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The end of the Saakashvili era

31.10.2012 09:31

Vladimir Strogov

The Georgia Dream coalition that won the parliamentary elections last week appointed a new government independent from the president. The victory of the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili's movement marked a sharp decline of influence of Mikhail Saakashvili, who has lost his government devoted to him and parliamentary majority. Reasons for the failure of the former ruling party, the United National Movement, are explained by almost universal failure of policy of the regime that came to power after the Rose Revolution.

The war unleashed by the official Tbilisi against Russia in August 2008, was, as conceived by its instigators, to become its chief triumph in the foreign policy arena. However, instead of parades in Sukhum and Tskhinval the conflict ended for Georgia with a severe national disgrace. Many thousands of refugees, the demoralized and retreating army, bombing of military targets - and all this against the background of the national leader chewing his tie for fear - will long be remembered by ordinary citizens of Georgia. Then, in 2008, its political elite through various manipulations made its people believe in the myth of "Russian aggression". Meanwhile, today not so many Georgians agree with this false version of the outbreak of the conflict.

The Saakashvili era will long remain a symbol of severe internal problems in Georgia. The social relations model in the country often called "Georgian miracle" in the West and among Russian liberals proved to be unsustainable. Thus, the allegedly eradicated bribery and embezzlement of state property, in fact just became the prerogative of the highest levels of government. It is no coincidence that the regime change in the country is accompanied by crowded strikes, riots of the poor and the desperate refugees from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, occupying the government facilities.

According to competent authorities, Georgia's economy is a "soap bubble". The situation in this area is now no better than before the Rose Revolution. The economic growth in the first years of Saakashvili's rule was due to the funds received as a result of privatization of the public sector. And later, when there was nothing to privatize - due to the accumulation of the foreign debt that since 2003 has grown more than 6 times. Georgia ranks last among the countries of the Caucasus in terms of GDP per capita. At the same time, average per capita income is among the world's lowest; the real unemployment rate is over 60 percent, and exports exceed imports several times.

In 2003-2012 Georgian authorities have done a lot at the official level to attract foreign investment. Foreign PR structures acting in the pay of the government actively promoted in the West Georgia's image as a "young democracy" - a "great potential" country. Also, a series of laws and other measures were introduced in the country to simplify the start of one's own business. So, now under law the employees are practically not protected from employers' abuse of power. Meanwhile, it turned out in practice that it was much easier to become ruined than set up business, under hostile takeover by business clans under control of the president Saakashvili. Investments that came in the country in the mid-2000s, have quickly come to nothing. Coming from abroad businessmen including many countrymen returning to their homeland were able at once to understand the false propaganda and go back.

Today, in terms of funds spent on healthcare - $ 35 per head - Georgia shares today the 149-152nd place with Yemen, Togo, and Eritrea. In 2010, Georgia's aggregate expenditures on education and healthcare were 1.5 times less than those spent on security forces.

The human rights situation is capable of improvement too. A striking example is the recent scandal of torture in prisons. In September, the Interior Ministry of the republic reported cases of mistreatment of prisoners in the Gldani prison No. 8. According to the investigation, a group of prison officers "inhumanly treated prisoners and filmed it on video". Several human rights organizations condemned the revealed violations of prisoners' rights. Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia resigned, and later fled abroad.

With the victory of the Georgia Dream coalition Saakashvili's companions took to flight on a large scale. With fear of being persecuted for various crimes (including tortures and murders) by the winning opposition, many senior officials have left Georgia. Among them ? the Minister of Justice Zurab Adeishvili, Defense Minister Dmitri Shashkin, Deputy Defense Minister Data Akhalaia, Chairman of the Defense and Security Committee of the Parliament, Giorgi Targamadze, former Defense Minister David Kezerashvili (served during the war of 2008), former head of the penitentiary department, David Chakua.

What political views characterize the people who came to replace the escaped criminals? In which direction is the new government going to move? These questions can be answered today only on the basis of separate statements by prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and his government.

In various interviews, the new cabinet council members (particularly, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Maya Panjikidze) note that his top priority is the return of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia. However, they completely rule out the use of force in this case. Ivanishvili said that the military events of August 2008 were "great provocation occurred under the direction of the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili". Certain statements by the new Defence Minister Irakli Alasania are also evidence of the imminent transformation of the national offensive military doctrine to a defensive one. Thus, he claims that in the near future the republic intends to reduce the size of its army, to halve the length of conscription, to give up air and naval forces, to concentrate on the development of national air defense system.

In his effort to restore the territorial integrity of the country, Ivanishvili promises to focus on the strategy for the development of "circumconflict" regions - Samegrelo (bordering with Abkhazia) and Shida Kartli (in South Ossetia). If Saakashvili built, "to the envy of the Abkhazians, the port city of Lasik (not far from the Georgian-Abkhaz border), this time it is decided to create a rehabilitation projects foundation for the breakaway regions. In this case, Ivanishvili decided to cancel the construction of Lasik. The project of city construction on ancient swamps, according to many experts, is just another fraudulent scheme of the former authorities.

Having admitted its predecessors' guilt for initiating the conflict, the new Georgian authorities believe that the discussion of the lost republics problem should not prevent friendly relations with Russia. Ivanishvili takes a stand in favor of the earliest normalization of Georgian-Russian relations, as well as cultural and trade links restoration. According to the Prime Minister, Georgian businesses are not yet ready to export products into the American or European markets, so, it is worth for Georgian businessmen to return to the Russian market, which is very important for the economy and agriculture of Georgia. Within days after the approval of the new Georgian government, Ministers of Energy and Agriculture, Kakha Koladze and David Kirvalidze, made specific proposals to Russia.

Despite the intention to develop good neighborly relations with Moscow, the new prime minister called for the continuation of the course for the country's rapprochement with the leading Western countries and organizations. According to Ivanishvili, he "will do everything" to deepen cooperation with Georgia's "biggest partner" ? the United States. According to Irakli Alasania, Washington will remain Tbilisi's principal military ally. It is from the U.S. that it is expected to purchase the major part of samples of the latest weapons and equipment.

But the new government's main goal is to build in Georgia a viable state system to be independent of the identity of one person. An important role in this process should be played by the planned decentralization of power and the granting of more powers to the regions. The Georgia Dream's leaders express the need to solve serious social problems inherited from the era of Saakashvili. Thus, the new Prime Minister promised to allocate about $6 billion to address the problems of refugees and, above all, for the construction of modern dwelling houses. Despite ambitious plans, Ivanishvili will not remain long in politics. On the day of his confirmation as prime minister, he said that in a year and a half he will leave the politics for the civilian sector.

Now it is safe to say that Georgia opens a new page in its history. Given the fact that the president can not be elected to two consecutive terms, Saakashvili have little time to be in power. The regular presidential elections to be held as early as next year will make him nominally an average citizen. However, if Saakashvili managed to find some loophole and even win, such efforts would have proved futile in principle. The adopted in 2010, new Georgian constitution which will come into force in autumn 2013, provides for the transfer of full executive power from the president to the Prime Minister responsible to parliament. The presidential powers will be limited to representative functions. We hope that the new government in Georgia, will avoid mistakes of Saakashvili's regime, and changes for the better will be irreversible.