President Saakashvili addressed the Parliament which was followed by lawmakers’ speeches and Saakashvili’s closing remarks. The event was not a formal state of the nation address, which was last time delivered by Saakashvili in February.
Debates, which lasted for over five hours ended at 1:45am local time on July 21 and was aired live by the Georgian public broadcaster.
Below are key points of the President's address and follow up speeches by the lawmakers:
President Saakashvili told the Parliament:
- I am not here to tell you that everything is OK in our country;
- We face hard times; parts of our territories are occupied by invaders, which also try to undermine our state through real and not invented conspiracies;
- Our only response to these challenges should be deepening democracy… The only way out for us is going forwards with reforms, reforms and again reforms without stepping back;
- Seven weeks ago we launched dialogue with various political groups, including parliamentary parties and with some radical groups;
- There has been some progress, including on the constitutional reform;
- Today to speed up the process [of reforms] I want us to move to concrete proposals with concrete dates; doors will be open to any opposition groups, which respect the law; they can join at any time, but we can not wait for them indefinitely;
- One concrete proposal is to elect Tbilisi Mayor directly; let’s hold local elections on May 30, 2010 instead of originally planned for autumn, 2010;
- The proposal also involves new Central Election Commission (CEC) by the end of 2009 and to name new CEC chair by the end of this year with broad agreement between the political parties;
- Everyone has seen that no one is afraid of shouting from the streets, especially they are not afraid of that who came into power through revolution;
- Old methods will no longer work in Georgia; power transition will be carried out through elections and not through coups and ‘cages’ [reference to the opposition improvised prison cells blocking the Tbilisi’s main thoroughfare];
- I also offer to give more political rights to our expatriates; do not think that I am preparing someone living aboard as my successor; we should give our expatriates right to be part of our political life;
- In respect of media Saakashvili offered to set up a new 9-member board of trustees of the public broadcaster, wherein the authorities and opposition would take four seats each and one seat would be allocated to a representative of civil society. He said that giving a seat to the civil society representative would be a step towards “complete depolitization” of the public broadcaster;
- Moreover, I ask the parliament to complete by the end of September all the procedures in order to create a board of advisers for public TV’s second channel, to create the channel of political broadcasting that will enable even the smallest political groups to express their opinions, to hold open discussions;
- As part of further strengthening of the judiciary system I offer to make punishment for those who will try to influence on the judiciary’s decisions stricter; I will introduce a relevant law in September;
- From the next month we will launch sessions of the National Security Council with involvement of political parties to discuss our foreign policy issues;
- I am still offering to allow those opposition politicians, who refused to take their seats in the Parliament, to take their MP seats back; I am offering a relevant draft law;
- We should start large-scale dialogue with people involving trips to provinces by officials and lawmakers; I also call opposition lawmakers to join this campaign; We can turn this large-scale dialogue into new large wave of democracy;
- We should not relocate entire Parliament to Kutaisi [one ruling party lawmaker has recently offered to relocate entire Parliament to Kutaisi, Georgia’s second largest city]; but I partially agree with this proposal; let the parliamentary committees continue working in Tbilisi, but let the next Parliament hold its sittings in Kutaisi; imagine how it will enliven western Georgia;
After a short break following the President’s address, lawmakers opened debates.
MP Jondi Bagaturia, leader of Georgian Troupe party, who is neither a member of any parliamentary faction nor of parliamentary minority, told the President that there was “injustice” in the country. It is impossible “to rule Georgians through terrorizing people,” he said. MP Bagaturia also called on the President to initiate a proposal that would write-off debt of households for some of the communal services.
MP Petre Mamradze, who now is a member of ex-PM Zurab Nogaideli’s party Movement for Fair Georgia, said told the President his “counterproductive conflict resolution policy, ignoring of democratic principles… hindered Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.” He said President Saakashvili took “a reckless step” and engaged in military hostilities with Russia last August.
“Irrational and spontaneous remarks by the President has replaced foreign policy,” he said. “Dialogue should be started with Russia without any preconditions. It does not at all mean bowing head to Russia.”
MP Mamradze also said that the uncontrolled power in the hands of President Saakashvili had corrupted him and the country was ruled by “six or seven people, who stand above law, and who are loyal to the President.”
“Law enforcement agencies became tool for maintaining power,” MP Mamradze said and added that the opposition’s “counterproductive” tactics of street protests only “contributed” to this maintaining of power by Saakashvili.
MP Akaki Minashvili of the ruling party, who chairs parliamentary committee for foreign affairs, responded that “being in ex-President Shevardnadze’s circle really corrupts and your speech has once again confirmed this.”
MP Mamradze was head of the government’s administration for years during Shevardnadze’s presidency and also for some time after Mikheil Saakashvili came into power.
MP Minashvili also said that “any dialogue with our northern neighbor is totally unacceptable.”
“There will be no dialogue with Russia unless those territories [Abkhazia and South Ossetia] are free from occupying forces,” MP Minashivli added.
MP Mamradze’s remarks were also responded by a lawmaker from ruling party Pavle Kublashvili, who said those remarks were very much in line with those of “Putin’s Russia”.
MP Magda Anikashvili of the Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM), a leading party in the parliamentary minority, focused in her speech on, as she put it, authorities’ “unsuccessful healthcare policy,” wherein “neither patients nor doctors are satisfied.”
MP Paata Davitaia, leader of On Our Own party, who is member of the parliamentary minority group, focused in his speech on breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia and called on the President to issue arrest warrants against Abkhaz and South Ossetian secessionist leaders, Sergey Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoity, respectively.
“There is no person in the world capable to negotiate with Bagapsh and Kokoity, because they have shed Georgians’ blood,” he said. “They must be punished… If these people [Kokoity and Bagapsh] remain in isolation and people in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali see that no one is talking with them [Kokoity and Bagapsh], I assure you new leaders will emerge among them who will be willing to negotiate with us.”
He also called on the President to contribute to resorting confidence between the authorities and the opposition, including through investigation of May 6 and June 15 incidents and to punish those policemen who used excessive force against protests.
MP Levan Vepkhvadze of Christian-Democratic Movement, who is a vice-speaker of the parliament, said he could not hear “anything new in the President’s address.”
“It is clear that the ruling party has already started election campaign; the only specification was that the date has been named for local self-governance elections,” MP Vepkhvadze said.
He then criticized a controversial package of rally-related draft laws, which has already been passed by the Parliament last week, and called on the President not to sign the package into law unless the recommendations from Venice Commission, an advisory body on legal issues at the Council of Europe.
MP Vepkhvadze also told the President that about 80 opposition activists and supporters were arrested by the police for fabricated charges related with arms and drug possession.
MP Petre Tsiskarishvili, leader of parliamentary majority, said that Russia, which failed “regime change though military intervention now tries to achieve this goal through political means.”
“They unfortunately found people in Georgia, who try to help Russia achieve this goal,” MP Tsiskarishvili said. “Radical opposition tried at first to trigger clashes, but they failed because the authorities showed restraint and on the other hand they tried to harm the economy… but they again failed. They were saying that they did not want revolution, but they were doing everything to come into power through revolution.”
Responding to allegations by MP Guram Chakhvadze of the parliamentary minority group, who raised the recent speculation about the authorities’ intention to sell the state-owned railway, MP Tsiskarishvili said no such plan existed.
MP Tsiskarishvili, however, added: “But even if the railway is sold, what’s the problem with it? If a company comes in to upgrade and rehabilitate the railway infrastructure why is it bad? If there is an investor who will modernize the railway… is anything negative in that?”
MP Giorgi Targamadze leader of Christian-Democratic Movement and of parliamentary minority group, said timing of the President’s address was related with the upcoming visit of the U.S. Vice President to Georgia.
On the issue of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia he said that it was Georgia’s “diplomatic failure” when Russia managed to cease mandates of OSCE and UN observers.
“Logic of internal political process should completely change,” MP Giorgi Targamadze said. “If you want to defeat Putin, you should become anti-Putin.”
He said that rhetoric and wording of the President’s address made him think that Saakashvili was “not sincere.” “You have been using term ‘cage’ [when referring to improvised prison cells set up by those opposition parties, which are protesting since April 9]; there are beasts in cages and do you regard those people how are protesting as beasts?” MP Giorgi Targamadze said and reiterated his position that he was not a supporter of “a tactic resorted by the radical opposition.”
In his speech, the parliamentary minority leader also called for “depolitization” of the Interior Ministry. On the public broadcaster’s issue, he told the President to agree on more opposition representation in the board of trustees instead of equally distributing seats in the board between the opposition and the authorities.
MP Giorgi Gabashvili of the ruling party said the opposition had “mythology instead of ideology, wherein facts does not matter.” He said he did not hear from the opposition any concrete proposals to help deepen reforms.
After the lawmakers’ speeches, President Saakashvili took the floor for closing remarks; he said:
- Now its 1:07am and this is a record in our parliamentary history;
- I am proud that we have created this parliamentary tradition [of debates];
- He then spoke on healthcare system and rebutted the opposition lawmakers criticism on the matter. He also said that for the first time years number of drug-abuse was decreasing in Georgia.
- Responding on ‘cage’ remarks by MP Giorgi Targamadze, Saakashvili said he perceived the opposition mocked up cells as “cages” but added that he had never said that beasts were sitting there. “Those [referring to opposition leaders] who put supporters in those cages, including with money recieved from Russia, are acting irresponsibly,” he said;
- On the package of rally-related legislative amendments, Saakashvili said it was aimed at protecting citizens;
- When it is said ‘investigate May 6’ event, what should we investigate? It was described by the entire foreign diplomatic corps as an attack on the police station;
- Hands off from the Georgian police, the police which are working every day to prevent Georgia from going back to the past;
- Our major task is to protect human rights and help us in that; let’s work together in this regard;
- When we talk about ‘police depolitization’ let’s start it from here; do not let the President to defend the police; you speak about it and you defend the police;
- What Russia is trying to impose on the world [that Georgia started the August war]… is not even sold in Russia itself;
- He said that once he told Putin that Georgia was ready to say no on NATO on EU but in exchange of restoration of the territorial integrity. “But he responded: ‘we do not exchange your foreign political orientation on your territories’,” Saakashvili added;
- He said Russia was Georgia’s “enemy” and this enmity would not end with “senseless talks on same faith [Orthodox Christians] and not with dialogue between our cultures… Enmity will end and friendship will start only after the occupant forces leave our territories.”
- We will definitely accomplish our Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
- Do not try to downplay heroism of our soldiers and of our people; our army defeated Russia’s 58th army and its commander was running away [a reference Gen. Anatoly Khrulev, who was wounded on August 10];
- Saakashvili said that “Putin promised to carry out some manipulations on me” – referring to the Russian Prime Minister’s alleged remarks saying he would “hang Saakashvili by the balls.” He also said that Putin wanted to overthrow him. Saakashvili said Georgia’s response should be, instead of maintaining power beyond 2013, to ensure smooth transition when his second and final term in office expires in 2013.
- One thing is clear, this is the country, which has learnt to transform political discourse into real parliamentary debates; If someone still imagine that Putin-style person is the leader of Georgia, I can not imagine person of that type debating for over six hours in the Parliament.
- After my presidential term expires, I will transfer my power to the Georgian people and not to Georgia’s enemy.
- He said that these parliamentary debates were demonstration of new political culture in Georgia. “New state has been established; new political and parliamentary culture has been established… Georgia had no such a good parliament for years,” Saakashvili said.