Although both the ruling United National Movement (UNM) party and the Georgian Dream say their key figures are ready for live TV debates ahead of the October 1 parliamentary elections, Georgia’s two major political forces fail to agree on the format.
Ruling party offers debates between PM Vano Merabishvili and Bidzina Ivanishvili, the leader of Georgian Dream and its prime ministerial candidate.
But Ivanishvili says Merabishvili is not the right person to debate with and insists on sitting down with President Saakashvili, who is the chairman of UNM.
After Ivanishvili challenged on August 20 Saakashvili to one-on-one televised debates or as an alternative offered to come face to face with a group of several leading ruling party and government figures, UNM announced that the debates should take place between prime ministerial candidates and top party-list MP candidates.
UNM said parliamentary chairman Davit Bakradze would lead its party-list in the October 1 elections and PM Merabishvili would again be named as UNM’s prime ministerial candidate after the elections.
According to the constitution after the October elections, the government and PM will have to resign and President Saakashvili will have to present new cabinet or re-submit the one existing at the time to the newly elected Parliament for confidence vote. Prime Minister’s powers will remain the same after the parliamentary elections; PM’s authority will only increase significantly, becoming the country’s leader, when the new constitution goes into effect after the presidential elections in late 2013. Merabishvili was confirmed by the Parliament as PM in July with his government’s four-year program. The ruling party remains noncommittal whether it would like to see Merabishvili as its prime ministerial candidate beyond 2013 presidential elections.
Ivanishvili says that if the ruling party declares Merabishvili as a figure whom it wants to see as PM after 2013 presidential elections, he will sit down with Merabishvili in TV debates now. “Otherwise it won’t be even interesting for the public to listen our debates,” he told journalists on August 21.
Speaking about Merabishvili, Ivanishvili said that by appointing him as PM in July, President Saakashvili actually “demoted him and he no longer has the same powers” he used to have when he was the Interior Minister.
“I have said for number of time that I respect Vano, but [debates with him] will not work,” Ivanishvili said and added that currently he and Merabishvili were not of “same weight.”
Ivanishvili, however, also said that although he was not going to debate one-on-one with Merabishvili, he was ready to sit down with the Prime Minister if at least six other ruling party and government figures also participate in the same TV debates against him. He also said that his primary goal was to debate with President Saakashvili and added that would “make things easier for him [Saakashvili] and will not ask question about his mistakes” and would only talk about the country’s future perspective.
After these remarks by Ivanishvili, the ruling party reiterated its position on TV debates,
“UNM’s prime ministerial candidate, Vano Merabishvili, is ready to participate in the debates and we hope that the Georgian Dream’s candidate, Bidzina Ivanishvili, will not shun away from this challenge and will accept this offer and challenge Mr. Merabishvili in debates in the Georgian Public Broadcaster,” MP Chiora Taktakishvili, ruling party’s spokesperson, said on August 21, stressing that as far as these were parliamentary elections it would be more appropriate to have debates between prime ministerial candidates and top party-list MP candidates.
She also said that Ivanishvili’s position to have debates between him and several ruling party and government officials “is not serious”, which would not contribute to allowing voters make informed choice.