Speeches & Statements

President Saakashvili proposes electoral reforms

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has proposed several initiatives aimed at elevating and strengthening the country's "political culture".

At a meeting with ruling National Movement party MPs on 16 October, Saakashvili proposed that the election threshold which parties must surpass to enter parliament by party list be lowered from seven to five per cent, that the president's right to dissolve parliament be reduced "to a certain extent" and that terms of MPs be extended from four to five years so that presidential and parliamentary elections can always be held at the same time.

The statement comes at a time when a recently united group of opposition forces has been harshly criticizing President Saakashvili and insisting on several reforms in electoral legislation, first and foremost the holding of snap parliamentary elections in April 2008.

Saakashvili criticized the existing opposition forces throughout the speech, labelling them "truly weak" and saying that their messages are "often rather destructive" and not conducive to real dialogue.

"We have democracy. Some people can speak properly while others can only curse and spit venom. This cannot harm us in terms of votes in elections, but it is bad for the country. It is extremely negative for the country's democratic political culture when lies and cursing become the main instrument in the hands of one part of the political opposition," adding that the use of this instrument was putting the country "in an awkward position" and that he wished the opposition could be "more constructive and in a certain sense, stronger."

"We want there to be real dialogue and exchange of ideas in the country. There are many issues on which we must hear everyone's opinion. Georgia has to restore its territorial integrity. Georgia has to enter NATO and Georgia has to once and for all establish its freedom and independence. In this process, even the smallest group is valuable and very important for us and can serve as a real ally."

"Our democratic initiatives are based on giving even the smallest groups a chance to be an inseparable part of this great rebuilding process and great progress. I believe that we have a chance to achieve this. There are very many intellectual people in Georgia of all ages who will be able to establish wholly new rules of the game, including in the opposition. I hope that new political forces will emerge which understand that the country is much more important than personal insults and lies," Saakashvili said.

He said that the initiative was targeted at creating "serious competition" in Georgian politics, though added that he would provide the opposition with "advice". He singled out three opposition figures, People's Party leader and Tbilisi city councilman Koba Davitashvili, Labour Party Leader Shalva Natelashvili and Jondi Baghaturia, the head of the Kartuli Dasi movement as being unworthy of this advice.

"If I were an opposition leader, I would not be able to defeat this government, but I would provide serious competition," he said.

"Let us give them the opportunity to do this, but let us not give them advice. I do not believe - and we all know - that these people cannot govern the country better, but maybe new forces will emerge or more normal people will emerge from their ranks, maybe there will be an opportunity for real competition and dialogue," he said, adding that the ruling party would become further strengthened if it had better "sparring partners".

In an apparent reference to media tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, the co-owner and founder of Imedi TV, which has been especially critical of Saakashvili of late, the Georgian president condemned the "oligarchic style of work" of some of his opponents and the "industry of lies" that they have created against the government.

"A real industry of lies against us has been created. A real industry of lies. A whole group of people sits there and concocts lies against Saakashvili, [parliamentary majority leader Maia] Nadiradze, [Parliament Speaker Nino] Burjanadze, [MP Megi] Gotsiridze, [parliamentary health committee chairman] Gigi Tsereteli, and all the rest of you to a varying extent. This is just like it was in Russia in the 1990s," he said.

He went on to recall an incident in which State Minister for Reforms Coordination Kakha Bendukidze, who was a prominent businessman in Russia at that time, told him that the owner of a Russian television station once threatened to smear Bendukidze and "present the testimony of underage children" if he did not sign a certain contract.

"This is their oligarchic style of work taken from Russia. But they are mistaken on one thing. Nino and Nadiradze and I are not Yeltsin and others and Georgia is not the Russian Empire or even the Russian Federation. They are dealing with a very different people. They are dealing with a people who have different values, a different mentality, a different education and a different level of development and different political experience.

"We will share political power with the Georgian people, but the division of political power among various interest groups and oligarchic structures will not take place. We will not allow various artificially implanted elements to decide the fate of the Georgian people," he said.

Saakashvili praised the National Movement for maintaining unity over the past four years since the "rose revolution" and hailed the party as "the first team in the history of the Georgian parliament united by values, faith, strength and a sense of unity."

He said that "some foreigners" had advised him to split up the ruling party in order to create an opposition force. "Sorry, but we are not the kind of country that appoints its own opposition. The opposition is not appointed. We are united, so they will not receive an opposition from us. There were many hopes to this effect, but they were not realized."

Saakashvili also called on ruling party MPs to promptly pass budget amendments that would free up finances for a presidential initiative to provide pensioners, teachers and low-income households with vouchers for natural gas and electricity this winter.

Also during the speech, he touted the "success" of this year's grape harvest despite the Russian embargo on Georgian wines and welcomed the UN Security Council Resolution on the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict adopted on 15 October as a "breakthrough".

Prepared by BBC Monitoring

Press Office
of the President of Georgia

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