President Saakashvili said he was planning snap presidential elections for January 5 in an attempt to gain the people's “unequivocal mandate” in his drive “to tackle foreign threats.”
President Saakashvili, in accordance with the constitution, have to resign 45 days ahead of polling day.
Parliament Chairperson, Nino Burjanadze, will become an acting president after Saakashvili steps down. Burjanadze will become an acting president for the second time in four years. She assumed the presidential duties in November, 2003 after Eduard Shevardnadze resigned.
Speaking in a live televised address in the evening on November 8 – a day after imposing emergency rule in the country - Saakashvili said he was also proposing to hold a plebiscite in parallel with the snap presidential elections so as to allow the people to decide whether to hold parliamentary polls in spring, as proposed by opposition parties, or in late 2008.
“We have been told recently to hold parliamentary elections in spring, which is totally unacceptable,” he said. “So I want to propose holding presidential elections on January 5, 2008, without any delays, because, as the leader of this country, I need your unequivocal mandate to tackle all the foreign threats, to tackle all types of pressure on Georgia, to tackle attempts at annexing Georgian territory, to tackle plans directed towards destabilizing Georgia.”
“So I propose that you judge and give me your trust and your support for the country’s further strengthening and to show the entire world that the Georgian people can maintain unity despite attempts at destabilizing us.
Plebiscite, according to the law, can be called personally by a president on an issue representing state importance and the outcome of plebiscite has a recommendatory rather than mandatory powers.
To the opposition, Saakashvili said: “Did you demand early polls? You have received even earlier ones. Did you knock on the door of democracy? It is open, because I, as the president of the country, am a guarantor that this door will never be closed.”
The authorities had been refusing to concede to opposition demand for early parliamentary elections, claiming that they did not want the polls in Georgia to coincide with the presidential elections in Russia planned for March next year. The supposed rationale was that there was “a serious risk” that Russia could manipulate the Georgian elections, or even “stage serious provocations” in Georgia for internal Russian consumption on the eve of its presidential elections.
“These [snap] elections will, however, be held according to our timing and not that of our ill-wishers,” Saakashvili said. “So these elections will give us an advantage ahead of the elections in Russia.”
The decision to hold early elections was, according to the president, “a compromise” on his part. “I am giving the opposition the chance to really become the people's choice if you really deserve this,” Saakashvili said.
In response to opposition criticism about his “undemocratic” and “authoritarian style,” Saakashvili said the polls effectively meant his term in office would be cut short even more than earlier proposals envisaged.
Presidential and parliamentary elections, in line with last December's constitutional amendment, were scheduled simultaneously sometime between October and December 2008. The amendment prolonged the term of the sitting Parliament by several months and decreased Saakashvili’s term in office by several months.
“There is no precedent of this type [decreasing the president’s term in office] in our region, or in many other parts of the world,” he said. “I am doing it once more just to underline the fact that there is nothing more important than to demonstrate to the entire world that Georgia is a strong democracy.”
These will be the most democratic, the most transparent and free elections… I call on international organization to send as many observers as possible.
The president insisted that legally it was his perogative to decide when to hold the presidential elections. However, in order to remove any doubt related to the disputed date of the parliamentary elections, Saakashvili said he wanted the voters themselves to decide when they should be held.
“We believe that these [parliamentary] elections should not be held in parallel with the [presidential] elections in Russia,” Saakashvili said. “But I want to hold a plebiscite simultaneously with the presidential elections so as to let the people decide when they want parliamentary elections – in spring or in autumn next year. Do not let the political groups, which are shouting a lot to decide this.”
In his televised address, Saakashvili also spoke about the state of emergency and said that he was not happy with the current restrictions, but it was a necessary move by the state to protect “Georgia’s young democracy” in light of an apparent “conspiracy.”
“Emergency rule will be lifted in a few days because the situation has stabilized in the country as a result of vigorous actions by our law enforcement agencies. Restrictions on activities of various political groups will be lifted,” Saakashvili said.