President Saakashvili delivered annual state of the nation address in Parliament, followed by remarks of ruling party MPs and rebuttal speeches by parliamentary minority lawmakers.
Key points of President Saakashvili’s address:
- Saakashvili launched the address with expressing condolences to the family members (who are present in the Parliament chamber) of late Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died in crash during practice run hours before the opening of Vancouver Olympic Games;
- This is my sixth state of the nation address… throughout these years we had many successes, but there were failures as well;
- Our major goal was moving towards creation of modern, European Georgian state;
- Russian intervention; global economic crisis and last year’s April-May internal political tensions [referring to opposition's street protest rallies] – these were three major developments that hit our country in recent years. These were like Tsunami waves… triggering economic contraction, making lives of people worse;
- 2009 was the year of tough test – question we were facing was whether or not we would have maintained the Georgian statehood… Our society has answered this question in such a way, like any dignified nation would have done it;
- Despite the threats of returning back to chaos, we managed to maintain order in the country… and to maintain the Georgian statehood; this is thanks to multiethnic people of Georgia; this gratitude belongs to each patriotic political party… each and every Georgian citizen of any ethnicity; to policemen and soldiers;
- We have passed tough tests we faced in 2008 and in 2009; although final recovery is not yet achieved, we can state today that downward movement is stopped and despite multiple difficulties we are on the way towards recovery; we already have positive figures in every sector of economy;
- 2010 will be the year of recovery;
- We will have at least 3% economic growth this year, but I hope the growth will be higher than that;
- The major focus will be made on continuation of liberal economic reforms; this policy helped us to put Georgia on radars of foreign investors;
- We can achieve economic recovery only through liberal economic policy;
- Georgia is on the right track; there are lots of opportunities, it is now important to work hard;
- Georgia will never turn away from this track of liberalism;
- Foreign direct investment was at least USD 700 million in 2009;
- Several years ago Georgia was one of the most energy dependent countries [in terms of having one major energy supplier, referring to Russia]; the promise has been delivered and now Georgia’s energy sources are diversified and Georgia is one of the most independent countries in the world in terms of energy supplies;
- We are exporting electricity to Russia and we will start exporting electricity to Iran and to Iraq as well;
- There is a huge poverty in the Georgian villages; providing proper infrastructure in rural areas remains my major goal and we have already started these projects;
- We have seen 25% increase in export of agriculture products, despite the fact that we have lost the Russian market;
- I have no doubt one day we will have air traffic with Moscow and normal cooperative relations. Yes, it won't be a flight for 37 roubles [like it was in Soviet times], but believe me it's much better to pay market price to fly to Moscow and go there as free Europeans, than to pay a low price and have the status of provincial vassal;
- We are launching second wave of education system reform; the first wave of reform was about creating basic education infrastructure; in frames of second wave the focus is now made on increasing of level of education;
- Certification of teachers on the voluntary basis will be carried out, but those who will undergo certification, will receive higher salaries;
- Quotas will be allocated in universities for national minority groups, that will encourage their integration to the society;
- Georgian healthcare needs further development and recovery. We cannot wait for the period of the next boom. Hence, the government has developed a new program, according to which along with the private sector, one of the major investors will be the state – at the first stage construction of new, world standard hospitals will be launched throughout Tbilisi, where 11 new clinics will be located. The state will build and then transfer them to the ownership and management of the personnel of those hospitals. It does not mean that the state will interfere in management of hospital sector. Our position is that healthcare should develop on private initiatives. But by this decision we will only support and speed up the creation of high standard hospitals for out people;
- 2010 should be the year of political recovery as well;
- I presented to you [in September, 2008] a plan of new wave of democratic reforms and I want to report now about its implementation;
- As promised, the state commission on constitutional reform is actively working; the goal is to have stronger democratic institutions;
- President no longer appoints judges; President is no longer a member of Supreme Council of Justice ; opposition members already have seats in the Supreme Council of Justice;
- As a result of reforms public confidence towards the judiciary has increased two-fold; the judiciary system is on a right track;
- Introduction of jury system – this promise has also been delivered. I am very proud, that the first jury trial will be held this year in Georgia. (Parliament last October passed new criminal procedure code, which will go into force from October, 2010, envisaging among other things introduction of jury system. Jury trials will be conducted only in capital Tbilisi at the first stage and apply only to homicide cases);
- I promised to work on electoral code reform together with the opposition and this promise has been kept; there is a new chairman of the Central Election Commission; the promise to have direct mayoral election of Tbilisi is also kept;
- The forthcoming self-government elections will be a significant test for our democracy and civil culture;
- I want to warn every public official: secure holding of elections in maximally free and democratic environment;
- I want to tell our European partners: with these elections we want to get closer to Europe, so I ask you to send observers to monitor not only election day but also pre-election period;
- I promised state funding of political parties and this promise has also been kept;
- Opposition has been engaged in the work of National Security Council;
- Media pluralism was important part of the second wave of democratic reform and opposition members were able to take seat in Georgian National Communication Commission; the board of public broadcaster has been reformed and political programming has been launched on public broadcaster's Second Channel;
- All television stations are operating in the condition of tax debt, especially the ones in provincial regions;
- So I offer to declare tax amnesty for all the television stations in the provincial regions;
- Last spring we have unprecedented event in the Caucasus - we ended street protest rallies without violence;
- Let each and every political party contribute to holding of free and democratic elections this spring; is not it time for a civilized politics?
- Let us hold elections this spring so that the defeated party congratulates the winner;
- In foreign policy integration to EU and NATO is our goal; it will not be an easy road.
- We know that the Georgian nation is undefeatable and the enemy knows it too;
- Of course one can always find several Georgians who are undignified and will kiss bloody boots of [the enemy]; but I want the enemies of the freedom to know that Georgia is country of dignified people;
- Despite bullying and threats, Georgia will never kneel down and will never surrender;
After a short break following the President’s 90-minute long address, lawmakers from the parliamentary minority and majority groups took the floor:
MP Petre Mamradze (who is not a member of a formal parliamentary minority group) of ex-PM Zurab Nogaideli’s Movement for Fair Georgia said he was not in the list of speakers, although he had requested. Parliamentary Chairman, Davit Bakradze, told him that his request was submitted too late and it was not possible to arrange his inclusion in the list of speakers. After that MP Mamradze walked out of the chamber.
In her speech MP Magda Anikashvili of Christian-Democratic Movement (a leading party in the parliamentary minority group) mainly spoke on social issues, focusing on socially vulnerable people and need for setting clear criteria for identifying such people, so that to rule out situation wherein some might be excluded from the list of those eligible for state assistance. She proposed free healthcare for children under 7 years old. She said “price limits” should be established on major medicines.
MP Guram Chakhvadze of National-Democratic Movement (member of parliamentary minority) told the President that only a narrow circle of people associated with the government benefit from the authorities’ economic policies. He also called on the President “to stand above your [ruling] party interest” and be a guarantor of holding free and fair elections.
MP Dimitri Lortkipanidze, an individual member of parliamentary minority, raised issue of high-profile murder cases in which officials were alleged to be either involved or trying to cover them up.
MP Jondi Bagaturia, leader of Georgian Troupe also focused on social issues and among other things called on the President to increase minimal monthly pensions to GEL 150; write-off debt accumulated as result unpaid communal tariffs; he also called on the President to say no to “zero tolerance”, which he said led to prison overcrowding.
MP Giorgi Tsagareishvili listed names of those opposition activists and supporters who were attacked and beaten at the time when street protest rallies were ongoing in Tbilisi. “Who were those people committing those crimes? I will hand this list to you and look through this list of these people who were attacked,” MP Tsagareishvili said. He also demanded from the President to make his special fund transparent.
In his speech MP Pavle Kublashvili of the ruling party called on the opposition politicians not to focus only on negative and “also to note the positive deeds that is being done in the country.” He said it would an expression of high political culture.
MP Gia Tortladze, leader of Democratic Party of Georgia and a member of parliamentary minority, started his speech with condemning “collaborationism” of some opposition leaders – referring to ex-PM Zurab Nogaideli’s Movement for Fair Georgia party - with the Russian occupying force. “It must be condemned by everyone in Georgia,” MP Tortladze said. In his speech MP Tortladze also criticized France for its plans to sell warship to Russia. “If it happens my party will launch protest rallies outside [the French] embassy,” he said. He welcomed “positive trends” in the judicially system.
MP Giorgi Akhvlediani of Christian-Democratic Movement welcomed the initiative to provide tax amnesty to television stations in the provinces. He, however, told the President that he had failed “to establish the Georgian statehood.” He said that because of wrong economic policies number of socially vulnerable people had increased. He also criticized the President for not introducing direct mayoral elections in other major cities of Georgia;
MP Giorgi Gabashvili of the ruling party said the opposition lawmakers’ speeches “lacked arguments” and were “totally inappropriate.” “Debates should be more fact-based,” he said. Apparently alluding to Nogaideli’s party he said that there still were “forces” in Georgia, which “do not want the country’s independent development course.”
MP Giorgi Targamadze, leader of Christian-Democratic Movement and of parliamentary minority said that President Saakashvili created system in which he ruled the country unilaterally. He said on foreign policy front there are series of failures and cited closure of OSCE and UN missions. He also said planned reopening of Zemo Larsi-Kazbegi border crossing point with Russia was a source of concern. “There is crisis of values in the opposition,” he said. “But there is even bigger crisis within the authorities, which have no values at all,” he said and added that Nogaideli served for years as PM in the Saakashvili’s administration. He also told Saakashvili: “Distance from the ruling party and be the President of each citizen of Georgia.” He offered to decrease defense spending at a level of GDP’s 3%. “It will help to save GEL 170 million, which will be enough for business stimulus projects,” he said. He also told the President: “You have turned your back on democracy.”
In his closing remarks President Saakashvili said:
- In overall the level of parliamentary debates is increasing from year to year; this is thanks to all of us; here is a gathering of thinkers;
- Everyone knows that no one has taken anything home from the presidential fund (responding to MP Tsagareishvili call to make spending from presidential fund transparent);
- The government is in service of people and they have no weekends; of course it can always be said that cup is half empty; the country’s budget has increased ten-fold and economy grew three-fold in recent years – and for me that’s a major index of statehood;
- I am not telling you to watch everything through colored glasses, the opposition can look through black glasses, but please clean those black glasses at least sometimes;
- Responding on MP Giorgi Targamadze’s remarks on the need to decrease defense spending at a level of GDP’s 3%, Saakashvili said: “We have already reduced defense funding twice; and it has been done by the country which is actually in the state of war. I want to remind you that ceasefire accord remains unfulfilled [by Russia] and we have no peace treaty with Russia, because in exchange for peace treaty [Russia] asks us to recognize occupation of the Georgian territories. I repeat we will never surrender. When we speak about reduction of defense spending, Mr. Targamadze, neither are you a leader of a Buddhist-Democratic party, nor do I look like Dalai Lama, either by appearance or by actions, because I want to live in my country and I want to struggle in my country to the end.”
- I am not taking back those words on zero tolerance, because we will never tolerate criminals;
- I will tell you what kind of Georgia I want to see by the end of my presidency: Georgia, where fundamental changes of social culture will become irreversible; the changes, which were implemented by the great team of reformers, who are in a forefront of this Parliament;
- There are some, who do not want Georgia to be successful; some do not want it because they are our enemies – not some but one [referring to Russia], and others simply do not want that because they do not want to help us and for that reason they are citing various pretexts… We will create such a country, which will itself send instructors [to foreign countries] and we are already sending them;
- No matter whether we will be allowed in EU or not – it is a very long-term perspective – we will have better roads, than in most of the new EU-member states;
- Addressing to the parliamentary minority, Saakashvili said: “As long as you wear black glasses you’d better not to drive, but time will come when you put off you glasses, road will become better and then there will be no tragedy in change of the authorities, but I want to tell you that it will happen slower than you imagine, but it will happen – at various levels at various times, but it will happen; where there is a democracy replacement always happens, but it should not turn into a tragedy for a country; we will achieve creation of such a system, wherein when it happens – be it after 50, 100 or 250 years – it should amount to continuation of a course instead of end of the country.”