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Speech tempers still-vocal criticism

By Sopo Datishvili
Thursday, September 18
President Saakashvili made his annual report to Parliament on September 16th, followed by briefings with opposition leaders. Their general appraisal of the President’s speech is somewhat more positive than their more general comments about the President.

Opposition leaders say that this time it sounded as if the President was thinking more democratically. However, it is too early to speak about possible results yet, as the speech is just rhetoric.

Eka Beselia, leader of the Movement for United Georgia, was the most critical of Saakashvili’s speech. She said that the constitutional changes the President talked about seemed extremely far from reality. “We cannot speak about any kind of change while Saakashvili is President,” she said. Negative aspects of the President’s speech were also the main theme of the briefing by Georgia’s Way, in which party leader Salome Zurabishvili criticized the idea of enlarging the responsibilities of the legislative branch, which she called a “pseudo- Parliament.” “I think that Saakashvili’s speech was in some ways not bad, but I didn’t see in it the way out of the gridlock our country is in now,” she said.

All the opposition parties underlined the necessity of new parliamentary elections in spring 2009. They said that the opposition, despite the fact the President addressed it on September 16, wasn’t in the room when he spoke. None of the parties expressed any willingness to support Saakashvili’s initiatives on dialogue or joint working. One of the leaders of the New Rights, Pikria Chikhradze, said that her party isn’t going to cooperate with the Government and has also rejected seats in the new temporary investigation commission. Chikhradze highlighted that there are a lot of questions the President should be asked about the Georgian-Russian war.

Republican Party leader David Usupashvili started his post-speech press briefing by commenting on the OSCE report on the Parliamentary elections held on May 21. This mentions an unequal playing field being created in favour of the ruling party, the use of administrative resources in party campaigning, partisan activity by public officials and a blurred distinction between the state and the ruling party. The beating of several opposition activists and poll irregularities were also mentioned.

“The Presidential elections in January and Parliamentary elections in May caused everything that happened this summer in Georgia”. Usupashvili added. His party is still concentrating on demanding fresh Parliamentary elections in the spring of 2009. “As is seen in the OSCE report, after the last Parliamentary elections there is no representative body in the country which can express the interests of different layers of society. Another reason we demand new elections is the situation in Georgia. After the war, people should legitimize the policies of a newly-chosen Government. Constitutional changes must be introduced before the elections in order to reduce the power of the President and Government and increase that of Parliament,” Usupashvili said.

In reference to Saakashvili’s speech Usupashvili stated, “It’s good that the President ..yesterday… didn’t mention the enlarging of police rights. This is the result of pressure being exerted by international organizations.” He also highlighted that all the President’s “new initiatives” seemed to be only cosmetic changes, inadequate for dealing with the problems which have emerged in the country. Usupashvili also mentioned the importance of political talk shows and added that political debates should be back on air.