By Phillip Kurata
The top U.S. diplomat for Europe and Eurasia has advised Georgia’s newly elected prime minister to avoid selective prosecutions of political enemies following hotly contested parliamentary elections in October.
“It is absolutely critical to be scrupulous in both the reality and the perception of how this process is working. If it looks like, or is, designed solely to go after political adversaries, or it’s not done in a transparent way, then the whole country would pay a price, and so that was my message to the prime minister,” Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip H. Gordon said in Tbilisi November 16 after meeting Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Ivanishvili led his Georgian Dream Party to a parliamentary majority in October in the first democratic transfer of power in Georgia’s post-Soviet history. President Mikheil Saakasvili’s United National Movement lost control of parliament, but the president remains in office until a presidential election in 2013.
Gordon said situations in which governmental institutions are controlled by opposing political parties have occurred in other democracies, such as France and the United States.
“The leaders don’t have to like each other but they have to respect the constitution and the rule of law, and the public expects them to work in the national interest. I think that’s just what we expect of Georgia,” Gordon said.
In contrast to the arrests and detentions following the elections, the U.S. diplomat said, he also has seen positive signs of political maturity.
“The simple fact of President Saakashvili acknowledging the results of the election, accepting that voters had spoken and the other side won, and supporting that peaceful, democratic transition is already a positive step,” Gordon said.
The diplomat said Ivanishvili’s statements that he plans to work with the president, will not try to remove him from office and will respect the constitution are positive signs from the prime minister. Gordon said political tensions are understandable given the recent hard-fought political campaign, but the key point is not to let them stand in the way of rule of law, constitutional authority and due process.
“It’s not in their interest either as parties or individuals or as a country to let this turn into a real fight, an act of political retributions and accusations,” Gordon said. “The world is watching; the international community is watching.”
The diplomat said success in managing its transfer of power in a democratic way will work in Georgia’s favor in its desire to become a member of NATO.
“NATO countries are asking themselves: Do we want this country in this democratic alliance? Does it deserve to be? Can we expect it to uphold the standards of democracy and stability that we expect? … It’s one of the features of this alliance that democracy is a key criterion,” Gordon said.
Gordon also expressed the United States’ appreciation for Georgia’s contributions in Afghanistan and the long-standing friendship between the two countries.