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Interview: Davit Usupashvili

By Messenger Staff
Friday, May 2
Is the Republican Party too moderate for Georgia?

The Republicans, known more for thoughtful policy offers than headline-grabbing campaigning, left the nine-party opposition coalition in March. They are now competing for seats both against the government and the opposition bloc they stood with in the January presidential election.

Part of a significant faction in the current parliament, they risk being stranded in the middle if a polarized electorate sees this month’s parliamentary elections as government versus the nine-party coalition.

The Messenger spoke with party leader Davit Usupashvili last week:

TM: Some of your former allies in the nine-party opposition coalition have warned of a violent rebellion if the parliamentary elections are rigged. Will you disavow that aggressive rhetoric?

DU: I believe the opposition leaders who are stressing possible mass protests after election day have grounds for such thinking.

When we analyze this situation, probably we Republicans come to the conclusion that, unfortunately, the government is leading the process to that end; however, we believe that politicians must try to avoid such things.

And we do not plan such things—we believe it’s our job to try to change the government through the elections…

But at the same time we saw Georgian people acting very peacefully [at protests]: they never crossed, we never crossed, any line of any law. And I believe if there will be anything [after the election], there will be something like that.

As for the aggressive rhetoric, it is a reflection of the problems which the government created.

Despite many rounds of talks, the electoral legislation was not amended properly…to ensure trust to the electoral administration. And [on April 22] we saw the CEC in action, when they falsified [registration] papers presented by the National Movement. [See ‘First OSCE pre-election report cites campaign concerns,’ p. 5]

… [The CEC is] not there for ensuring free competition. They are there for ensuring the victory of the ruling party.

The other issue was the electoral system, which was changed by the government in the last minutes, despite an agreement which was reflected in written documents. In such a situation, an aggressive attitude from the opposition should not be surprising.

…Therefore if things go as they go now, we will witness full radicalization of the situation.

The Republican Party tried for thirty years to achieve a civilized political process, in which we could compete with other political groups.

Have you given up?

No. We wanted—and we want—to talk about…solutions [to] concrete problems, but unfortunately such elections never came to Georgia, and these elections will not be the exception. But we hope for the future.

You said something very interesting five years ago in a speech for Radio Liberty:

‘After 13 years of independence, what keeps Georgia together is the common cultural and national identity of Georgians—not their common identity as citizens. This means we have failed to develop citizens' ownership of statehood. For the majority of the population, Georgia is their motherland, not their state. They are attached to it emotionally, not rationally. They love it, but they do not own it.’

Is it the same situation today?

I’d repeat these words. I’d repeat these words, with one note: four years ago, after the Rose Revolution, the Georgian people received a chance to make big progress, and to transform its motherland into its state. But unfortunately, the team led by [President Mikheil] Saakashvili denied the people [that opportunity]…

[The Saakashvili administration] did not promote self-governance and local governance, for example, where people will find very concrete ties between individuals and government as such. Instead, this team abolished elected bodies on the city and the village level, which was a huge mistake—not only for now, but for future as well.

The attitude of the government [could] be expressed like this: ‘We discovered the truth, we know what the country needs, and that’s what we are doing. And nobody else matters if they have [a] different opinion.’

Looking ahead to your ideal scenario, let’s say you are part of the majority in the next parliament. You have said the Republicans will work with the parliamentary speaker or the prime minister, but not the president—even on issues of national security. If you are in the majority, will you work with the president?

Well, the issue of the legitimacy of the president of this country is under [question].

… This issue left the space of law and is in the space of politics. Because legally, Mr. Saakashvili is considered [to be] president of Georgia… He was inaugurated and he is in office, he is issuing legal acts, signs laws; therefore, in legal terms, [whether] I like it or not, he is the president from a legal point of view.

However, in countries like Georgia, not only legal issues determine the fates of president or parliament or so on. Because political legitimacy is necessary in order to give the opportunity to the elected person or entity to fulfill its own term.

I believe if the elections, these coming elections, are conducted in a free and democratic way, the Republican Party would deal with the problem of the January 5 presidential elections, and the problems we had in November, for example.

We will deal with that problem through amending the constitution and decreasing significantly the power of the president.

The 2004 constitutional amendments handing strong power to the presidency was a major source of contention.

Yeah. That was major issue. So, if these parliamentary elections are [free and fair], and we are in majority, our direction will be changing the constitution model.

…[We will] concentrate the executive power in the hands of the government of the prime minister, [who] will be determined [by the elections]… We’ll have a president with the functions of head of state, and if Saakashvili agrees on that, I could think of some kind of co-habitation with him, despite the things he has done during last years.

There’s another way, which is the way of impeaching the president. Which will not be number one choice for us, but it could be number two choice, if Saakashvili resists somehow the outcome of the elections, or [prevents] the winner [from taking] power in the government and in parliament. Then the number two choice is impeachment of the president.

… These things [are completely] conditional on the outcome of the elections. Not in the figures, but in terms of the level of its fairness and democracy.

Do you have expectations of its level of fairness and democracy?

Today is April 25, and things which have happened so far could be considered as not fair and not free… The chances of having worse elections than [the presidential election] are quite high.

Since the January presidential election, there have been substantive amendments to the electoral code. What problems remain?

I cannot think of substantive improvements there. I can give you one example. Now I’m sitting here [looks at watch] and we have thirty minutes in order to submit complaints about registering the National Movement party list, which happened [last] night. We [still] do not have the decision in written [form], but at 6 p.m., time expires for submitting complaints to the courts.

The law before was giving us three days. Now we have one day only. And we need to do it, as I said, in a couple of minutes now, without having the decision which we are complaining about.

So the electoral system is worsened. The only [difference] is that on the district level, the opposition [can appoint electoral commissioners], but the majority still belongs to the government.

I cannot think of any major issue which was addressed by international community or opposition [that] they have put in the code.

Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.