09TBILISI1339, GEORGIA: SAAKASHVILI OUTLINES NEXT STEPS ON REFORM

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI1339 2009-07-21 13:18 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO2427
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #1339/01 2021318
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 211318Z JUL 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1938
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING IMMEDIATE 0259
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK IMMEDIATE 4879

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 001339 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/21/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PREL OVIP OTRA RS GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: SAAKASHVILI OUTLINES NEXT STEPS ON REFORM 
 
REF: A. TBILISI 313 
     B. TBILISI 276 
 
Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft for Reasons 1.4(b) and (d). 
 
1. (C) Summary and comment.  In a nationally televised speech 
to Parliament July 20, President Saakashvili outlined his 
vision for next steps on reform and invited all elements of 
society to enter renewed dialogue.  Key themes included the 
election code and local elections, constitutional and 
judicial reform, and media freedom.  Although few of the 
basic ideas were new (reftels), Saakashvili offered more 
concrete proposals on actual implementation.  The speech was 
followed by a four-hour parliamentary debate, to which the 
presient responded at 1:00 A.M., all carried live on TV. 
Some opposition figures focused their criticism on specific 
proposals; others called the event a publicity stunt in 
anticipation of Vice President Biden's July 22 visit. 
Saakashvili did refer to the Vice President in his speech, 
suggesting that Biden's address to parliament might be a way 
to draw the non-parliamentary opposition into the room.  The 
speech moved Saakashvili's lofty reform goals closer to 
specific and measurable objectives, and with several 
deadlines set for the next few months, the country will be 
able to gauge the government's progress.  The exchange also 
helped institutionalize the healthy precedent set in February 
(ref A) of open and respectful engagement between the 
president and all elements of the legislature.  It is 
unlikely that the non-parliamentary opposition will accept 
the president's renewed invitation to engage, but if the 
government delivers on its commitments, the non-parliamentary 
opposition will likely move even further to the sidelines. 
End summary and comment. 
 
THE SPEECH 
 
2. (C) In his 45-minute address to Parliament, attended by 
the Ambassador and representatives of the diplomatic corps, 
Saakashvili appeared confident, offered a well-crafted 
message with both style and substance, and received a 
respectful reception, punctuated on several occasions by 
applause.  Noting several challenges that continue to face 
Georgia, he insisted that the only way forward was through 
reform, and explained his speech as an effort to move the 
discussion of reform from the conceptual to the concrete.  He 
also called for increased dialogue among all elements of 
society, including all political entities as well as the 
Georgian people, to engage constructively on implementing 
these reform proposals and identifying additional areas for 
work. 
 
3. (SBU) Saakashvili focused on five broad areas for reform 
in the next several months: elections; constitutional 
revisions; judicial independence; media; and national 
security cooperation.  On elections, he proposed completing a 
revision of the Election Code by the end of 2009, to be 
followed by early local elections, including the direct 
election of the Tbilisi mayor, in May 2010.  On the 
constitution, he suggested that the Constitutional Commission 
should energize its work and, in particular, propose changes 
that restrict the president's ability to dissolve parliament. 
 He also proposed making it easier for Georgians from abroad 
to get involved in political life in Georgia.  On judicial 
independence, he proposed increasing the penalties for those 
attempting to have improper contact with judges about ongoing 
cases, making such offenses criminal.  He said this step 
Qcases, making such offenses criminal.  He said this step 
should be taken by the end of September.  On the media, he 
suggested that all stations be given the opportunity to 
broadcast by satellite, as Maestro is in the process of 
doing.  He also proposed a nine-member board for public 
broadcasting consisting of four government representatives, 
four opposition representatives, and one civil society 
representative, a change he said would be adopted within 90 
days.  At the same time, he called on all media to be 
responsible in their broadcasts and to offer any dissenting 
views in a respectful manner.  On national security 
cooperation, he announced that the government would invite 
opposition representatives to meetings of the National 
Security Council on a monthly basis. 
 
4. (SBU) Saakashvili also proposed expanding the opportunity 
for political dialogue within the country.   He repeated his 
call to Parliament to enable those individuals who were 
elected to the legislature but refused their seats to finally 
take those seats.  He also suggested that even if those 
individuals still refused to enter Parliament, perhaps they 
would be willing to enter the room to hear Vice President 
Biden's speech this week.  The president also announced that 
members of his government and his party would be traveling to 
 
TBILISI 00001339  002 OF 003 
 
 
all regions of Georgia to
 engage in consultations with the 
people.  Based on what they hear, the government will compile 
a list of the top five concerns of the people and publish it 
by the end of September.  In response to a proposal made by a 
member of parliament to move the body to Kutaisi, Saakashvili 
proposed dividing the work of Parliament between Tbilisi and 
Kutaisi, holding committee meetings in the capital and 
plenary sessions in Kutaisi. 
 
THE RESPONSE 
 
5. (SBU) For four hours after the speech, both majority and 
minority members of parliament engaged in a lively debate 
about Saakashvili's proposals and broader policies.  To take 
several examples, Christian Democratic leader Giorgi 
Targamadze suggested that the speech was primarily a 
publicity stunt, timed to coincide with Vice President 
Biden's visit; his colleague Levan Vepkhvadze added that he 
had heard nothing new in the speech.  Another CDM member, 
Magda Anikashvili, leveled a more specific criticism about 
the inadequate health care system.  Several opposition 
members charged that the government had been overly 
aggressive in their response to the recent protests, with We 
Ourselves' Paata Davitaia, for example, calling for 
investigations into the May 6 and June 15 incidents involving 
demonstrators at police stations; Vepkhvadze voiced 
disapproval of the recently revised legal restrictions on 
political rallies.  Criticizing Saakashvili's 
"counterproductive conflict resolution policy" and "reckless 
step" in August 2008, Movement for Fair Georgia's Peter 
Mamradze called for dialogue with Russia with no 
preconditions; other members rejected Mamradze's remarks, 
including UNM member Akaki Minashvili, who declared that 
dialogue with Russia would only be possible when Russia's 
occupying forces have left Abkhazia and South Ossetia. 
 
6. (SBU) President Saakashvili concluded the session with a 
response to several of the points raised during the debate. 
In particular, he took exception to criticisms leveled at 
police conduct during the protests, saying that the police 
have played a key role in protecting Georgia and deserve the 
support of the parliamentarians.  He also defended the 
rally-related legislation as designed to protect citizens. 
He expressed great pride in the debates themselves, 
characterizing them as evidence of Georgia's new political 
culture and contrasting his willingness to engage in such 
open discussions with someone like Putin.  He praised the 
Parliament, saying Georgia has not had such a good 
legislature for years.  Looking ahead to 2013, Saakashvili 
said his goal was to ensure not the continuation of his own 
power, but a smooth transition to the next administration; he 
also said he intended to transfer his power not to Georgia's 
enemy, but to the Georgian people. 
 
THE SIGNIFICANCE 
 
7. (C) With a few exceptions, Saakashvili did not introduce 
any truly new ideas in his address.  The task he set for 
himself, however -- and that he largely accomplished -- was 
to translate vague ideas about reform into concrete and 
measurable objectives with specific time frames.  On election 
reform, for example, he repeated proposals he has made 
before, but he set dates of the end of 2009 for completing 
revisions and moved an earlier pledge of fall 2010 for local 
elections up to May 2010.  On constitutional reform, he set 
before the already existing commission the specific task of 
Qbefore the already existing commission the specific task of 
limiting the president's ability to dissolve parliament.  On 
judicial independence, he introduced the new idea of 
increasing the penalties for judicial interference by the end 
of September.  On the media, he suggested expanded satellite 
access for channels and offered a very specific proposal on 
the makeup of the public broadcasting board -- and also set a 
time limit of 90 days for the latter step.  Although he has 
proposed opposition involvement in national security 
discussions before, Saakashvili extended the specific 
invitation of involvement in monthly NSC meetings.  Finally, 
even though his call for national dialogue is rather vague, 
he did set a deadline of the end of September for a summary 
of the dialogue's results.  Not only do these commitments 
promise to keep Saakashvili accountable, but, if implemented, 
they could have a substantial impact on Georgia's overall 
progress on reform. 
 
8. (C) While it is too early to gauge public reaction to 
Saakashvili's speech, his remarks are noteworthy for their 
specificity.  Saakashvili has set a number of deadlines for 
himself, and it will be easy for all political figures and 
the public itself to determine if he and the government are 
following through on their commitments.  Given their 
 
TBILISI 00001339  003 OF 003 
 
 
continuing strident rhetoric, most of the non-parliamentary 
opposition is unlikely to respond positively to Saakashvili's 
renewed call for constructive engagement.  If the ruling 
party is able to deliver on even some of these reform 
proposals, the already sidelined non-parliamentary opposition 
could lose even more of its already limited public support. 
Some, such as Irakli Alasania who are already moving toward 
dialogue, may decide that the time has come to make a final 
step away from confrontation to engagement. 
TEFFT

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