TBILISI (FNI) - David Usupashvili, Georgian lawyer and politician, former chairman of the Parliament of Georgia, is confident that the 2020 parliamentary elections will definitely change the political reality of the Caucasus country
1. For a substantial portion of society, expectations that the 2012 changes generated were not quite met. What do you think is the reason for that?
Our society is plagued by a host of different problems, which are produced by – and remain difficult to resolve – because of one common reason: a malfunctioning state. Since independent Georgia’s fourth elected government failed to govern the country through state institutions – (a failure instated by its predecessors) the central problem of modern Georgia has become apparent with dazzling clarity: we restored statehood, but are unable to handle it. The source of the country’s challenges is not this or that leader, or this or that political party, but the destructive, anti-statehood political lifestyle, which destines every political leader – good, bad, average, old, new, or future – to ultimate failure.
No government, so far, has been able to avoid getting infected by the “virus of fundamentalism” which tends to comes with power. For them, state power will always lose its primary purpose as an instrument of achieving idea-based political objectives; while remaining in power will normally become the central political idea. As soon as power had been attained, every government assumed complete ownership of the country, equating state interests with personal ones, labeling every political opponent “an anti-statehood event” and portraying the preservation of power a matter of national security.
The political processes fill society not with hope and enthusiasm, but with anxiety and desperation; politicians always drag voters against someone, in an undertaking to topple and destroy their opponent. The positive, constructive, consolidating potential is fully overshadowed by negative, harmful, disconnecting instincts and drive. We love Him with whom we can enjoy hating the Other; we loathe everyone who do not share our hatred.
Forming a state without a common past is a mighty tough feat, but building a state without a common future – that is absolutely unimaginable. Georgia’s population today is united by a shared past, but is still incapable of creating a clear picture of a common future, in which every citizen would see his or her own rightful place, as well as other citizens’ necessities. I think the mass emigration of Georgian population is caused exactly because of the incapacity to envision a better future, rather than because of the unbearable present.
2. We are going to have presidential elections at the end of the year; in two years, the country is going to hold parliamentary elections. What should we expect from the presidential elections? What influence could it have on political processes and what kind of president does the country need?
First of all, I am confident that the 2020 parliamentary elections will definitely change the political reality. The change will come in one of three possible forms. It may be: 1.) Revolutionary – a complete failure of the Georgian Dream and resurgence of revanchist and/or pro-Russian forces; 2.) Stagnant – we could end up with a Georgian Dream which has completely fused and bureaucratized itself with the state’s administrative system, and which fights only to remain in power, while being completely drained of ideas and energy to lead the country; and 3.) Evolutionary – which results in resilient state institutions with strong checks and balances, functioning within the boundaries of the law. In this outcome, the Georgian Dream party would move away from the tracks of a monopolistic conglomerate to become just another political party, uniting with one of the pro-European parties in a governing coalition or moving to the opposition all together.
The president elected in 2018 will have an important influence on the course of our country’s development. If he/she is a member of the governing Georgian Dream party (“the Dream Shield”), filled with the “you can’t beat me and Bidzina” spirit, then such a candidate will certainly move the country towards a fateful stagnation. If the next president comes out of a colorful opposition army (“the Sword of the Opposition”) and is driven by the formula, “let’s get rid of Bidzina and the Georgian Dream first and then we’ll see what happens”, such a candidate will lead us straight to the tip of another revolutionary abyss. If our next president is a candidate that’s above-party politics – but not apolitical or a non-politician - with the platform, “Georgia belongs to everyone and I am the leader of everyone’s nation” (i.e. “a Head of State”), then he or she will bring upon an evolutionary development, safeguarding the formation of democratic constitutional order, and not demolishing what has already been built.
Naturally, I support the “Head of State” variant, and for several reasons. Firstly, because our Constitution envisions such a president. Secondly, because both the “Dream Shield” and the “Opposition Sword” types will derail the political processes even further. Thirdly, because it is possible to ensure broad consolidation of socio-political forces around such a candidate. And finally, because this platform has the best chance of winning the elections.
Apart from all of the abovementioned reasons, this is Georgia; without the Georgian Dream supporters, Georgia is not Georgia. Without the supporters of the United National Movement, Georgia is not Georgia. Without either pro-Europeans, or even pro-Russians, Georgia is not one. What unites us all is a common state. Therefore, the head of our shared state must be a president for all and he/she must identify and protect the state interests.
Someone who is unwilling, for whatever reason, or has exhausted the resources to have collaborative relationships with other political groups cannot possibly become the president. Even if the whole country goes wild and everyone goes after each other, the president has to remain as a guarantor of unity, balance and harmony. Only in this way, can the president alter the destructive, enmity-based political culture. It is also crucial to turn the page on the dramatic, exhausting, shameful and dangerous squabbling that has been a constant between the Georgian Dream and the UNM.
The president has to fight “wrong events”, not “wrong people”. Defeating “wrong people” and enabling the continuation of “wrong events” will lead to an even bigger tragedy, for the “right people” that often emerge as possible alternatives very rapidly turn into “wrong people” themselves.
3. The constitutional changes have weakened the role of the president quite a bit. What leverage does he/she have to achieve all of this?
The President of Georgia, constitutionally speaking, does not have any less rights than the heads of state in other democratic countries. Therefore, it is not accurate to say, “well, he/she has very little say in the government affairs, why does it matter who he/she is?” What the president does have is the authority of his/her office. The head of state is not equipped with purely constitutional instruments of power, so his/her specific functions can only be fulfilled through the power of authority, not through the authority of power.
To obtain and maintain such authority, it is not enough to just get the support of more than half of the voters. It is important to assure the opposing side that the president will not continue to fight them after the elections, but will serve their interests decently, and as prescribed by the Constitution.
President must keep the national pride and hope of the future alive. He or she must widen our perspectives by tying our past to our future. The head of state must regard each citizen as a partner, as a shareholder of our nation. The president must set high standards for other state institutions through exceptional professionalism, dedication, integrity, political skills and ability to compromise. The president has to make sure that the last 30 years of modern Georgian history, replete with obstacles and difficulties, can be regarded as meaningful experience. These lessons must be transferred to future generations born in independent Georgia, who will use it to lead our country into the next 30 years. All of this does not require executive power; what is needed is a strategic vision of the development of the state, contagious enthusiasm and diligent effort.
Furthermore, it is important for the president to properly understand his/her role. For example, if the president gets involved or gets dragged into every-day bickering of the personal-political-party politics, the president will become weak. A strong head of state occasionally engages in a political debate and makes his/her contribution from a general constitutional/moral ground, therefore adding value to his/her word.
4. Do you plan to participate in the presidential elections? There are rumors that you are in consultations with Bidzina Ivanishvili on this matter…
I have heard such rumors on many occasions, but they are far from reality. For those who prefer a president that is subservient to the Georgian Dream, and is passive and symbolic in character, I can be neither such president, nor a supporter of such a presidential candidate. For those who would like to see a revanchist, revolutionary leader, I cannot be their candidate either. For those who would like to see a populist, show-loving president, that would not be me. But for those who would like to have a president who unifies, seeks political compromise, is filled with positivity and optimism, and strives to build an accommodating environment, I could be such a candidate, or support such a candidate.
David Usupashvili answers the questions of
“Kviris Palitra”, a Georgian weekly newspaper