Mikheil Saakashvili has confirmed that he planned to reshuffle his political team if re-elected on January 5. He has also promised to jettison his hard-line style.
In an edited broadcast on Rustavi 2 TV of a video conference with Georgian expatriates in Moscow, New York and Paris, Saakashvili acknowledged that in some cases his administration had adhered to an unnecessarily hard-line stance, which, he said, had been a mistake.
“After the election, I think we should carry out a serious reshuffle of the political team; I am absolutely sure of that,” Saakashvili said. He then added that he had gained “huge experience in selecting a team” over the past four years.
The ex-president’s remarks were in response to a question asking him to name at least three of his biggest mistakes that he hoped not to repeat if re-elected.
Saakashvili said that he “often regretted” some of his statements. “In many cases, I should have adopted a softer approach and explained many things in a better way,” Saakashvili said.
“I do not believe that we should impose reforms on the population,” he said. “I do not believe that it is possible to do something with authoritarian methods by forcing someone to do something. People should follow us and we should explain and clarify to the people everything we are doing. That is a recipe for genuine and successful reforms. And democracy is another recipe for reforms.”
He also said that mistakes had been made in the reform implementation process by neglecting the needs of those adversely affected by, what he called “painful reforms.”
“Reforms have been painful and many of them were about cutting staff and injustices happened in this regard,” he said. “We should have been more sensitive to every individual case of injustice. You may make a right decision in respect of a hundred people, but there might be one [who was treated unfairly]. And if you fail to pay attention to this one case, of course, this is a minus and we should be honest and we should say that we had this kind of case and that was a shortcoming.”
Saakashvili, however, stressed that such mistakes had taught him much and in effect made him better qualified to be re-elected.
“Our country is now deciding on whom to trust: those who have experience, including negative experience, but who admit that it was negative experience and believe that it should be changed, or those who have no experience at all and who will make the same mistakes in the future,” Saakashvili said.
He also tried to send a conciliatory message to the opposition. “I would not pay too much attention to the threat of protest rallies,” Saakashvili said.
“Whatever the elections results are we should extend our hand to all of our opponents, despite the current rhetoric - rhetoric on the eve of elections is always radical and sometimes unacceptable – we will extend our hand to everyone and we will try to ensure that we have a government for everyone and we will try to foster an all-inclusive approach.”
Saakashvili’s comments came a day after the acting president, Nino Burjanadze, said changes would take place not only in the cabinet after the early presidential polls, but also in the inner circle.
Both Saakashvili and Burjanadze made their comments in the midst of widespread speculation of a major post-election personnel shake-up.
The speculation emerged following the near absence from the political scene over the past few weeks of some heavyweight figures, many of whom had taken a hard-line position during the heated political standoff in early November and before.
The absence of MP Giga Bokeria has been particularly noted, given the lead role he had been taking over the last four years. MP Maia Nadiradze, the leader of the parliamentary majority, as well as some cabinet members, most notably Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili and Economy Minister Giorgi Arveladze, have also been keeping low profiles recently.