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What Does a "Fully Democratic Transition of Power" Mean for Georgia?

By Messenger Staff
Friday, October 21
It is obvious that the current Georgian administration which has governed the country for eight years already plans to retain power. This is vividly shown by the interpretation of and commentary on the words of the Deputy US State Secretary William Burns who called on the government to ensure “free and fair elections over the next two years so that there is a fully democratic transition of power in 2013.”

It has become a tradition that Georgians interpret words used by important western officials about the situation in Georgia. Most recently the usage or non-usage of the word 'occupation' about the current deployment of Russian forces in the breakaway regions became something of a mini-obsession. This time a hot debate has begun around what the deputy state secretary meant by a transition of power. The parliamentary elections are approaching in 2012 as well as the presidential ones in 2013 and the ruling power and the opposition has already started a fierce fight for those elections. The situation in particular became tense after Georgian tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili decided to participate in the political game in Georgia. This intriguing situation became the subject of comments by Burns as well. But the focus has rested on the key words concerning the 'transition of power' - the opposition thinks that this phrase means the US wishes to see a new force in power, whereas the current leadership offers a different understanding. One of the leaders of National Movement, head of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Relations Akaki Minashvili, thinks that “transition of power” does not exclude power remaining with the current ruling political group. Minashvili stated that after the elections, as a rule, power may stay with a ruling government but it will change its leadership, appoint new ministers and administration. So this is also in some sense of 'transition of power'. Minashvili in his comments discounts any suggestion that a high official of a friendly state could give a recommendation to transfer power to different political group.

We would have to ask Burns himself exactly what he meant, but since this is hardly possible we can only think about what the most probable interpretation of his words is. In getting at what he meant, one thing stands out. Burns named the date 2013 - this is the date when the presidential elections should be held in Georgia and of course President Saakashvili is constitutionally obliged to transfer his powers to a new president. It is fully certain that this will be somebody else. And maybe this is all Burns meant.

Of course the ruling authorities are right when they say that the US will not have a definite position on who will come to power. They will have nothing against Saakashvili becoming the PM. Answering a question on the possibility of Saakashvili becoming, PM Burns was evasive: “We believe that it is very important to ensure free and fair elections and an open and transparent electoral process over the next couple of years, so that what Georgians see in 2013 - a very important moment for Georgia’s democracy - is a fully democratic transition of power. That is why it is so important to focus on some of issues...such as on the importance of transparency in financing for the media; ensuring that everyone plays by the same rules; and ensuring that the electoral code is strengthened to ensure a free and fair electoral process.”

The US wants and expects fair elections to be held in Georgia both parliamentary and presidential. In this sense the US should welcome the emergence of Bidzina Ivanishvili as a political player. His appearance in the political arena shook the National Movement's chances of victory. Ivanishvili’s appearance gave a genuine political alternative to the country and it was quickly quashed by the current government. This fact should raise concerns in the US.

Finally, commenting on Georgia’s NATO membership and the possible granting of MAP to Georgia, Deputy Secretary Burns said: "The United States continues to strongly support Georgia’s aspirations to become a member of NATO. This was most recently reaffirmed at the Lisbon NATO summit. The issue of MAP, as you well know, is a decision that all the Allies in NATO have to make. We will continue to support Georgia’s aspirations to become a member of NATO, just as we support Georgia’s aspirations to integrate more fully into Euro-Atlantic institutions more generally. Georgia can invest in its future and make an even stronger case for itself on the value of integration into the Euro-Atlantic community by developing, over the next several years, the kind of democratic process that the people of Georgia deserve. That is in many ways one of the best advertisements for Georgia’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic community and we will remain strongly supportive of that.”