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Democracy or bust

Thursday, September 18
At his annual appearance in Parliament on September 16 President Saakashvili promised to institute “a new wave of democratic reforms.” This was his response to the demands of both the West and the opposition. Hopefully these reforms will help strengthen the democratic image of the country and serve as a firm guarantee against further Russian aggression.

The post-Rose Revolution administration has created in the country a dualistic attitude towards it. On the one hand it had big ambitions to create a Westernized state and has therefore been called the “beacon of democracy”. On the other the methods it has used to run the country have diminished any achievements it might once have been able to claim, in the eyes of many.

From the very beginning this administration developed certain malign tendencies which have helped bring about the current crises. One manifestation of these was the hasty amendment of the constitution in February 2004 which granted extra powers to the President and weakened Parliament. Western analysts criticized this decision and also the flouting of the independence of the judiciary and media, particularly the television stations. There have been gross violations of human rights, such as the abuse of private property rights, badly investigated criminal cases and other well-known deviations from international norms. The Public Defender has highlighted these abuses and submitted his evidence to Parliament but in vain - no action has been taken.

Another, separate issue is elections. As is well known the Rose Revolution was a reaction of democratic society against the rigged elections conducted by the Shevardnadze regime. So this society should have been able to assume that at least this issue would have been addressed with especial care. Unfortunately this has not been the case, and the elections have manifestly been far from perfect. This problem has been compounded by the breakdown in civilized relations between the authorities and the opposition. Open dialogue between the two has repeatedly failed and continues to do so.

One of the reasons why Georgia did not receive a MAP in Bucharest was the shortcomings in its democratic processes (of course, we should not forget that Russia blackmailed and threatened Europe over this matter). In the current difficult situation much will depend on how honestly the ruling elite is committed to democratic change and whether its “new wave of reforms” will therefore give any impulse to the strengthening of democracy . The opposition is concerned that the President’s words might become just another PR campaign. The words should immediately be followed by action, it maintains.

The timing of any possible reform programme is problematic. The pressure applied by the Russian aggression requires the country to implement reforms in the shortest possible time, to preserve it from future attacks by gaining the unequivocal ongoing support of the West. But if it fails to implement reforms now, this will adversely affect its chances of gaining a NATO MAP in December. Not granting the MAP would seriously frustrate the hopes of Georgian people. One should recall that not all NATO countries met every membership standard imposed on Georgia when they were initially accepted as full members. But it is a NATO which has already denied a MAP once which Georgia now needs to convince.

There are very serious stakes on the table Gentlemen.