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Public TV hosts debates with presidential candidates

By Tatia Megeneishvili
Monday, October 21
On October 17 -18, Georgia’s Public Broadcaster (GPB) hosted two TV debates between the presidential candidates. Only qualified subjects participated in the debates, those who were represented by the political parties that receive state funding.

In the debate on October 17, the participants were Giorgi Margvelashvili from the Georgian Dream, Davit Bakradze from the United National Movement; Giorgi Targamadze from the Christian Democrats and Zurab Kharatishvili, Georgia’s European Democrats.

One more visible candidate of this presidential race Nino Burjanadze was absent because the setting under which GPB organized the debates excluded the former-speaker of parliament from facing Margvelashvili and Bakradze in the live televised debates. She was invited to debate with another group of candidates on October 18. She said GPB organized the debates in this way on purpose, in order to not let her participate. She wanted to debate with Margvelashvili, but called the format of the debates "a parody" and "a staged show."

The first debate was between candidates with higher ratings. All four were made aware of the questions a day before the debates, so they could prepare. They also had an opportunity to ask each other questions, so their answers to each of the four questions asked by a moderator were pre-prepared. The questions were about foreign policy, territorial integrity, unemployment and how the candidate plans to work with the government.

The debates became lively when it came to a brief question and answer session between the candidates. Verbal exchanges followed after Targamadze asked Margvelashvili why GD was against of CDM-proposed bill increasing official minimum subsistence level, which is now hovering around GEL 150 per month, to GEL 250. Margvelashvili responded that a proposal about the legislative amendment on the increase of the subsistence level is pure populism.

Margvelashvili said that his main priority is Euro-Atlantic integration. “Along with this priority we managed to quite effectively lower the very high temperature with the Russian Federation,” stated Margvelashvili, adding that despite difficulties, the government managed to achieve progress with Russia on trade issues and not slow the process of Euro-Atlantic integration.

Bakradze said that the previous authorities laid the foundation for Georgia’s success in the upcoming EU Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, during which Tbilisi expects to initial Association Agreement with the EU. He said that he is in favor of dialogue with Russia, but in this process, Georgia should not show any sign of weakness. “The current government is sending signs of weakness and hesitation,” Bakradze said. “We cannot afford to have an inexperienced person as the president.”

On the territorial integrity issue, Margvelashvili said that Georgia should continue promoting the non-recognition policy of the “quasi-states” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. “In order to create the preconditions for the country’s integration, but not conquering these territories, we must create a country where citizens aren’t running away. We will build a state where the rights of every citizen, their interests and traditions will be protected. We will create a country that is interesting for our Abkhaz and S. Ossetian friends,” Margvelashvili added.

Targamadze said Georgia should mount pressure on Russia in the international arena. Kharatishvili said that with respect to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia has to deal with Russia and its puppet regimes in Sokhumi and Tskhinvali. He said there is actually a nationalistic apartheid in these breakaway regions. He criticized government’s policies regarding these regions, calling them passive.

Speaking about the country’s economy, Margvelashvili repeated Prime Minister Ivanishvili’s words that the first year of Georgian Dream’s government will be hard, next year a serious breakthrough is expected and the real results will be from 2015.

Bakradze said that every statistic confirms the economic situation has been worsening daily from October 2012. Kaharatishvili remarked that neither the United National Movement governments of the past nor the current one have had a well-prepared economic policy. Targamadze focused on his party’s proposals which involve increasing the minimum wage.

On the question of cooperation between the president and the government under the new constitution, Bakradze said that, if elected, his major role will be to provide oversight of government’s policy and the fulfillment of pledged promises.

Margvelashvili said that the slogans of some of his opponents, like providing oversight of the government’s policies or restoring justice, are misleading because the president does not have such constitutional powers.

Kharatishvili said that in his capacity as the CEC chairman, he was able to have cooperation with all the political forces and will be able to do the same if elected as president.

Targamadze said that he thinks that it is a lie what Margvelashvili says in his campaign speeches- that if elected as president he will use all the available means to hold the early parliamentary elections and political cohabitation will be over with the October 27 presidential election.