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The state of democracy in Georgia – article EuropeanVoice

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There are, unfortunately, reasons to be concerned about the state of democracy in Georgia.

Vano Merabishvili, the leader of the opposition, former prime minister and candidate in the presidential elections to be held in October, is in pre-detention trial. Other leaders of the opposition have been interrogated, investigated, prosecuted and arrested.

Tedo Japaridze, the chairman of the Georgian parliament’s foreign-affairs committee, does not agree. On 9 July, he attacked me and other representatives of the European People’s Party (EPP) for arranging a hearing on how the opposition is treated and how democracy is threatened without first sending a fact-finding mission to Georgia (“Georgia and geopolitics at stake”, EuropeanVoice.com, 9 July).

The truth is that a number of delegations have visited Georgia over the past year. I personally was there on 14-15 February heading an EPP delegation in connection with the Euronest political committee; EPP group representatives have been to Tbilisi subsequently, among other things to visit Merabishvili in prison. Another EPP mission was there shortly before Christmas 2012. We are currently planning for a new mission in September this year.

We have and we will continue to meet representatives of all sides and independent actors, in Tbilisi as well as in Brussels. The messages I have received confirm the current government’s desire to move closer to Europe, which I welcome, but also its intention to use legal actions against the opposition if they insist in opposing.

In his article, Mr Japaridze confirmed our worries when he wrote: “Surely, in this historical context, the first and foremost responsibility of the governing coalition, Georgian Dream, is to assure the Georgian people that voting makes a difference. And this means bringing current and former officials to justice for past abuses.”

It is not the task of a government to bring current or former officials to justice for past abuses; its task is to uphold the rule of law and the independence of the judicial system. No one stands above the law and the law should not be used as a governmental tool against the opposition.

However, Prime Minister Bidizna Ivanishvili, the leader of Mr Japaridze’s party, has made it clear that he also looks upon things in another way. In an open address to President Saakashvili on 26 February, he was very explicit:

“One way or another, I state unequivocally: those who vote in favour of these amendments will continue to serve their country, being given an opportunity to correct their mistakes and build a better political tomorrow for themselves; those who reject these amendments will assume full responsibility for everything any of your teammates have committed in these nine years, and continue to carry this weight on their shoulders.”

Since this statement was made, the government’s legal actions against the opposition have accelerated, including the imprisonment of Merabishvili and many others.

When asked, in the 27 April edition of the French newspaper Le Monde, whether President Mikheil Saakashvili might be imprisoned, Ivanishvili said: “I have no desire to judge as many people as possible, Saakashvili included. He is the president, it would not be appropriate. I told him: ‘Stop lying, take another pose!’ If the opposition persists in lying and ignoring the people, the queues in front of the public prosecutor will lengthen.”

None of this is compatible with rule of law or democracy. We would welcome an association agreement for Georgia at the Eastern Partnership’s summit in November; but there is an urgent need for change in Georgia.

We need a debate about the state of democracy in Georgia, not to hold back co-operation, but, rather, to remove obstacles to such co-operation by making clear that abuse of power and use of legal institutions for political purposes will not be accepted.

This must obviously be clarified to the government of Mr Ivanishvili. As a part of that process, we will continue to follow developments, through hearings in Brussels and visits to Tbilisi.

Published 25.07.2013 at EuropeanVoice.com