Mikheil Saakashvili said he was launching his election campaign on November 25 and added he “will need not just a victory, but a remarkable, convincing victory” in the January 5 early presidential polls.
President Saakashvili told the new cabinet in a televised session that the next forty days would be “full of challenges” for the country and January 5 would be “a very important test.”
“We are starting the election campaign tomorrow and the parliamentary chairperson [Nino Burjanadze] will assume presidential duties for forty days. I will be engaged in the election campaign,” he said.
Although he did not actually say he was stepping down on November 25, his remarks have been interpreted as indicating his intention to resign on Sunday. Parliament will then have to be convened within 48 hours to officially sanction the date of the early presidential elections – January 5.
Nino Burjanadze will become the acting president for the second time in four years. She assumed presidential duties after the 2003 Rose Revolution after Eduard Shevardnadze’s resignation.
“We have asked our people for a renewed democratic mandate and to let us on January 5 continue governing the country with a stronger democratic mandate,” Saakashvili said. “Not only do we need a new mandate, but we need a strong mandate, which will also further strengthen the country’s international position.”
Before launching the election campaign, Saakashvili tasked his government with implementing a number of measures to ensure a smooth and painless “transition period” before polling day.
“First of all we should provide security and public order and prevent all types of provocations. We are absolutely sure there will be attempted [provocations], but our security structures are fully prepared to prevent this and to prevent problems in respect of public order,” he said.
The nine-party opposition coalition is due to stage a protest rally on November 25 in Tbilisi to demand the reopening of Imedi TV.
In an apparent allusion to the Imedi TV issue, President Saakashvili said: “We should also ensure freedom of all media outlets, assuming that the law is observed.”
“Of course, all these measures should be undertaken to protect democracy against anti-democratic forces and those advocating the use of force. The Georgian government has already done much in this respect and we intend to take very serious measures and adhere to a very firm position in this regard both before and after the elections.”
The Georgian authorities claim that the recent anti-government demonstrations were part of a Russian-backed coup attempt, financed by business tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili and incited by Imedi TV, co-owned by Patarkatsishvili.
Saakashvili also said that all political parties would be given “democratic opportunities” to carry out their election campaigns.
“This is a period full of challenges,” he said. “But I am sure we will show the entire world our peacefulness. And we will also demonstrate that Georgia has a government capable of controlling the situation, particularly in the run up to the election, the most heated period.”
He also instructed the government to immediately implement all planned social assistance programs.
“Your activities will be observed in detail,” Saakashvili told ministers. “Not only will ministers be under scrutiny , but also mid-level government structures.”