Press Conference with Deputy Assistant Secretary Melia Pre-elections in Georgia

Tbilisi, Georgia

MELIA: Thank you again for coming out this afternoon.

I bring greetings from President Obama and Secretary Clinton to the people of Georgia.  They have sent to Georgia this week a senior interagency delegation including senior officials from the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense.  Our delegation has come to Georgia to highlight the importance to us of the democratic electoral process that reflects the will of the Georgian people.  We have met over the past few days with a range of senior government officials and political party leaders to urge that Georgia’s election laws be implemented in a fair, impartial and transparent manner, and to urge all political parties to fully participate in the process while abiding by the law.

The message that we have conveyed privately in each of our meetings has been identical: The United States supports the Georgian people’s aspirations for a free and democratic process. We do not favor any particular party or candidates, and the United States government looks forward to continued close cooperation with the leaders the Georgian people choose.

The upcoming elections are critical to helping Georgia advance its Euro-Atlantic aspirations.  Domestic and international perceptions of fairness of the campaign environment, including adherence to the rule of law, media access, transparency, and fair play in the adjudication of disputes, will be important indicators of Georgia’s democratic development.

The long term work of building a vibrant democracy is not over on election day.  I would like to highlight the importance of several principles that, that have featured in our conversations here, all of which are essential for a meaningful electoral processes.

First is the importance of a level playing field.  It is essential that the political environment is conducive to the full participation in the campaign by all parties on equal terms.  Notwithstanding a variety of shortcomings in recent months, it is clear, today, that there is a competitive campaign underway.

Indeed, we have noted the increased participation and visibility of women on party lists and as majoritarian candidates, reflecting the greater inclusivity and participation in this process.

The second principle is about rule of law and due process.  In our meetings with the Georgian Government and the various political parties, we stressed the importance of ensuring that campaign and election laws are applied equally and transparently, and that all participants are held to the same high standards of conduct as spelled out in Georgian law.  At the same time, we urged all the political parties to participate constructively, follow the law scrupulously, and to pursue their political goals at the ballot box.

The third principal is respect for fundamental freedoms.  Respect for peaceful protests and freedom of assembly is a hallmark of a democratic society and we have heard this week from all the political parties we have met that they have been able to travel the country, hold rallies, and get their messages out to the voters.  In those conversations we urged all parties should renounce violence and avoid provocations.

The fourth principal is access to media.  We applaud the electoral reforms enacted late last year that expanded the access of all parties on equal terms to the mass media during the 60 day campaign.  More recently, we were encouraged to see the implementation of the so-called “Must Carry” legislation during the campaign period and we strongly support its extension through the post-election complaints process and beyond.  Continuing efforts to promote wider access to a diversity of opinions and media outlets would reflect fundamental values that democracies share.

The fifth principal that we have emphasized in our meetings is constructive engagement.  We have every expectation, now, based on the opposition’s commitment to us to contain any violence and the government’s commitment to us that security forces will be scrupulously professional, that the election day and its aftermath can unfold peacefully.  We certainly hope this will be the case and we remind all parties that after October 1, they will need to work together constructively in the new parliament to advance Georgia’s democratic and economic development, and they should conduct their campaigns in that knowledge and in that spirit.

Finally, we call on all participants to work to ensure that the Georgian people judge the elections as fair and free.  We commend the work of the domestic and international observation groups, including principally OSCE/ODIHR mission that is here, to help ensure the election process is transparent and consistent with international standards and the results reflect the will of the Georgian people.

I want to conclude by introducing our newly arrived ambassador from the United States, Ambassador Richard Norland, who has been part of most of our meetings this week and who just presented his credentials to President Saakashvili on Monday.

And with that I’d be happy to take your questions before we have to conclude.

Q:   Two weeks remain until the elections.  The authorities (inaudible) one of the major opposition party is controlled by Russia.  Do you agree with that and do you believe if they come into power, Georgia’s foreign policy will change?

MELIA:  We’ve heard these charges and we think that it should be up to the Georgian people to decide who gets elected to parliament and who participates in the government.  We’re prepared to work with any democratically elected government or parliament in Georgia and we leave it up to the Georgian people to decide who that will be.

You may have noted that I began my statement by talking about Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic ambitions and we have seen in all our meetings this week a reflection to that broad Georgian commitment to joining western institutions and that’s a broadly shared perspective here.

Another question?

Q:  The question is regarding the comment published in the Wall Street Journal by the Estonian Defense Minister, who claimed that according to Putin’s statement Russia started preparation for war with Georgia in 2006.   According to the Defense Minster this was something that shocked the western world.  And also he says that the west should react and speak out about this fact.  In this same article, the idea was reflected that Ivanishvili is Russia’s pillar in Georgia …(inaudible)… which are to obstruct Georgia’s natural progression.  Do you agree with the statement made by the Defense Minister of Estonia?

MELIA:  I think the Foreign Minister of Estonia has arrived in Tbilisi this week. And I think you should direct questions about the statement to him.  I would have to talk more to the Russians and the Estonians to find out more about what’s behind that essay so I think we’ll have to (inaudible).

Q:  In recent debates on Georgian Public television, the prime minister of Georgia made a statement that today Georgia faces a challenge of (inaudible) and also there is a class of certain individuals who would like to see Georgia returning back to corruption … we do understand that in this case the prime minister meant a major opposition force …do you think it is appropriate to have such a statement from the Prime Minister of Georgia and what would be your assessment of that?  Do you think that this opposition force had the power they would try to get back the country to the past?

MELIA:  We’re not going to get into commenting on the different campaign platforms or the different campaign strategies and what they say about one another.  I’m confident the people of Georgia are well enough informed and intelligent enough to be able to judge all the statements being made in this campaign. And we think it’s up to them to make judgments about the very question raised.  What are the implications of their votes and what’s the best way forward for their country.

Perhaps one more question?

Q:  The question is about the state of media in Georgia. We know that you had a meeting with the representatives of Georgian media.  What were the issues you discussed during those meetings and what was your impression about Georgian media?  Also, what are the issues that Georgian media faces today?

MELIA:  I think in this room there are a lot of people better informed about the state of Georgian media than I am.  I’m looking at them.  In the small roundtable we had at the embassy, we talked about a number of structural issues:  the Must Carry legislation, about the status of the satellite dish project, and the discussion this week about the interagency task force management of that disagreement.  We heard more than one opinion about the state of media here. But even in that small discussion we saw a very vigorous difference of views and left me persuaded that the media environment here is very diverse and I hope that enough people get to access to a very broad sampling of the very good journalism that is here.

Thank you very much for your attention.


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