09TBILISI165, GEORGIA: THE RULING PARTY REFLECTS, DEVELOPS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI165 2009-01-29 14:52 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO8133
OO RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0165/01 0291452
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 291452Z JAN 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0861
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 000165 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/25/2018 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: THE RULING PARTY REFLECTS, DEVELOPS 
STRATEGY FOR 2009 
 
REF: TBILISI 132 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT.  REASONS:  1.4 (B) AND (D). 
 
1. (C)  Summary/Comment:  While highly confident in their 
ability to serve out their mandates, the leaders of the 
United National Movement (UNM) have gone through a period of 
self-evaluation as to how best to effectuate their political 
and policy aims in the coming year.  UNM is poised to resume 
its legislative push for democratic reform.  Quietly, 
President Saakashvili has been meeting with various academics 
and analysts in an attempt to broaden the range of policy 
discussion beyond his small group of trusted advisors at the 
urging of various UNM members.  The amount of influence these 
members have had on Saakashvili's reignited push for 
democratic reform is hard to say.  However, it is clear that 
a number of influential Ministers and lawmakers are giving 
President Saakashvili the message that more openness and 
reform is needed.  Feeling as though they need to re-engage 
with the public, UNM leaders are hitting the airwaves to 
defend themselves from criticism and promote their policy 
agenda.  Saakashvili himself jump-started the effort by 
taking four hours of public questions on January 23 (reftel 
A).  While too early to tell what this change in strategy 
will mean in concrete terms, the UNM's willingness to 
critically evaluate their performance, especially while 
enjoying a substantial parliamentary majority and electoral 
security, sets them apart from their competitors.  The UNM 
has shown itself to be a savvy party with a deep bench of 
talent and would be a formidable foe, even for a united, 
coherent and focused opposition.  End Summary/Comment. 
 
NEW ELECTIONS HIGHLY UNLIKELY 
 
2.  (C)  Akaki Minashvili (UNM - Head of Foreign Relations 
Committee) told Poloff that early elections will not be held, 
echoing what UNM MP's Giorgi Kandelaki and Irakli Kavtaradze 
told us recently.  Minashvili dismissed the possibility that 
the non-parliamentary opposition could force new elections 
saying the public did not support new elections, and there 
was no reason for Saakashvili to call them.  David Dondua, 
Deputy Chief of Cabinet, who advises Speaker David Bakradze 
also said elections were highly unlikely but that one never 
knows if Saakashvili will change his mind.  (Embassy Note: 
Dondua, former MFA Political Directorr, is more of a foreign 
policy specialist than a party politician. End Note.) 
Minashvili was not surprised that the non-parliamentary 
opposition's demand was the resignation of Saakashvili 
followed by snap Presidential elections.  He said the 
non-parliamentary opposition stood to gain some seats in 
early parliamentary elections but UNM would still form a 
substantial majority.  Minashvili opined that no current 
opposition figure could even come close to beating 
Saakashvili in a presidential election, leaving the 
non-parliamentary oppositio with only one logical course -- 
to pursue presidential elections without Saakashvili. 
Minashvili outlined the UNM counter-strategy.  According to 
Minashvili, UNM through various polling data understands that 
the public's main concerns are economic.  Also well aware 
that calls for early elections are not popular, UNM plans to 
paint the non-parliamentary opposition's demands for new 
elections as a costly "do over" whose sole purpose is to 
allow non-parliamentary leaders to regain lost political 
relevance.  President Saakashvili has made numerous public 
statement in this direction, recently saying he would not 
call new elections based on the "whims and ambitions of 
certain persons". 
Qcertain persons". 
 
WE BECAME COMPLACENT 
 
3.  (C)  Minashvili lamented the fact that UNM's drive for 
democratic reform lost steam in recent years.  During and 
after the August war, the GOG had operated in strict crisis 
mode which did not lend itself to much introspection.  Now 
that the acute crisis has largely subsided, Minashvili said 
the UNM was in the process of reassessing political mistakes 
(much as the UNM-dominated GOG has been reassessing 
shortcomings in the leadup to the August war).  Minashvili 
said it was easy to become complacent after the 2008 
elections in which UNM won an overwhelming mandate. 
According to Minashvili, the lack of a coherent opposition 
with competing policy objectives lulled the UNM into losing 
its focus.  The UNM intends to gain back its strength which 
was its ability to deliver tangible economic and democratic 
change.  The August war and its aftermath made UNM realize it 
had become insular and had largely stopped direct engagement 
with the public. 
 
4.  (C)  Highlighting its shift of strategy, prominent GOG 
figures such as Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava,  Minister for 
Economic Development Lasha Zhvania, and other UNM officials 
have been appearing on political talk shows.  Minashvili 
 
TBILISI 00000165  002 OF 002 
 
 
complained to Poloff about the abundance of talkshows and the 
time demands it put on him and his colleagues to appear, but 
at the same time acknowledged the necessity of standing 
before a critical host and defending the G
OG's record.  UNM 
members have even been appearing on Kavkasia, ending their 
"boycott" of the "pro-Opposition" channel.  Minashvili said 
the consensus is that the UNM had much to gain by detailing 
accomplishments and policy substance to the public.  Dondua 
acknowledged the increased presence of UNM figures on 
television, though he cautioned that they needed to find the 
right balance.  Dondua was concerned that UNM might 
over-saturate the airwaves which could be detrimental to 
their aims.  Nevertheless, President Saakashvili took four 
hours of public questions on January 23.  Minashvili says 
more frequent TV appearances by UNM members produce the added 
benefit of exposing the non-parliamentary opposition's lack 
of policy aims and goals.  Whether the media "blitz" proves 
successful for the UNM or not, if it fosters a public debate 
on competing policy agendas, Georgia's democracy is the 
ultimate beneficiary. 
 
5.  (C)  Minashvili hinted that the UNM had become somewhat 
intellectually stagnant and disengaged in pushing forward 
policy goals since mid-2008.  He hailed the U.S.-Georgia 
Charter as providing a new impetus to further domestic 
political and economic reform.  Recent reports have hit the 
press that President Saakashvili has been meeting privately 
with intellectuals, educators, and others for extended 
sessions.  Foreign Minister Vashadze told the Ambassador that 
Saakashvili had been doing this at his and Minister for 
Reintegration Temuri Yakobashvili's urging.  Vashadze told 
the Ambassador the meetings are one of the positive ways 
Saakashvili has changed since the end of the war.  According 
to acquaintances of Embassy staff, some of whom confirmed 
that they personally took part in some discussions with the 
President, during these meetings Saakashvili listened and 
engaged in vigorous debate with the invitees.  On January 21, 
President Saakashvili offered a number of experts and 
analysts the opportunity to sit on a policy advisory board. 
While non-parliamentary leaders have predictably dismissed 
this as show, Minashvili confirmed that Saakashvili is 
re-engaged and listening to wide range of opinions both 
inside his party and out.  Saakashvili has made a number of 
public announcements about his admiration of George 
Washington and his desire for his legacy to be that of 
"somebody who made Georgia a modern European state".  What 
the "revival" of the UNM's democratic reform agenda will mean 
in practical policy terms is still unclear.  Nevertheless, at 
least on the surface, UNM from the President on down seems 
re-energized and recommitted to a reform agenda. 
 
LEGISLATIVE AGENDA 
 
6.  (C)  UNM hopes the Parliament will pass the new Criminal 
Procedure Code in February.  Minashvili told Poloff the draft 
(put together with USG assistance) was being reviewed by a 
Council of Europe team of experts.  Once the review is 
complete, parliamentary debate will begin.  Minashvili 
expected little substantive disagreement between the UNM and 
parliamentary opposition parties on the draft law which 
should allow for its quick adoption.  Minashvili said work on 
a new Electoral Code will remain a UNM priority (septel). 
Dondua confirmed the UNM's legislative agenda and the 
Speaker's desire to adopt a new Electoral Code.  Dondua hoped 
for widespread input across the political spectrum, but he 
Qwas not optimistic that those in the non-parliamentary 
minority were willing to play a constructive role.  Dondua 
told Poloff that Parliament also would work on increasing the 
diversity of opinion on Georgian Public TV, consistent with 
its aim to foster more media access across the spectrum. 
 
7.  (C)  Minashvili, a member of the Ad Hoc Parliamentary 
Commission to review the August war, said the members 
intended to meticulously oversee the implementation of their 
recommendations to improve the GOG's institutional capacity 
to respond to further Russian threats (or other threats) to 
Georgia's security.  Minashvili also noted that UNM 
parliamentarians plan to closely monitor how foreign 
assistance is spent, making sure it is used as intended. 
Similarly, UNM will put forth legislation to reorganize the 
way social payments are distributed focusing on financial 
need rather than social "category", which should have the 
effect of better targeting limited resources to those who 
truly need help.  Minashvili and Dondua stressed that the UNM 
would be watching the economic status of the poor closely. 
UNM will adjust the budget accordingly to ensure the poorest 
in Georgia do not disproportionately feel the effects of the 
economic slowdown.  Seeing the economy as its one potential 
weakness, the UNM is intent on making sure the global 
economic crisis does not result in a domestic political one. 
TEFFT

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