step down before his second term expires in early 2013.
Asked to outline his plans in light of that refusal, and whether he can and will make common cause with other opposition groups, Alasania explained that at present, his newly launched Alliance for Georgia is in the process of setting up offices in the provinces with the task of engaging as many people as possible in the process of organizing a nonbinding plebiscite and in gathering signatures in support of the desired early election.
The Alliance's second, parallel task is to draft a new national development strategy that would encompass both foreign policy and an economic program; Alasania said that "on the expert level, we have already started working on this." At the same time, the Alliance plans to promote dialogue nationwide. As for the likely time frame, Alasania responded vaguely that "I'm not saying this long-term process should last for years or many months."
As for possible cooperation with other opposition groups, Alasania said he does not see the goals of the Alliance and of those opposition factions that propose launching an open-ended protest on April 9 to force Saakashvili to step down as being mutually exclusive. He said society should demonstrate unequivocally that it demands change, but stressed at the same time that any such "expression of the people's will" must be peaceful, and should not furnish "a pretext for escalation and destabilization." The consultations under way between various opposition groups are directed in part to creating "conditions for peaceful actions: everything should be strictly and very well organized."
Alasania said that as a former diplomat, he advocates "dialogue, but not at the expense of national interests," and he ruled out any retaliation or reprisals against members of the current regime when his political team comes to power: "Patriots, including those serving in defense or law enforcement agencies, will be able to continue their service."
Asked to define his political orientation, Alasania opted for "centrist," adding that "we need pluralism...but what is most important is that this pluralism should be adequately reflected in parliament. Part of our problem is that the present parliament does not adequately reflect the voters' will."
Alasania conceded that following the disastrous August war with Russia, the process of Georgia's integration into NATO is now blocked, even though over 60 percent of voters registered their approval in the plebiscite of January 2008. He advocated "thinking over other forms of regional security" and focusing on "building democratic institutions that will help us become part of European security." He dismissed out of hand as unrealistic the idea that Georgia should declare itself a neutral state.
Finally, Alasania expressed concern that so many people are "confused" and lack "correct moral orientation," a trend he blamed on "the wrong and often immoral" approach to governance of the present Georgian leadership.