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U.S. Senators Express Concerns Of Georgian 'Backsliding' On Democracy


Two U.S. senators have issued a letter to Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia (pictured) over recent events in that country.

Two U.S. senators have expressed concerns in a letter to Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia over recent events that indicate "a backsliding" on the Caucasus country's commitment to build the institutions of democracy, the second such letter to Tbilisi in just over a week.

"We are increasingly concerned by recent events that indicate a weakening of Georgian democracy and governance," Senator Jim Risch (Republican-Idaho) and Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat-New Hampshire) wrote in the letter released on January 29.

Risch is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, while Shaheen is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation.

The senators said that "two of the most pressing matters are parliament's failure to uphold its commitment to electoral reform and the government's violent suppression of peaceful protests."

"We understand that the promised electoral reform was expected to give proportional representation to Georgian voters to ensure the system did not unduly favor any one political party.

"Your government's decision to prevent that change indicates a backsliding from commitments to build the institutions of Georgia's democracy," they wrote.

The senators wrote that "an independent, democratic Georgia has many international supporters, and we are eager to continue to assist your country."

"However, we are motivated to support Georgia's economic and political development only as long as we can rely on Georgia to be a stable, trustworthy, and democratic partner in this effort.

"We sincerely hope that you will work quickly to reverse this decline and fulfill the promises made to the Georgian people."

The letter comes a week after Georgia's government released a letter written by four U.S. lawmakers in the House of Representatives expressing concerns over the government's failure to deliver on promises of democratic reforms and a police crackdown on protesters over the issue.

Republican Congressmen Adam Kinzinger and Michael McCaul and Democrats Gerald Connoly and Eliot Engelwrote wrote in the letter dated January 21 and made public the next day that it was "unacceptable" that with parliamentary elections approaching later this year, the ruling Georgian Dream party had funded "an extensive networks of accounts" on Facebook "apparently spreading anti-democratic, anti-Western sentiments."

"Additionally, we are troubled by reports that prosecutors appointed by Georgian Dream are reopening old legal cases against the party's opponents. While some of these cases may have merits, others are perceived as targeting leading opposition political figures, news operators, international corporations, and civil society members.

"Respect for the rule of law and an impartial justice system are key to a healthy democracy and to ensuring free and fair elections, which are guaranteed by your party," said the letter, also addressed to Prime Minister Gakharia.

The congressmen expressed hope that Georgia's government will work with the United States, the European Union, and NGOs "to strengthen democratic institutions and enhance economic prosperity for the Georgian people so that Georgia can continue to be a strategic partner of the United States for many years to come."

Over the summer, several mass protests held in Tbilisi were violently dispersed by police.

Opposition parties have complained that Georgia's electoral system unfairly favors the ruling Georgian Dream party.

Changing it to a proportional one from 2020 was one of the demands of the thousands of demonstrators who rallied for weeks in Tbilisi in June and July.

The United States and the European Union have called on the Georgian government, political parties, and civil society to engage in a "calm and respectful dialogue."

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Georgian Service
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