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Alasania, opposition continue to interpret "formal transfer of power"

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, February 3
The phrase "formal transfer of power," spoken by President Barack Obama while meeting with his Georgian counterpart, has ricocheted around Georgia thanks to the heightened tensions of the pre-election period. The latest opposition leader to weigh in is Iraklia Alasania of Our Georgia - Free Democrats.

Alasania acknowledged the importance of the meeting for the country as a whole, not merely for the Saakashvili administration. The recognition of Georgia's contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan have not gone unnoticed, and the potential for "Georgia’s participation in military/political alliances is still open," - something that Alasania sees as positive.

However, he highlighted one fundamental issue on which he says all others hinge: the "holding of democratic elections and a peaceful and democratic transfer of power." Alasania read in Obama's comments a "statement made by the President of the United States [that] included doubt, expectation and demand at the same time".

Alasania cited his experience as a diplomat, saying that it is what was said behind closed doors that is most important. "I had meetings in the United States in December and it is already recognized there, in the political establishment, that Saakashvili is to behave like George Washington and not like Vladimir Putin. This is what the U.S. wants from Saakashvili".

Differing interpretations of the meeting have been offered by Georgian politicians and commentators alike. Like Alasania, most opposition leaders believe that the take-away message of the meeting was Obama's expectation of free and democratic elections. Meanwhile, government representatives view the meeting as an appreciation of the successful reforms carried out by the current leadership.

Political analyst Soso Ttsiskarishvili points out that Obama's choice of words is uncomplicated, "It is nothing but a legitimate transfer of power, official, as happens in civilized states". He believes that Georgia will have a new president in 2013, but is unsure if Saakashvili will seek the Prime Minister's position, Chair of Parliament, or some strategy not yet announced. "I think that more attractive for Saakashvili would be some serious international engagement, however, his team here will oppose his leaving the country, as Saakashvili is the foundation of the United National Movement," he remarked.

Giorgi Mamulia, an analyst in Caucasian issues, says that the goal of Obama's meeting with Saakashvili was so the U.S. could hold Georgia up as a role model for former communist states, as well as illustrate how poorly Russia has fared since the collapse of the Soviet Union. However flattering a comparison that may be, Mamulia also noted that "When [there is] major opposition demand in Russia to change the government through democratic elections... it is important Georgia demonstrate [they can] change the authorities in a similar way".