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Opposition demand debates

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, February 23
President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili will give his annual speech to Parliament on February 26, it was decided at the Parliament Bureau session yesterday. The opposition partiesí initiative to hold debates after the Presidentís speech, which Saakashvili would also take part in, was also discussed but a final decision on this will be made later.

Under the current Parliamentary regulations a break is declared after the Presidentís speech and then the leaders of the majority and minority groups and the various factions each respond to the report. The President is not obliged to be present while these responses are being made but may attend if he wishes.

The opposition are not only demanding that the President debates the report with them. MPs from the Christian Democratic Movement want not only faction leaders but ordinary MPs to be allowed to speak after the Presidentís report, as they have some important questions they want answered. "Holding debates after the Presidentís speech is very important, and this is why we have initiated this. Debates enable both the majority and minority to exchange opinions and give the President the chance to listen to different viewpoints on some serious issues, after which, I hope, some of these opinions will be taken into consideration by him,Ē Levan Vephkhvadze stated.

MP Jondi Baghaturia has already announced what he will ask the President. "There is a very difficult economic situation in the country, and my questions will be about economic issues and property rights, as property is not really protected here,Ē Baghaturia said. The importance of changing the format of the Presidentís annual speech has also been stated by MP Guram Chakhvadze. "I welcome holding debates after the Presidentís report, and I am very interested myself in whether the present policy of the Government concerning Georgia-Russia relations will be changed or not. I will be glad of the opportunity to ask the President this question and receive an answer from him,Ē Chakhvadze stated.

Georgian Government members are not against the idea of debates but say they should be held on some other day. "We have never been against debates and consultations with the opposition. Demands such as these are not necessary, as we are always ready to take part in debates. Such demands are attempts to break down an open door," Petre Tsiskarishvili said. "But the President's annual speech is an important event and should not be mixed in with debates. I think that some other day should be appointed for these. I know that such speeches arouse reactions and some political forces want answers to the questions most significant for them. I just feel that some other day should be set aside for this,Ē Tsiskarishvili added.

Parliament Speaker Davit Bakradze suggested that consultations with majority and minority representatives will take place until February 26 at which the final format of the Presidentís speech will be agreed. It is still not excluded that the oppositionís demand for debates after the Presidentís speech will be met.