Ongoing attempts “to buy electoral process”, as well as “impudent aggression” against Georgian democracy will be “punished with full force of law” and responded by the authorities’ “excessive will” to make October parliamentary elections “maximally open, transparent and democratic,” President Saakashvili said on June 25.
Speaking in a live televised meeting with governors and officials from the local governments across the country, Saakashvili said that the authorities at all levels should “ensure unconditional commitment to democracy” and “guarantee that this electoral process is really exemplary.”
“Attempts to trample the law will be countered, on the one hand, by strict law enforcement efforts based on zero tolerance and on the other hand by exemplary work of the state system to ensure democratic electoral process,” he said.
Below are Saakashvili’s election-related remarks made during the meeting with local government officials in his residence in Tbilisi:
“As you know, the parliamentary elections will be held in Georgia in several months. Our society has faced critical challenges for number of times in the recent past – the challenges on which development of our country depended.
Georgian citizens coped with each such challenge, each such decisive moment through demonstrating huge civil dignity and patriotic spirit and while coping with these challenges [the Georgian society] proved its unconditional commitment to the statehood and democratic values.
As we all know, upcoming elections will be the next decisive, historical moment. It will be that very milestone which will mark Georgia’s Rubicon after which nobody will be able to turn [Georgia] backwards.
I am sure that our society will again astonish the entire world with its political maturity, love for democracy and freedom, like it has already done it numerously in the past.
It is absolutely decisive for our country and our people what will be at stake during these elections – these are the [issues ranging] from the economic course free of corruption to Euro-Atlantic integration, from universal health insurance available for everyone to agricultural development.
For that reason, these elections oblige each of us – at all levels of the government, from the President to each of you [on local government level] – to ensure unconditional commitment to democracy and legal principles, and to guarantee that this electoral process is really exemplary.
I, as the President, and a guarantor of the constitution and the firmness of democratic institutions, built by all of us, as well as a guarantor of further development of the country, want to present to you several messages today.
The first message is very simple and it should be quite clear for everyone – I will not allow [a situation] where reliability of our democratic institutions may be questioned by anyone; I will personally ensure that any attempt of ballot rigging and bribery will be punished with full force of law; let everybody remember this.
In the past eight years we have built the system, according to which, everyone – I stress – everyone should obey the supremacy of law. The law is above everyone and everything regardless of social status, wealth or political affiliations, regardless of a person’s name or a person’s past. Georgian people understand it very well and that’s why they trust these institutions more than to any particular person or political force…
…As we know, in recent months the representatives of certain political forces thought it was possible to carry out impudent aggression, attack against the principles of legality and fairness of elections. They have wanted to question the capability of the Georgian state to protect the citizens’ right of free choice. They have already experienced it and everyone else should know that such attempts will not work; each and every attempt will be eradicated with all the existing laws.
No one will be able to bribe the electoral process or to buy Georgian democracy.
In 70s a political candidate in one of the African countries – since then Africa has developed – handed out tens of thousands of left-foot shoes and told the population that he would have handed out right ones after supporting him in elections. Those, who think that Georgia is a banana republic and who think that the Georgian state will act in line with right-foot shoe principle, they failed to understand anything all these recent years.
The Georgian state will protect and secure the right of each of our citizen to make a democratic and free choice…
…A course of zero tolerance towards those, who have disregarded law, will still continue and it should be clear for everyone.
When certain forces are excessively trying to buy our democracy, our response to them will be in two ways: on the one hand these attempts will be countered by proportional force of law enforcement system and on the other hand, their attempts will be countered by our excessive, disproportional will to make upcoming elections maximally open, transparent and democratic.
We all, and personally me, will ensure that all political forces have equal opportunities and that the entire electoral process is carried out in open, public debates.
What they are trying now is to portray that as if some autocrats are sitting here in this building and silencing others who want to speak out... What autocracy are they talking about? Is it dark? Where is restriction of freedom of opinion in Georgia? I am walking in the streets and I am available for each citizen to come and express their opinions, the same is with you [referring to local government officials]. In how many countries around us and in the world is there such free, egalitarian, open attitude between government officials and rest of the society? Where else are so many unrestricted rights, like we try to develop in our country? And we are very proud of it. Everything is open and transparent. Do you have an opinion? Express it. Do you want to hold a protest rally? Hold it. Do you want to swear at somebody? Swear at me as much as you like, I already have an immunity against any insults and rudeness, but I always listen to critical opinions and call on you to do the same.
That’s public debate and it will be unlimited for any citizen of Georgia. Unlike those persons, who are trying to bribe the choice of people, I personally fully believe in our people without any doubt. We believe and respect free will of the people and freedom of choice.
We want the people to make maximally informed choice.
Therefore, a legislative amendment was submitted to the Parliament, that will obligate all the cable operators to carry all the television channels in the electoral period.
Of course, imposing this obligation on private companies is a restriction of free market principles; we did the same in case of an advertisement – during the electoral period it is impossible to watch the channels because political parties have so many free ads. But the availability of all types of information for our citizens during the pre-election period represents vital public interest. This legislative initiative takes an equal place among the most progressive and developed methods in the world, the goal of which is to ensure that media is available to the voters. It is yet another clear sign of firmness of the Georgian democracy and steadfastness of our statehood.
I am proud that we have all together managed to build the state institutions capable to react on major challenges.
The Georgian state will respond to the attacks against our democracy – and undoubtedly what is happening is an attack against our democracy – with further strengthening of democracy, instead of imposing restrictions.
Attempts to trample the law will be countered, on the one hand, by strict law enforcement efforts based on zero tolerance and on the other hand by exemplary work of the state system to ensure democratic electoral process.
Certain forces will try – and they are already trying it – to disseminate lies about your [referring to local government officials] work. But you should know that the best way to defeat the lie is an exemplary work in order to protect the free choice of people, in order not to allow any political force, including a governmental one, to exert illegal influence on a voter’s will, not to allow misuse of administrative resources for electoral purposes…
…We cannot stop our rebuilding plans. These plans have not started before elections and will not end with the elections; we will continue these plans after the elections... So we should keep on working, but not in a way that may lead to misuse of administrative resources in favor any candidate.
Exemplary work to protect democracy and respectively Georgia’s future – this is my request and my categorical demand towards each and every public servant.
We all are the guarantors of the supremacy of law. You are the force, which protects the rights and freedoms of our citizens, including the right to carry out political campaigning regardless of political views, religious or ethnic affiliation.
As the Head of the State, I am proud that I pin hopes on each of you and that in each region of Georgia, each village and city, each district and street you will impartially protect this fundamental right of our people.
I am proud because I pin hopes on you and on the entire Georgian society; the supremacy of law will be observed; I am sure that our democracy will celebrate one more victory.
Not only we will maintain our course towards prosperity and European integration – and in 2014 we have a real chance to become a NATO member and it also will actually be decided in October [elections] – but the following months will mark huge steps ahead in this direction.
We should spare no efforts and show to everyone that people’s trust towards you is justified and that people do not pin hopes on us in vain and what is most important, we should be fair, open, democratic, we should be close to each citizen, our people and show that success of Georgia will be a success of each Georgian family and progress of each Georgian family.”