Irakli Alasania, who describes himself as “more a centrist” politician, says “a multi-pronged” pressure campaign should be used to achieve early presidential elections and “peaceful power transition.”
“Yes there is radical stance among large part of the society. But we should not become hostage of radicalism,” he said in an interview with Civil.Ge on March 10.
Alasania, 35, who leads the opposition Alliance for Georgia, which apart of his political team, unites the Republican and New Rights parties, says he plans “to expend broadly the campaign throughout provinces in order to deliver my plan and platform directly to the people.”
Although having plans to develop own party infrastructure, he said, his team right now has to mainly rely on the one of the Republican and New Rights parties, especially in the provinces. He said that funding for his movement currently comes solely personally from his team members.
Below is the transcript of the interview:
Q.: You have called on other opposition parties, those planning to launch protest rallies from April 9, to work out a joint action plan to have a detailed vision on how things can develop; what is your action plan that you are offering to those parties?
A.: First of all let me tell you what our Alliance’s plans are. We are in the process of setting up of our offices in the provinces with the task to engage as many people as possible in the process of plebiscite – in gathering signatures with the demand to hold early presidential elections.
The second task of those regional headquarters on the ground in the provinces, as well as in the capital city, will be developing the country’s development strategy through working and through relation with the society; on the expert level we have already started working on this, including on foreign policy course, economic program – that will be our platform that we plan to offer to the society; at the same time we want a dialogue with the society as we are interested to know the opinion of people over these issues; for example tomorrow we are planning a meeting with a group of displaced persons. We will have permanent relation.
Q.: So you are launching a campaign to deliver your message…
A.: We want to be engaged in a dialogue with the society and those offices in the provinces and the capital will be a tool for that purpose – with two tasks: collecting signatures and relations with the public.
At the same time in parallel to this process – and going back to your first question – consultations are ongoing with those opposition groups, which pushing for the protest rallies in April. These two directions [of the Alliance and of another group of opposition parties] do not contradict each other; on the contrary, they can become mutually supplementary.
Of course we believe that peaceful protest rally is one of the forms of expression of people’s will; as far as we agree on the same goal [resignation of President Saakashvili], we have also an agreement on this particular method of struggle.
But what we are talking about during these consultations is concrete forms, organizational issues, time span and other issues related with this process.
Q.: And what is in particular your vision on these issues? What are you offering other parties?
A.: I see it this way: it must be part of the entire strategy, which includes protest rallies, we talked about monitoring mechanisms over state structure; it should be a permanent public pressure on and monitoring of the authorities and to call on them [the authorities] to launch the country’s peaceful transformation process through dialogue [with the opposition].
Q.: Does it mean that you will adhere to a gradual, step-by-step, maybe a long-term process of pressure campaigns…
A.: I’m not saying that this long-term process should last for years of for many months; it should be an ongoing process, wherein society should genuinely show to the authorities and the international community its strength and fairness of its demand. That is why we deemed the referendum as one of the solutions that could have helped to defuse [the situation] – asking people directly whether the early presidential elections should be held or not.
While pushing for the referendum we were of course taking into account critical remarks from other opposition parties regarding whether it would have been possible to hold a fair referendum under the existing situation. But here also we thought that resource for positive pressure on the authorities, including from the international community, was available - you know that the international community is interested in strengthening democratic institutions in Georgia and they see that the major problem hindering the country’s development is usurpation of power by the president’s institution.
So in combination of these means of pressure it would have been possible to hold fair referendum. But the authorities have already lost this chance of holding a referendum.
Going back to your question about how we see this process now – it should be a multi-pronged approach; we should not limit our tactics to only this particular, single protest rally [on April 9]. To a certain extent signs of unanimity emerge in the process of the consultations [with other opposition parties], so let’s wait the end of these consultations in nearest days.
We are also taking into account the public order to the opposition to get united; we feel presence of this demand through meetings with the public and also there are various civil society groups, which express support towards the opposition, but at the same time calling for us to get united.
Through our campaign we want to show the public how the country will develop after the change of the authorities; what will be the next; that’s why we need to have a concrete political platform.
Q.: The President has a right to call for a referendum any time; you say that you are no longer pushing for this as deadline set by your Alliance has expired on March 5, but what will be your position if the President calls for the referendum sometime latter?
A.: That would depend on the concrete circumstances that would exist at that concrete time. But the authorities themselves have already ruled that out and said they plan no referendum.
Q.: Don’t you think that the announcement by your Alliance about your presidential ambitions somehow accelerated the processes? Just hours after that announcement, another group of opposition parities announced about the plans to launch permanent protest rallies from April 9. There seems to be a real completion between various opposition groups trying to take an initiative.
A.: The crisis existing in the country itself accelerates processes, as well as the authorities’ inability to tackle this crisis; that’s the major factor that defines the current dynamic.
Yes there is competition and there is nothing unusual in that. But I think that it is premature now to speak about the presidential ambitions. Now we all have one goal - to secure a peaceful, constitutional power transition. Everyone, including our Alliance, has to move aside presidential ambitions for now.
Q.: To a certain extent there is a demand among certain part of voters to end the process immediately, containing risk of further radicalization of the process; what will be your message to those voters during your campaign?
A.: Our position is that this process and the protest rallies should not go beyond peaceful forms. That is why we are pushing for the proposal involving thorough organization and planning of rallies.
The authorities bear major share of responsibility in this context. If the authorities make mistakes similar to those in November, 2007, that will pose risk of spiraling confrontation out of control.
Of course there are various moods in the public, but the most important is not to give anyone a pretext for using these rallies for escalation and destabilization. Georgia does not need civil confrontation. I think such a scenario is less likely, because that is the very reason why the consultations are ongoing between the opposition parties – to create conditions for peaceful actions; everything should be strictly and very well organized.
It is also the opposition’s responsibility to maintain public security in the process.
Yes there is radical stance among large part of the society. But we should not become hostage of radicalism. Our strength is in truth and by delivering this truth to the public, the latter will react adequately to the demands that we will push for. That is why it is so important to keep a permanent dialogue with the society. We should no way increase the public expectations that something will end in hours and in a day; I repeat that this is a long process.
Q.: Do you mean there is a risk that a some kind of a spontaneous process itself may dictate scenarios to the politicians and not vice-versa?
A.: We should maximally prevent such a scenario; especially in the light of existing threat and possibility of provocations; so the rallies should be carefully organized.
I repeat once again that nothing will end in a day; it has to be a continuing process of multi-pronged pressure on the authorities.
I want to say here that the change that this process should bring poses no threat to employees of the state agencies; everyone should understand that this change will no way bring revenge. We should put an end to revanchism in Georgia once and forever.
Q.: You called on Saakashvili to resign; what then, how do you see his future if let’s say he resigns?
A.: If he contributes to peaceful power transition, he will contribute to the country’s development; but another option also exists of course – his reckless steps during the tragic events of August dragged Georgia into Russia’s provocative war – and today too, if he is not adequate to the situation, the developments can become more complicated. It is very hard to say today in which direction Saakashvili and the authorities will direct developments. Much depends on Saakashvili himself.
Like Mr. Shevardnadze, he [Saakashvili] will also have any type of guarantee to continue in a normal condition his activities wherever he wants.
I repeat once gain, revanchism is not something for which my political team plans to come into power. Of course it does not apply to criminals, who have committed particular criminal offenses. But if someone was loyal to Saakashvili it should not become a reason for taking any actions against them. The important here is that everyone should know that revanchism will be over in Georgia. And those patriots, including those serving in defense or law enforcement agencies, will be able to continue their service.
Q.: Is there anything, except of Saakashvili’s resignation, that the authorities can offer as a compromise and you may agree on?
A.: At first the society should show its firm will that it wants changes. I, based on my professional background [as a diplomat], will always be in favor of a dialogue, but not at the expense of the national interests. If such dialogue takes place between the authorities and the part of opposition, it should be a transparent for the society and it should serve the only goal – bringing the country out of this crisis; there should be no turning from that direction. The rest will become clear if such dialogue takes place. I think it will be inexpedient to speak about it before hand. It is now difficult to speak about any hypothetical and possible offers from the authorities. But of course dialogue is not ruled out.
Q.: You’ve spent years in public sector, but you are in fact a newcomer in politics and little known as a politician among the public; but despite that, currently you are believed to be enjoying with considerable public support – at least that’s what some pollsters say – that might be unusual for a newcomer in the politics, why do you think that happens, what’s the reason behind that?
A.: Yes, I have never been active in the politics before, although I have served in the state agencies; and I have never worked specifically on my rating.
I do not know how to explain this recent stance of the public towards me; it may be related with my tenure as an ambassador to the UN, or maybe to my previous tenures while serving in security or defense structures. But anyway I am not well-known as a politician for the large part of the society and that is why I want to expend broadly the campaign throughout provinces in order to deliver my plan and platform directly to the people.
Q.: You said in one of your press interviews recently that you are in favor of the presidential system, can you elaborate further in particular what type of this system is more acceptable for you, let’s say the French-style semi-presidential, or the one that is the United States?
A.: I do not think that it is right to blindly duplicate models for Georgia from either the U.S. or France etc. I am in favor of a strong presidential republic, but with a strong parliamentary oversight; I am in favor of a system and distribution of power in a such way that would rule out unilateral decisions by a president, especially on such matters like peace and war; key directions of the economy etc. So the constitutional amendments will be required in Georgia in this respect. There is also an opinion that the parliamentary system would be the best matched for the Georgian mentality; these are the issues, which need a serious considerations and if such an issue is raised and there is a public demand for that we can hold a referendum on the matter. What we now have is a power usurped by Saakashvili.
Q.: What’s your political orientation?
A.: You know… I guess, I am more a centrist person.
We need pluralism in this regard, but what is the most important this pluralism should be adequately reflected in the parliament. The part of our problem is that the current parliament is not adequately reflecting the will of voters. Such parliament will fail to provide an appropriate oversight over the executive.
I think keeping balance in the condition of normal governance will be easier if there are many politicians with centrist stance.
Q.: What’s your stance on line between the church and the state?
A.: Religious, the church has historically been identical to a state in Georgia. That’s historically. Today in the political processes we should only be guided by political interests and the country’s national interests and in this process the church and religion, of course, has a significant influence. Today when the authorities, the state institutions have lost public confidence, the church is the only and the strongest moral base for our society. The church’s role is very important today in Georgia’s public life and that will remain so.
Q.: Do you think there is an alternative to NATO membership?
A.: The process of Georgia’s NATO integration is now blocked and the August events have also contributed to it. NATO membership is a will of the Georgian voters expressed in [the January 5] plebiscite; so we should no way forget this line of our foreign policy.
At the same time it is important to think over other forms of regional security. We should think over building of our institutions, which will help us to become part of the European security. Our foreign policy efforts should be directed towards becoming part of European security system. That will only be possible if we develop democratic institutions.
We have to solve a serious problem on how we should start relations with Russia in the current situation when Russia occupies significant part of our territories and wherein Russia continues aggression. It will not happen fast, it’s extremely difficult process and I think that our integration into Europe will become a basis for building ties with Russia on the parity basis.
It is wrong to think that we should somehow change our foreign policy course, because of the Russia’s aggression. We should continues our move towards Europe step-by-step, through building democratic institutions and our steady move towards Europe can serve as an important factor in the process of building relations with Russia.
Q.: Talk on neutrality resurfaces time after time…
A.: I deem it unrealistic at this stage to achieve any tangible results by moving in that direction.
Q.: Should Georgia send troops to Afghanistan?
A.: We should not be only consumers of security, but we also should be contributors to the international security.
Q.: In general what do you think is the major problem that is characteristic for the Georgian society?
A.: I think it is confusion in the society; there is no right moral orienteer for large part of the society; that was unfortunately caused by a wrong and often immoral style of governance by the authorities. So it will be a responsibility of moral people and leaders to give moral orients to the society; and here of course the Georgian church plays and will always play an important role.