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On the eve of Biden’s visit

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, July 22
On the eve of US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit Georgian President Michael Saakashvili participated in debates in the Georgian Parliament. Analysts think that he had a special reason to do so, i.e. to show the visitor how committed he is to democratic values. The debates showed however that the understanding of the terms ‘democracy’ and, more importantly, ‘following democratic principles,’ still differs radically between the administration and the opposition, even the Parliamentary one.

Only after the visit of the US Vice President will we see how effective President Saakashvili’s participation in the debates was in demonstrating to Biden the country’s democratic orientation. Analysts think that Biden’s visit has a double meaning. On the one hand it should demonstrate US support for Georgia, showing that Washington does not recognise Russia’s claims in the post- Soviet space, an action which should once and for all stop speculation about possible repeated military aggression from Russia. On the other hand, it is expected that Biden will express his views on the confrontation inside the country and the political processes surrounding it.

Some Georgian analysts think that during the three months of confrontation between administration and opposition Washington has taken Saakashvili’s side. There are various reasons why this could have been so. Russia has demanded that Saakashvili resign, and his stepping down from the Presidency would have been understood as another Russian victory. Secondly, the US cannot identify a single opposition leader it thinks is suitable to hold the flag of democracy. Thirdly, Saakashvili willingly or unwillingly interfered in the relationship between Russia and the EU and managed demonstrate very vividly Russia’s neo-imperialistic nature. All these arguments are inconclusive but it does look nevertheless as if the US supports the idea of Saakashvili staying in office until his term expires in 2013.

The Saakashvili administration is trying to do everything to convince Biden that there are no limits to democracy in Georgia and that it is ready to facilitate the further development of democratic institutions in the country. This is why the initiatives of the President are so loud and Western-oriented. Joe Biden is scheduled to meet opposition leaders as well, but this is not a victory for them but standard practice for US political leaders when they visit Georgia and other countries. This is part of the so-called protocol. So this time the opposition should do its best to prove to the Vice President that protest actions are not just caprices by opposition leaders but the expression of the demands of the people of Georgia. They have to persuade Biden that Saakashvili’s moves and words are just PR and not really democratically-oriented. So far no democratic changes have been made by this administration, rather the contrary, as opposition claims.

One can assume that the opposition’s hopes have finally been frustrated after a hundred days of protest rallies. The protest wave has decreased dramatically. The only positive thing to emerge from this period is that luckily, due to the wisdom of the Georgian people, the street actions did not evolve into revolution and civil confrontation. But this leaves the opposition only one option - changing the administration through elections. Elections are another challenge for Georgian democracy, as they should be conducted in such a way that there is no doubt about the accuracy of the official results of those elections and no manipulations occur. The opposition doubts this will happen in any election called by Saakashvili, and this is one of the main reasons they continue to press for his resignation.

Different polls show that the protest charge in the population has not disappeared at all and after the summer timeout new types of protest action can be anticipated in the country. Meanwhile the opposition is regrouping and it is hard to predict who will lead the new protests and how. The usual pattern is for protest to be transformed into elections, and the President has already suggested May 30, 2010 as a date for local elections and elections for Mayor of Tbilisi. It is clear however that no free elections will be possible under the current election law, with the administrative resources at the disposal of the authorities. Therefore the opposition and Georgia’s friends in international organisations should really carry out very serious and efficient pre-election work to guarantee Georgia has really democratic elections and not imitations of them.

It is hard to predict that an election would go smoothly. The administration is clinging to power by controlling very serious levers of influence and is unlikely to easily give up all the privileges it has. The major problem Georgia is facing is exactly this - the weakness of democratic institutions, which has allowed this situation to develop. The US Vice President’s visit should therefore concentrate on facilitating a further strengthening of democratic institutions in the country through genuine international monitoring of their functioning. Some may call this external interference in another country’s affairs, but if this is what the people demand, it is aid, not interference.