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Opposition and ruling party sum up Saakashvili’s Presidency

By Mzia Kupunia
Wednesday, January 6
6 years have now passed since Mikheil Saakashvili was elected President of Georgia with an overwhelming majority of votes on January 4, 2004. This election followed the bloodless Rose Revolution against President Eduard Shevardnadze, who resigned on November 23 2003 after Saakashvili and his supporters entered the Parliament building and demanded that he do so.

The opposition, ruling party members and analysts agree that the six years after the revolution have not been straightforward. There have been some positives and negatives in the country’s development since the Rose Revolution, the Parliamentary opposition suggests.

Nika Laliashvili, a member of the leading opposition party in Parliament, the Christian Democratic Movement, said that some significant positive changes have been made during Saakashvili’s term of office. “I would highlight first of all the defeat of corruption. Citizens barely encounter corruption now, as compared with previous years,” Laliashvili said. “The crime situation in the country has also improved, and we have seen a huge improvement in the infrastructure and energy systems. These points are very important for the country. Georgia has become closer to NATO and the US, and the country now has very clear pro-Western orientation," he added.

Davit Berdzenishvili, a member the non-Parliamentary opposition Republican Party, part of the Alliance for Georgia, said that regaining control over the Adjara Autonomous Republic on May 6, 2004 had been one of the positive aspects of Saakashvili’s Presidency. “Unfortunately this remains Saakashvili’s one and only real success,” Berdzenishvili said.

Ruling National Movement members suggested that the main achievement of the Rose Revolution has been reestablishing the “disintegrated” sense of statehood in Georgian politicians and ordinary citizens. MP Nugzar Tsiklauri told The Messenger that the Government has managed to replace the criminal outlook which had prevailed. “The country was being governed by a group of criminals, the Rose Revolution managed to defeat corruption in Georgia and this was the basis for all its other achievements, including the improvement of infrastructure and resolving of energy problems,” Tsiklauri said.

One of Saakashvili’s greatest achievements had been “properly handling” the 4-month long demonstrations in the centre of Tbilisi, analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze said. “An unprecedented number of people came out into the streets demanding Saakashvili’s resignation. The opposition was expecting two possible developments: either Saakashvili would resign after pressure from the population or he would use force against the demonstrators. However, Saakashvili and his team managed to walk a path between these two extremes. He did not repeat his mistake of November 7, 2007. It was the right strategy which Saakashvili chose," Sakvarelidze added.

Both Parliamentary and non-Parliamentary opposition members cited the August war in 2008 as Saakashvili’s biggest mistake. “The August war was a very serious step back for Georgia,” Nika Laliashvili of the CDM told The Messenger. Georgia has never been as far from NATO as it is now, Davit Berdzenishvili said. “20 percent of our territory is occupied and recognised as independent states by Russia. This means that the situation in terms of Georgia’s breakaway regions is worse than it was before the August 2008 war,” he noted.

“All of this, as well as the November 7, 2007 events when police used force against peaceful demonstrators and the rigged elections make Saakashvili a worse President than the two previous ones, who were also not good. However it was not so hard to be better than Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Eduard Shevardnadze,” Berdzenishvili said.

Ramaz Sakvarelidze also put the August war at the top of Saakashvili’s mistakes list. “No matter how honourable the intentions of the Georgian Government were during the August war, the results of the conflict were negative in terms of Georgia’s territorial integrity. The international community also distanced itself from Georgia to some extent after the 2008 war,” Sakvarelidze suggested. “Georgia made some progress in the international arena during the first period of the Rose Revolution Government’s rule. US President Bush’s visit was one of the indications of this progress, however the August war overshadowed all previous achievements,” he said.

Ruling party officials downplayed the opposition’s criticism over the Russian-Georgian conflict in 2008. “Russia has been attacking Georgia’s sovereignty and independence for 20 years, since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The August war was Russia’s assault on Georgia and I am proud that Georgia managed to resist this attack,” Nugzar Tsiklauri said. “The August war days will go down Georgian history as sacred days and I am sure that the lives of the Georgian soldiers who fell during the war will become the basis of Georgia’s unity,” he added.

The opposition and analysts suggest that Saakashvili, whose second term expires in 2013, should take steps towards strengthening “real democracy” in the country through the democratisation of the Georgian media and improvement of the electoral and court systems.