Georgian authorities, opposition debate: recent US State Department statement criticism or praise?
The US Department of State has issued a statement on Georgia calling on the government to strengthen democracy and the rule of law.
The December 23 statement, signed by State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus, consists of less than a hundred words, but has become the subject of fierce debate between the opposition and the Georgian government.
• The authorities believe that in the statement, the USA praises and expresses support for the government,
• Opposition believes the statement is a criticism and warning to the Georgian government
A closer look below.
“The United States supports a secure, prosperous, and democratic Georgia. We commend the recent progress made on the fourth wave of judicial reform and support the ongoing dialogue between representatives of the ruling party and the opposition parties on electoral reform.
We urge the Georgian government to reinforce its commitment to the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and rule of law by ensuring that its judicial and prosecutorial system is free of political bias. The United States will continue to work with its strategic partner Georgia to promote the rule of law and accountable institutions”, the statement reads.
The reason for the crisis was the decision of the Georgian parliament, on November 14 to reject an electoral reform bill put forward by the Georgian authorities themselves to provide for a transition to a fully proportional electoral system, instead of the current mixed system of proportional and majoritarian voting.
This reform was the personal promise of oligarch and leader of the ruling party, Georgian Dream, Bidzina Ivanishvili
After it became known that the authorities had not fulfilled their promise, protests started up once again in Georgia; several times the authorities have used force to suppress them.
Dozens of people have since been injured and arrested.
Arguments of the authorities and the opposition
Former parliamentary speaker Irakli Kobakhidze says the opposition is well aware that this is a “statement of support” and intentionally misrepresents its translation:
“The statement does not contain a word about politicised prosecutors and the court – only that Georgia should avoid any bias in the activities of the court and prosecutors.”
But the opposition says that since the United States is calling on the Georgian authorities to avoid political bias in the prosecutor’s office, this suggests that this bias already exists.
“Bidzina Ivanishvili [ed. billionaire, the leader of the ruling party] lost the confidence of the West and Georgian society when he broke his promise and refused to introduce a proportional election system. This is exactly what the United States, Georgia’s most serious partner and great friend, reacted to,” said Otar Kakhidze, a member of the European Georgia party.
What statements have US representatives made so far
The US State Department statement is not the first statement recently from Washington about the situation in Georgia.
On December 16, representatives of the Group of Friends of Georgia in the US Congress sent an open letter to the Prime Minister of Georgia and expressed concern that the country’s authorities had “abandoned the promised political reforms.”
In the letter, congressmen also condemned the violence during recent crackdowns.
“We were shocked to hear that the promised electoral reforms in the Georgian parliament had failed. Georgia has been working on these reforms for years, together with the European Union and the Venice Commission. This promise was given not only to the international community, but, most importantly, to the Georgian people.
“We hope that Georgian officials will immediately resume negotiations and approve this important reform package,” said a statement posted on Twitter by the group’s co-chair, Republican Adam Kinsinger.
Also on December 20, James Rush, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made a critical statement on the situation in Georgia.
“I am deeply concerned about what I hear from Georgia more and more – the ruling party is fighting the opposition through violent attacks, arrests and other forms of harassment. Georgia is on its way to a bright democratic future, and I am afraid that the events of recent months are pulling the country back,” the senator told Voice of America.
Rush, like congressmen, calls on the Georgian government to keep its promise to move to a proportional electoral system.