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Saakashvili Looks to Open Up to Survive

tbilisi072009.jpgThis week Vice President Joseph Biden is visiting Georgia, and in honor of being graced with his first high ranking visitor in quite a long time, President Mikheil Saakashvili has released an early copy of his speech to the Wall Street Journal, in which he intends to a new power-sharing agreement and an offer to make elections “more democratic.”  Things in Georgia have been drifting in the wrong direction for quite a long time now since the ravages of the Russian invasion, with the Saakashvili administration firing some of the best and brightest individuals in the government, and grinding down the stable of advisers and ministers to only the most incompetant and blindly loyal.  The opposition, which is split between the serious (led by Irakli Alasania) and the fake (more related to Nino Burjanadze and others), has been undetered after months of bitter protest.

One sure hopes that Saakashvili gathers some sense before Georgia loses its democracy – as that’s about all they have left.  For as bad as this government has become, it is still important that the administration complete a term before getting swiftly voted out in a fully transparent process.  The country badly needs a stable democratic record of complete presidential terms as much as it needs new leadership.  The test will be to see whether Saak’s lovely speech will ever bear any fruits once Biden has left Tbilisi.

Until then, the lame duck will looks to keep swimming and keep his head above water.  From the WSJ:

The exclusively domestic content of Monday’s speech underlines the new, less-promising political reality Georgia faces after Russian forces defeated its army last summer, allowing two breakaway Georgian republics to declare their independence.

Mr. Saakashvili said Mr. Putin wanted to replace him, referring to acomment Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made to French PresidentNicolas Sarkozy after the war.

“The biggest response I can have is to organize a smooth transitionof power not controlled by the Russians,” the president said. “It wouldtell the neighbors — the people and not just the leaders — that Putinis no longer the main street bully in the neighborhood.”

But many opposition leaders say Mr. Saakashvili is part of theproblem, not the solution. They say they will press Vice PresidentBiden to link U.S. financial aid to Mr. Saakashvili’s behavior in orderto moderate it.

Some also insist that only a new president and administration willhave the legitimacy to kick-start relations with Russia, whichcurrently are nonexistent. Russia was Georgia’s biggest trading partnerbefore relations collapsed. They want Mr. Saakashvili to call a newelection to renew his mandate.

“He hasn’t done what any democratic leader should do after losing20% of his country’s territory [in a war],” says another oppositionleader Salome Zourabachvili. “He needs to resign.”

Image credit: The the newly-completed blue-domed office and residence of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvilisits in central Tbilisi on July 12, 2009. Saakashvili is set to takeresidence here at the outrage of oppostion leaders who claim themillions spent on the project were a waste of funding. (Getty Images)