October’s Georgian parliamentary elections brought about the nation’s first peaceful transfer of power. Despite this accomplishment for Georgian democracy, questions persist regarding the ability of the rivals Bidzina Ivanishvili and Mikheil Saakashvili to coexist within the Georgian political space. Amidst political uncertainty, the country faces serious economic and governance problems. The chairman of the Georgian parliament, David Usupashvili, discussed the reform agenda of the ruling coalition. Carnegie’s Thomas de Waal moderated.
Current Situation in Georgia
- Western Course: The Georgian parliament passed a bipartisan resolution that reaffirmed the country’s NATO membership aspiration and commitment to EU integration, Usupashvili said. The country wants to maintain good relations with the United States, he added.
- Russia: Georgia would like to normalize relations with Russia, but it will not join any political or customs union with Russia, Usupashvili stated. He added that Georgia will participate in the 2014 Sochi Olympics since it does not want to deny its athletes the opportunity to compete on the international stage.
- Economic Hardship: Given that the majority of Georgians are still living below the poverty level, and 40 percent are effectively jobless, economic reform is a top priority for the new government, Usupashvili asserted.
- Domestic Legislation: With more than half of the Georgian population involved in agriculture, it is important to develop this sector, Usupashvili said. In addition, healthcare reform will be taken up to expand coverage and quality of medical services, while a new labor code has already been passed by the parliament.
- Political Reform: Usupashvili explained that the change from a presidential to a parliamentary system of rule has been smoother than many predicted in the West and today there is a strong political opposition to the government in parliament. A new electoral law has been passed which will help insure that Georgia has a fair and competitive electoral system, he added.
- Judicial Reform: There is a unique opportunity for Georgia to address the shortcomings of the previous UNM government in the judicial sphere by creating a truly independent judicial system, Usupashvili noted.
- Amnesty: The scope of the amnesty bill for former government officials has not yet been agreed upon, but Saakashvili’s demand for unconditional amnesty is unacceptable, Usupashvili asserted, adding that those accused of violent crimes will not be subject to amnesty.
- Breakaway Regions: There is a new policy of “strategic patience” toward Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Usupashvili said. The emphasis of the new government is on reconciliation, which is necessary for reintegration.