There is lack of credible and viable opposition in Georgia and both the ruling party and the opposition coalition share the blame, Daniel Fried, the U.S. assistant secretary, told a U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on June 18.
“The United Opposition has claimed that the elections were outright stolen. While we find this argument unconvincing, the Georgian body politic remains deeply polarized,” he said. “As a result, Georgian democracy continues to lack a necessary element – a credible and viable opposition – and the United National Movement [the ruling party] and the United Opposition share the blame for this shortcoming.”
“Without a viable opposition, an empowered, independent parliament and strong, credible judiciary, and a reform process that respects dissenting voices, democracy will not be consolidated.”
He also said that last autumn “large segments” of the Georgian public had expressed “serious dissatisfaction” during protest rallies in Georgia.
“This dissatisfaction stemmed from a combination of continuing poverty and unemployment, a sense the Georgian government had grown disconnected from certain segments of society, and anger over a political system that seemed to be structured to prevent the development of a vibrant opposition,” Fried said.
He said that after breaking up the protest rallies, President Saakashvili responded to the crisis by calling snap presidential elections, the conduct of which “did not fully restore Georgia’s democratic reputation.”
“Georgian leaders and citizens will long argue over whether irregularities skewed the outcome of the election,” he said. “Our assessment, after careful consideration by our Embassy, was that – absent evidence to the contrary – Mikheil Saakashvili had been legitimately re-elected.”
He also said that although the OSCE had yet to produce its final report on the May 21 parliamentary elections, “our assessment at this point is that they were a marked improvement over the January balloting.”