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Curtailing Georgia’s Drift toward Presidentialism

Irakli Alasania, a key leader of the Georgian opposition, has a sober article published in the Wall Street Journal today, criticizing the authoritarian measures of President Mikheil Saakashvili:

The government enacted a range of economic reforms, many of them successful. However, it made a key miscalculation, thinking that the quickest way to reform was to put unparalleled power in the presidency and weaken the powers of the parliament. Presidential selection of judges ensured a compliant legal system. Tbilisi removed also the local autonomy and local tax-raising powers of municipalities, which contributed to Georgia’s depressingly poor democracy rating in the recent Freedom House assessment. On every indicator, Georgia was either unchanged from the previous year or had worsened. As the report puts it: “Georgia remains a hybrid system in which a parliament loyal to the president fails to curtail authoritarian tendencies on the part of the executive.” (…)

Over-centralization of power is also at the heart of our securityproblems. The disastrous execution of last August’s war againstRussia’s aggression was the result of the failure of our president tocreate a state system where decisions are made after proper discussionand analysis. As Georgia’s ambassador to the United Nations at thetime, I was concerned that the war was directed by the president’sinner circle and those military and intelligence leaders who offereddifferent opinions were simply excluded from the decisions.

Of course, the responsibility for reform does not just lie with thegovernment. If the Georgian opposition wants to be taken seriously, itmust do more than just oppose. Over the next few months we will aim toformulate the policies and create the institutions to present us to theGeorgian people as a credible alternative to the ruling party.