President Saakashvili has proposed lowering the electoral threshold, restricting presidential powers and prolonging Parliament’s term in office from four to five years.
Saakashvili said, during a meeting with lawmakers from his ruling National Movement Party on October 16, the initiatives were aimed at strengthening “political culture” and “the culture of political debates.”
He also said that the authorities wanted to engage in constructive dialogue with the opposition, but complained that the opposition was “destructive.”
Saakashvili made it clear that his initiatives were aimed less at current opposition groups and more at helping new political voices emerge.
“One of the main problems in Georgia is the weakness, a real weakness, of the opposition, and I think you have witnessed it in recent days,” Saakashvili told his ruling party.
“So I propose – although I know this is not popular among some in the parliament - to decrease the election threshold [from the current 7%] to 5%, to restrict presidential powers in terms of dissolving Parliament, and to extend Parliament’s term in office from four to five years, so as to avoid holding presidential and parliamentary elections at different times and instead hold them simultaneously every five years.”
The current practice is for the president to dissolve Parliament if it has failed to approve the state budget after three attempts, or failed to endorse the cabinet in three consecutive votes of confidence. Lawmakers from the ruling party said after the meeting with the president that appropriate constitutional amendments would be proposed next week.
“Why are we proposing this? Not for the sake of the current opposition. I’ll tell you sincerely, I hope that new political groups will emerge in Georgia, which will be able to clear the 5% electoral threshold and which will become our worthy partners in developing political culture in the country. I hope we will achieve this. I hope new political forces will emerge, which will understand that the country’s interests should prevail over personal ambitions.”
Saakashvili then continued by saying that his “democratic initiatives” were designed to ensure that “even the smallest political group in Georgia should have a chance to be part of the huge reconstruction process, and be part of progress.”
“I think we have a chance to achieve this. I think there are many intellectual people in Georgia, including in the opposition, capable of creating the rules of the game, which will be different from the current ones.”
He also said that “some foreign” experts were recommending to him to artificially create opposition by splitting his ruling party. “Sorry, but Georgia is not a country where the opposition is appointed,” Saakashvili said.
The president also said that the authorities needed “dialogue, permanent exchange of opinions” on such vital issues as the country’s territorial integrity and integration into NATO.
“Even a small [political] group can be a valuable ally for us on these issues. So we offer our hand in cooperation to everyone.”
“Political opposition is very important,” Saakashvili said. “We need good competitors, because it will make us stronger.”
“We think that opposition is very important. We have democracy, some can talk, others can only swear. It won’t harm us in terms of garnering votes, but this is bad for the country and the country’s political culture suffers when swearing and political lies become the only instrument in the hands of one part of the opposition. It makes them weak in elections, but it also makes the country weak. So I wish the opposition would be constructive and stronger to a certain extent.”
“Unfortunately, the messages [the opposition politicians] are sending are in most cases very destructive and this is not good for the country. No matter how small these groups are we need partners in dialogue.”
He also said that the opposition had a good chance and conditions to compete with his government.
“If I were an opposition leader – I would have failed to defeat this government - but I would have been a serious competitor nonetheless. But now I am not going to give advice [to the opposition]. We can give them opportunities, but we won’t give them advice.”
Instead of competing with the government, he said, the opposition was trying “to stage a revolution every six months.”
“They want to catch the train, which has already departed and which is already so far away that it is even impossible to catch it even with a Formula 1 car. So these attempts are very wrong and inappropriate,” he said.
Saakashvili, however, also said: “Tickets are still available on our train. We do not want to exclude anyone.”
Saakashvili also spoke about, what he called, “oligarch groups” in his 25-minute speech.
“An entire industry of lies has been put into operation against us,” Saakashvili said. “An entire team of people is fabricating lies about Saakashvili, [Parliamentary Speaker Nino] Burjanadze and all of you, like it was in Russia in the 90s.”
Then he recalled Kakha Bendukidze, the state minister in charge of reforms (who amassed considerable wealth in Russia during the 90s), once telling him how the owner of an unspecified TV station in Russia had attempted to blackmail him, demanding money, otherwise threatening him with compromising material. Saakashvili said that there was an attempt to replicate this approach in Georgia as well.
“This is their [oligarchs’] style of work, copied from the oligarchs of Russia. But they can not understand one thing: I am not [1990’s Russian President Boris] Yeltsin and Georgia is not Russia. They have to deal with another type of people here,” Saakashvili said. “We share political power with the Georgian people, but we are not going to share political power with some oligarchs. I will not let it happen.”
The remarks were made in an apparent reference to business and media tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, who is the center of the current political standoff between the opposition and the authorities. His TV station, Imedi, is sympathetic towards the opposition.
Saakashvili also asked his ruling party “to immediately approve” proposed amendments to the 2007 state budget, citing the need to launch a social assistance program for socially vulnerable people.
The government has proposed a further increase in state spending for 2007 of GEL 350 million (about USD 212 million); the lion’s share, however, is again going on defense – GEL 224 million. GEL 92 million is envisaged for a one-time social assistance program.