BAKU: Georgian leader surprised at election results – Azeri TV

Georgian leader surprised at election results – Azeri TV

ANS TV, Baku
31 Mar 04

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has expressed his surprise at
the returns in the parliamentary election. He told Azeri commercial TV
channel ANS that he had expected that his coalition would do well, but
not that the opposition would do so badly. Saakashvili said that the
Azeri population in Georgia had been active in the elections, but
urged them to play a greater role in public life. He said that Azeri
and Armenian MPs had not been chosen for their ethnic origin, but for
their political experience and reputation. The Georgian leader highly
praised relations with his Azeri counterpart. The following is an
excerpt from the interview by ANS on 31 March; subheadings inserted

Presenter The Georgian parliamentary election returns were unexpected
not only for the opposition, but also for President Mikheil
Saakashvili. He shared his impression about this in an exclusive
interview with ANS immediately after the elections.

Correspondent Qanira Pasayeva, in Russian with Azeri voice-over Mr
President, we congratulate you. How did the elections go? How do you
assess the current situation? Did you expect such results?

Election results paradoxical

Saakashvili in his office, in Russian with Azeri voice-over The point
is that the elections ended with paradoxical results. I hoped we would
win. But I did not expect that no party would be able to enter
parliament and that they would not manage to overcome the 7-per-cent
barrier. Incidentally, I would have very much liked someone to have
overcome this barrier. But this is not the point. The point is that
the people expressed their wish and were very active. I did not expect
this activity. The people took to the streets. We won a great victory
in the Autonomous Republic of Ajaria. Because the local government
failed to seriously meddle in the election results. That is they won
six times fewer votes than in past elections. I think we showed that
the Georgian people support the fight against corruption, the process
of democratization, the improvement of the social situation, the
creation of warm neighbourly relations with our neighbours and
integration into Europe. In general, our people support the Georgian
government and the president.

Correspondent European bodies stated that a 4-per-cent barrier was
enough for the parliamentary elections. Why was the 7-per-cent barrier
not reduced?

Saakashvili We did not have time to change it. I did not confirm
this. This was valid when former President Eduard Shevardnadze was in
power. To be frank, I thought that the 7-per-cent barrier could unite
the opposition. Unfortunately, this did not happen. But we will
probably be able to reduce this barrier to 5 or 6 per cent. The
parties should be strengthened. They should have smooth
programmes. They should advance serious proposals in favour of the
people. Of course, then the people will appreciate this.

Correspondent Won’t it be difficult for you to work without
parliament’s criticism?

Saakashvili First, I think there will be criticism. Because
approximately 50 of the 75 deputies elected under the first-past-the
post system are opposition members. Overall, parliament consists of
230 members. As you see, the opposition is already obvious. Second,
our party is a coalition of different parties and groups. The people
there have different views. We often argue. This will not be a Soviet
parliament. It will be an ordinary parliament which will also have
people with a radical position. Some will be less radical. I think the
president will have certain problems with the parliament. I am ready
for this. Democracy exists for the presence of some problems. At the
same time, there should be constructive cooperation.

Correspondent Whom would you like to see as Speaker?

Saakashvili I would like to see Nino Burjanadze in the post of
Speaker. Of course, the political group will decide this. In general,
my position is that the process of democratization should start from
inside in all issues. Let the people decide themselves. I think
Burjanadze will hardly have a problem in this issue.

Azeris were quite active in elections

Correspondent Were you satisfied with the activity in the
parliamentary elections of Azeris living in Georgia?

Saakashvili I think Azeris were quite active in the elections. This
time there were fewer irregularities than in the previous
elections. The irregularities were at the same level as those in other
Georgian districts. Unfortunately, I could not conduct an active
election campaign on the whole of Georgian territory, also among
Azeris. As for the next elections, I would like to visit all places
and speak to everybody. I want the Azeri and Georgian compatriots to
be more active. Therefore, we should of course provide them with
explanations. Everybody, including those Azeris, should consider
solving their problems by voting. I have always told them that they do
not need to support the opposition or the government. Let them
struggle for the resolution of their problems. Let them raise their
problems and demand that the government tackle those problems. For
instance, we abolished land tax. Azeri programmes are broadcast on our
TV channels now and we will extend the reach of their broadcast. We
will teach Azeris Georgian on a high level so that they can integrate
into society and succeed. At the same time, we have practically
resolved the problem regarding the Azeri theatre. We have done this to
protect Azeri culture in Georgia and to provide the theatre with a
building. There are various issues, which differentiate Azeris from
other citizens of Georgia. Their issues should be resolved as well as
heard . Of course, there are general social problems. These problems
should be resolved equally among Azeris, Georgians, Russians and other
nations. I think Azeris should state their conditions when they go to
the elections. Incidentally, many of them have done this. This would
benefit our statehood.

No ethnic quota for Azeri and Armenian MPs

Correspondent Could you please explain the reasons why the number of
Azeri MPs dropped and the number of Armenian MPs increased in this

Saakashvili I have not defined their number by their ethnic origin. I
think one active MP might be equal to a few MPs. We do not intend to
create artificial obstacles to anyone for their activity, reputation
and political experience. There were Azeris in the former parliament
who did not utter a word in favour of their compatriots. We need
people who will not sit and do nothing, but who will really
fight. This is not a Soviet parliament that needs a quota. Leaders
should appear who could lead others, enabling them to get the
opportunity to play a more active role in public life. I do not know
what the proportion is. But I can say that I do not collect people by
these indices.

Elections show Ajarian leadership has lost popular support

Correspondent Mr President, what steps will you take to fully control
the port of Batumi and the Sarpi customs post in Ajaria?

Saakashvili I think the parliamentary elections were alarm bells for
the local government. Because they cannot rely on the support of the
local population now, unlike before. I think that the agreements we
have reached will come into effect. We will have our representatives
there. They will supervise everything. The only issue left open is the
disarmament of the armed groups called the local voluntary
brigades. We are not going to joke on this issue. We want to resolve
everything peacefully. But if we need to bring someone to book, then I
am ready to do this. We have all the possibilities to do so.

Correspondent Do you rule out an armed conflict?

Saakashvili Of course, I will rule out using any force. But there was
a group in the Georgian region of Svanetia which kept the whole region
under threat. We sent soldiers there to neutralize the situation and
we neutralized them. We will undoubtedly neutralize such elements if
they exist there as well. The state should use limited force, if need
be. But this is the last option for a solution. The best thing is
reaching an agreement and using softer methods. But we are ready to
take any steps for the sake of the integrity of our society, not
causing problems to local civilians, in line with the constitution and
civil dialogue to prevent any threat against our statehood.

Georgia glad to have Azerbaijan as neighbour

Correspondent What do you think of Azerbaijan’s role in this issue?

Saakashvili I generally think that Azerbaijan has always supported us
closely. We have no problems with Azerbaijan and this cannot be the
case. The Azerbaijani president is my personal friend, ally. He is
someone whom I can phone and rely on in my very hard times. In
general, the presence of such partners on the personal and state level
has always played a decisive role for states. I think that the world
would have developed more, if at least half of the countries had had
such a leader. I think you are happy from this viewpoint. You have a
leader whom you can rely on. He will not leave you in trouble. He
seldom gives promises. But he keeps his promise if he gives one. I
feel comfortable that we have such neighbour. Not only I, but also
normal citizens of all Georgia feel quiet.

Correspondent How do you see Georgia’s future – as a unitary or
federal state?

Saakashvili In all, I support decentralization. What is
decentralization? This means all bureaucratic issues are tackled on
the spot so that they are not prolonged in future.

Passage omitted: more about the future plans about decentralization,
resolution of the Abkhaz conflict.

Georgia always together with Azerbaijan

Correspondent Do you intend to cooperate with Azerbaijan in the fight
against separatism? Is it possible to expect any pact to be signed on
the joint fight against separatism?

Saakashvili I do not know what specific documents should be
signed. But I know one thing, that we are together with the
Azerbaijani people in their difficult times. Azerbaijanis have always
been our friends in our hard times. For this reason, we will closely
cooperate in numerous spheres. We regard all Azerbaijan’s problems as
close to us. The Azerbaijani president and the people have been well
informed of this. We will also cooperate with international
organizations so that we could resolve issues as peacefully as
possible and constructively within the framework of those
organizations. Georgia is interested in tidiness, peace, cooperation
and the presence of a general political and economic space in the
region. I think our views in this sphere fully coincide with those of
the Azerbaijani leadership.

Correspondent Thanks a lot.