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President in Parliament: pros and cons

By Messenger Staff
Monday, March 1
On February 26 Mikheil Saakashvili made his sixth annual appearance in Parliament as President. His speech highlighted his successes as usual. Even conduct the public is rightly concerned by, such as the abuse of independent TV stations, he described as a manifestation of his success. Consequently the Parliamentary and non-Parliamentary opposition immediately declared that they fundamentally disagreed with what the President had said. The speech clearly demonstrated that there are two entirely different conceptions of reality on either side of the political divide which make dialogue between the conflicting sides quite difficult.

There is a popular tale about how you tell the difference between an optimist and a pessimist. The pessimist says a glass is half empty, the optimist calls the same glass half full, but there is the same quantity of liquid in there no matter what. The facts are the facts, the difference is merely in what you make of them.

In his speech Saakashvili mentioned that a culture of holding political debates has developed in Georgia and criticism of the Government is quite often heard on TV. Significantly, after his speech the President stayed to listen to the opposition criticism of it and even made a final speech himself, in which he was notably more circumspect. Saakashvili said that 2008 had been dramatic for the country and 2009 also quite hard. He said that three problems had devastated Georgia like a tsunami, the August war of 2008, the world economic crisis and the political unrest of spring-summer 2009. However he highlighted that Georgia had managed to retain its statehood and had not plunged into chaos as it had at the beginning of the nineties of the last century. For this he thanked the opposition, while mentioning that a repeat of its actions may bear very serious risks. The opposition however did not agree with this conclusion.

The media and analysts stressed that Saakashvili's report did not contain much about foreign relations or the prospects of restoring territorial integrity. One of the opposition leaders, Nino Burjanadze, declared that Saakashvili clearly thinks that he will not be able to regain Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. “He did not say a word about a strategy for developing the country or joining NATO or the EU,” Burjanadze pointed out. On the other hand Saakashvili highlighted in detail the economic and political situation in the country and stated that the new wave of democracy promised some time ago is here. He cited as evidence of this the fact that a commission is working on a new constitution, the courts have become more independent, the election environment has improved, political party development has been promoted and freedom of the media has increased. Immediately the opposition challenged this, stating that there is no democratic progress in the country and we are far away from the situation the President said he wants to see, in which the side defeated at the elections simply accepts the result as fair and congratulates the winner on its victory.

The opposition said that if the forthcoming elections are not conducted in a fair manner serious protests could follow. Overall the speech and the reaction to it showed that the administration and the opposition are talking different languages. The opposition thinks that Saakashvili is far from reality and projects whatever suits his own purposes as reality. The administration for its part thinks that the opposition looks that everything through dark glasses.

The essence of Saakashvili’s speech, which reflects the general tenor of his administration, is this: a change of leadership will eventually occur but more slowly than you imagine. This, it is clear, does not suit the opposition which wants a change in the governance of the country as soon as possible.