- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Georgia’s opposition leader is urging his country’s president to “act as George Washington did” and retire from politics after serving two terms.

With the former Soviet republic holding parliamentary elections next October and a presidential vote a year later, many observers assume that President Mikhail Saakashvili might imitate Russia’s Vladmir Putin by leaving the presidency only to become prime minister.

New constitutional amendments that devolve powers from the president to the prime minister have stoked speculation that Mr. Saakashvili is eyeing the premiership

“I don’t think it’s beneficial for Georgia to have him staying in power,” Irakli Alasania, leader of the opposition Free Democrats, said in an interview.

“I think he tailored the new constitutional amendments to take effect only in 2013 to give him this kind of option, but I do believe it’s better for his political career and for Georgia if he will act as George Washington did: after two terms, leave and give a chance to the Georgian population to elect a new leader.”

Washington stepped down in 1797 at the end of his second term.

Mr. Saakashvili has refused to impose a term limit on himself, arguing he would become a lame duck two years before the end of his presidency.

Since Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution, Mr. Saakashvili’s Unified National Movement has dominated the country’s politics. It controls 119 out of 150 seats in what Mr. Alasania called the “rubber-stamp parliament.”

Mr. Alasania, 37, served as Georgia’s ambassador to the United Nations during the country’s 2008 war with Russia over the breakaway Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

“I think that the war was avoidable,” he said, arguing that Georgia should have pursued serious negotiations with the restive provinces.

“If we want to negotiate with Abkhaz and Ossetians on how to live in common borders, we have to have a dialogue,” he said, arguing that Georgia needs to “make sure that they understand that there is an alternative” to Russia, which currently has thousands of “peacekeepers” in the two provinces.

The Georgian government has refused to negotiate with the local leaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, calling them Russian puppets who gained power in illegitimate elections that excluded hundreds of thousands of Georgians who were ethnically cleansed from the territories.

“Without the displaced Georgians being part of the electorate, these people have no legitimacy whatsoever, so anybody saying we should give legitimacy to the so-called de facto governments is wrong,” said Irakli Porchkhidze, Georgia’s deputy minister for reintegration, the agency dealing with parts of the conflict.

“The skewed analysis of Mr. Alasania needs a reality check because the reality is that Russia is overwhelmingly controlling everything there, so no Abkhaz or Ossetian [official] will ever be able to make decisions at the moment without Russia’s guidance.”

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