Address to the Parliament of Georgia H.E. Mikheil Saakashvili, President of Georgia. July 20, 2009

My Dear Fellow Citizens:

I have not come here today to announce that things are easy or to report on how great our past achievements were.

These continue to be challenging times for you, for all of us, for our beloved Georgia.

We face the illegal occupation of our territories, continuing threats, repeated plots and daily pressure from outside our borders.

We are confronting a global economic crisis that has affected every country around the world. Here in Georgia, our economy is struggling to recover. But life remains hard for our workers, pensioners, and families. Not a day passes when I do not follow these developments and work with my government to improve the daily lives of the average citizens of Georgia.

I won't deny that the situation is difficult-but this is also a moment of great opportunity. We have emerged from a hard winter. Our nation has navigated a spring of political dissent in a peaceful and democratic way. The summer started with the West recommitting itself strongly to Georgia's independence and territorial integrity.

I have come here today to tell you that the only way to address all our challenges and capitalize on our opportunities, my fellow citizens, is a continual opening of our political system, a renewed commitment to strengthen our democratic institutions, and an acceleration of the reform process.

In a word: Reform. Reform. Reform.

This is the only path to transforming Georgia into a trustworthy partner for our allies, uniting our people and our country around issues of vital concern to us. In this way, we can make Georgia even more attractive for investors, both Georgians as well foreigners, thus leading to more jobs and sustained economic growth.

For every challenge we face-be it related to the economy, security or public life-there is going to be a single answer: Reform! Reform! And Reform!

I have come here, in this honorable place that represents the will of the people, to lay out concrete ideas for continuing the reforms that are essential for our society, our economy, and our lasting security.

Seven weeks ago, a process of national dialogue began. I invited both the parliamentary opposition and the radical non-parliamentary opposition to join me in debating the key reforms for the country.

In the weeks since then, some of the opposition leaders have engaged in discussions with me, while others have declined to do so.

There was progress on some ideas, such as our steps to create a new commission for revising the constitution; but other ideas I proposed have languished.

I know these things take time. I am committed to reforming this country through a process of democratic dialogue, and I am aware that other political leaders have their own pressures.

Nevertheless, I frankly feel that this process of dialogue and reform is moving too slowly. The people cannot wait. The reforms cannot wait. Georgia cannot wait.

So today, in an effort to accelerate this process, I want to move the discussion from the conceptual to the concrete - from general ideas to specific commitments and deadlines.

Doors will always remain open-opposition leaders who respect the law can join the process whenever they want. But we have to deliver. For the sake of our country, for the sake of our State, for the sake of our democracy.

In particular, I want to expand on five areas of dialogue and reform that I laid out for the opposition and the public in early May, and detail concrete steps that we are going to take-starting right now.

In May I said that we have to revise the electoral system. Today I want to make two concrete suggestions to advance that idea.

First, we should move immediately to the direct election of mayors, beginning with our next local elections.

The direct election of mayors, including the mayor of Tbilisi, will be held in May 2010, some nine month from now.

To ensure our fellow citizens and foreign friends that these elections will be exemplary, we should have a new electoral code and a new electoral commission by the end of this year.

We should have a chairman of the Central Election Commission selected by a broad consensus of all major political actors.

It is very important for people to understand that, when it comes to deciding the fate of our nation, we have to move from street actions to electoral competition.

In the new Georgia we are building together, it must be beyond debate that we will only change the government through the voting booth. Not by cages. Not by assaults. Not by coups. And not by tricks or machinations.

Second, I proposed last May a revision of the Constitution that would increase the independent standing and power of the Parliament

To that end, a constitutional commission was initiated, and Mr. Avtandil Demetrashvili-a broadly respected and neutral figure, nominated in fact by the Parliamentary opposition-was appointed its chairman.

The commission has already begun meeting, and will hold hearings with both international and local experts over the coming weeks.

Today, I want to suggest that the Commission should specifically take up the idea of enacting further limits on the ability of the President to dissolve Parliament, in order to further increase its independence and power.

After the Rose Revolution, it was necessary to increase the powers of the presidency so that we could clean up corruption, reform our economy, and take other necessary steps. So that we could create a responsible and modern state that functions according to European standards, in a region where such a state has never existed before.

Our success surpassed our most optimistic hopes. Today, we have built a European state. Regrettably, some people inside our borders still feel nostalgic for the old times when corruption and connections ruled, while some outside our borders are still trying to destabilize us.

But let me be clear once again: Georgia will never, never go back to the Shevarnadze or Targamadze era. Those times dominated by clans and mafia came to an end in Georgia in November 2003 and history cannot and will not be reversed.

It is now time to strengthen the system of checks and balances among the branches of government. It is time to improve our constitutional order, so that responsibility for change and progress will be more widely shared.

It is important that the new constitutional model allows all Georgians to participate in our political life and elections-including those Georgians who were born abroad, but are Georgian citizens and meet required constitutional standards. It is not their fault that they were not born in Georgia. They should not be stripped of the right to participate in the political life of Georgia. The Constitution should offer every Georgian the opportunity to return to their motherland and contribute to its well-being.

Third, also in early May, I said we needed to adopt reforms to ensure greater independence and efficiency of the judiciary.

Today I want to propose increasing sanctions for anyone, including government officials, who contacts any judge or judicial employee about a pending court case, and that we give the judiciary new powers to investigate and punish anyone who tries to improperly influence cases from the outside.

Parliament will adopt relevant legislative amendments by the end of September. We must ensure that our courts are free of any improper influence, and that the public has confidence that all cases are decided on their merits-and not on the basis of political or moneyed interests.

We must also pay very careful attention to ensure that human rights and property rights are defended more vigorously than ever.

Too often, and I know it well, Georgian citizens have the impression that the judiciary is a closed and impenetrable system. We must ensure that the citizens of Georgia have a clear understanding of how judicial decisions are made. I repeat today my personal commitment to introducing popular jury trials in our judiciary system.

Fourth, in early May, I said we needed reforms to ensure an even more open media environment.

I want to ensure that the media has even greater ability than today to give voice to all viewpoints.

I welcome that one of the most critical media outlets has already become eligible to cover the whole of Georgia through satellite broadcasting. And I welcome a continuation of this trend, which will include all potential TV channels that desire to reach all of Georgia via satellite. This process has already started and it is crucial that we continue in the same spirit.

I also propose that we change the structure of the public broadcasting board so that among its 9, there will be a 4-to-4 balance between government and opposition members, with a the ninth seat to be occupied by a civil society representative. In this way, at no time can anyone say that the government majority imposes its broadcasting policies against the wishes of opposition parties.

We will adopt this change in the next 90 days.

Moreover, I urge the Parliament to complete by the end of September all procedures in relation with Channel 2, the platform we are creating that will be dedicated to equitable political broadcasting. This entails setting up an advisory board, which will work together with the Parliament and European experts to establish this platform.

But, this does not go without responsibility. A free media reports what it believes to be true. It does not seek to insult or injure people, it does not plot. I am not thinking about insults against me or my family. Rather I am referring, for instance, to the horrible treatment that certain channels reserved for individual leaders of the parliamentary opposition.

What I am trying to tell you, my fellow citizens, is that an open media must also respect some rules of decency and act in a civil manner. We need to end the era of personal insults.

And we need to put an end to "civil war" rhetoric.

My fellow citizens, don't you think we have enough problems like that? I am sure nobody here has forgotten that foreign troops are on our soil, that a true war has been launched against our country. Isn't this the time when people should show a minimal level of unity and civility?

I am not calling for people to hide their views, feelings, or anger. Dissent is a key characteristic of any democracy. But let's express our dissent in a responsible manner.

Fifth, I may have arguments with the opposition in many areas. But I can't help believing that all citizens of Georgia love their country, understand that it faces dangers, and want to protect it from harm.

That's why I believe it's very important that the government and the opposition work as cooperatively as possible when it comes to matters of national security.

Therefore, I am announcing that starting this month, we will establish a monthly process of extended meetings of the National Security Council in which opposition leaders will be invited to participate in the government's deliberation on security issues and foreign policy.

In times when we may face special circumstances or threats, the meetings can be even more frequent.

I plan to share with the opposition our best estimates of our security challenges, and solicit their input into our security planning, so that at all times we will have the best ideas for protecting this land we love.

My fellow citizens, over the past three months, my government has worked to ensure that there was a respectful and expanded space in our country for the expression of dissenting viewpoints - from our television airwaves to the streets of Tbilisi.

The illegal occupation of the streets was allowed for more thann three months in order to preserve calm and avoid clashes.

But now we all have a collective interest in moving the central area of public debate from the streets into our Parliament, our electoral system, and our system of governance.

The time has come to move beyond the politics of yelling at one another, and to get down to the work of improving the lives of our people.

I would like to propose a legislative initiative that would allow part of the opposition to restore the parliamentary mandates of which they stripped themselves. I will do this even if they do not plan to agree to this idea, since I believe it is important to make such an offer. Therefore, I urge the Parliament to support this initiative.

The time has come to move from a call for reform to the concrete act of reform.

Most of all, the time has come to hear the voices of the citizens of Georgia all over the country.

When I committed to starting a process of dialogue, I intended not only a dialogue with politicians, but also with the people. A dialogue not only with the minority that has demonstrated in Tbilisi. But also a dialogue with the 95% of Georgian citizens in every region who work hard and struggle to care for their families and deserve to be listened to, even if they don't block roads or institutions, even if they are not politically organized.

The time has come for the people of Georgia to decide their own priorities in the new phase of reform we are launching now.

Therefore, one of the main reasons for me to come here today is to announce the beginning, tomorrow, of a nationwide, comprehensive process of consulting the people of Georgia-from Tbilisi to the villages of Svaneti, from Tusheti to Adjaria, from every corner of Georgia.

Starting from July, all the MP's of the majority, all the Ministers of the government, all people working with me, will go to the towns, districts, and villages of Georgia and hold direct discussions with people.

We, the people of Georgia, will gather in schools, squares, theaters, stadiums, and you will have the chance t define your priorities for your daily life, your environment, your region....

I call as well on MP's from the parliamentary opposition to join us in this historic national initiative, as well as any political force that will be genuinely willing to participate.

I want, my fellow citizens, your voices to be heard. And loudly. I want your representatives, your government ministers, your public servants to listen carefully and to report your requests.

I want your requests to be made public. I want your requests to be well considered. I want your requests to be met.

With urgency and accountability, in a responsible manner that reflects your priorities and our collective capabilities.

I do not say this will be an easy process, or a program of government handouts and gifts. On the contrary, I want this to be a process that connects government more directly to the real needs of all our citizens, and I can think of no better way to start than to ask for your input, your suggestions and your ideas

Starting tomorrow through the end of August, you will, all of you-workers, peasants, winemakers, teachers, pensioners, unemployed people, students-define your priorities, locally and nationally.

Everywhere. In Tsnorias well as in Kutaisi, in Varketli as well as in Vake. All communities in Georgia will have a chance to make your voices heard

I want to make clear that there is, in the new country we are building, no privileges anymore, no voice that matters more than the other, no part of society that should be more listened to than the other...

As a result of our joint efforts, five top priorities will be defined locally by the citizens of Georgia. Then a national synthesis of these priorities will be released by the end of September.

Five big trends will emerge nationally, five main areas for further reform. And this will become the roadmap of my government for the next three years.

All the energy of my administration will be focused on it.

By the end of September, the result of this popular consultation will be public. Both locally and nationally.

And then I will personally make sure that these priorities-your priorities-will be implemented by my national government and by local administrations.

I will go everywhere to look at the advancements of the reforms. I will check. And I will call on you, my fellow, my beloved citizens of Georgia, to check with me.

I am not threatening anyone, I am not targeting anyone. But I want to be clearly understood: Georgia is not an aristocratic or a post-Soviet country anymore. Georgia is a country where no one is more important because he is coming from this town, this street or this family.

Georgia belongs to all its citizens,, regardless of ethnicity, wealth level, last name or birthplace. And it must be changed-and improved-according to the wishes of all of you.

We have to put maximum effort in decentralizing our development in order to encompass the whole of Georgia, every city and every region.

Taking this into consideration, I welcome and would like to echo the idea that originated in western Georgia to turn Kutaisi into a Parliamentary capital, together with Tbilisi.

This will entail the sharing of Parliamentary roles between Kutaisi and Tbilisi. To be more precise, we would create a model in which plenary sessions will be held in Kutaisi, whereas committee work will be done in Tbilisi. This will make it possible to exercise parliamentary checks on the executive branch from Tbilisi and simultaneously to be closer to the regions, as Kutaisi is the geographic center of Georgia.

This initiative will reinvigorate political life in Kutaisi, create new jobs, and help its economy, benefits that will extend to the entire western part of Georgia. It also will help extend development out across the country.

Our model of development has to be focused not on a single city, neighborhood or street. Our country is small enough already; dividing it into privileged and non-privileged, lively or less-lively, noisy or silent parts would be critically damaging.

We do not have the luxury of not listening to everyone and of not listening to one another. We cannot take into consideration the thinking of only a few actors and ignore the many. We cannot divide society along ethnic or other lines.

My fellow citizens, that's why we are starting the process of this national dialogue with all of Georgia, which means listening to people and getting orders from them.

Of course, the dialogue with political parties is important and it will continue. But we must begin to make the dialogue real, by implementing the kind of specific reforms I laid out today. And we must broaden that dialogue to ensure we are listening to the wishes of the all the people of Georgia.

My fellow citizens, you can transform this process into a wave. A wave coming from all provinces and districts. A wave that will defeat paralysis, overwhelm resistances inherited from our past. A wave that will help us to improve our society, our economy, our infrastructure and all of our policies.

A new wave of democracy, for Georgia, led by the people of Georgia.

My fellow citizens, I call on you today: join this open process, speak, request, criticize, and, most of all, contribute.

Let's overcome our difficulties together. Let's pursue our common dreams and let's continue to build together the democratic society that will enable Georgia to be stronger than ever.

Press Office
of the President of Georgia

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