|INTERVIEW-Georgia leader's ex-ally slams democracy 'shortfall'|
|July 14, 2008|
July 14, 2008
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili must show more respect for democracy if he is to uphold the values of the "Rose Revolution", said the woman who until three months ago was his most important domestic ally.
Nino Burjanadze, who along with Saakashvili and late Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania led the 2003 "Rose Revolution", split with the president earlier this year, saying she disagreed with some of his decisions.
She has since stayed out of active politics, but some observers say if she decided to go into opposition to her former ally she could present a credible challenge to Saakashvili in the next presidential elections five years from now.
"The level of democracy is not sufficient," Burjanadze told Reuters in an interview last week. "The time of revolutionary decisions should end... We need to do a lot to strengthen democratic values in our country."
"We need a strong and independent judicial system, strong and independent media, a strong and independent business community. All these things do not exist in our country in fully-fledged terms," she said.
Saakashvili, a staunch U.S. ally, says his tiny Caucasus country is a beacon of democracy. His rule has been dominated by a conflict with neighbouring Russia over two Moscow-backed regions that do not recognise Tbilisi's authority.
But he has come under fire from a growing number of former allies who say he has betrayed the Rose Revolution and accuse him of rigging elections and trampling civic freedoms, claims he denies.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a visit to Tbilisi last week, met opposition leaders and spoke of the importance of giving a voice to opponents.
Burjanadze said it was too early to speak about her political ambitions. This month she launched a think tank called "For Democracy and Development".
But if she did go into opposition she would be the most serious adversary Saakashvili has faced. She remains popular with voters and is recognised and respected in the West.
"My ambition is to serve my country and to do everything in order for my kids and their friends to live in a normal and democratic state," said Burjanadze, a mother of two sons.
"We understand that the current reality in the country is still far from the ideals which are so important for us. It needs our efforts and immediate actions," she said.
Georgia, which hosts oil pipelines from the Caspian Sea to world markets, is the focus of a battle for influence between Russia and the United States, which supports Saakashvili.
Burjanadze, 44, helped Saakashvili to power when he launched a wave of protests in 2003 that eventually forced then-President Eduard Shevardnadze to resign.
Saakashvili was elected president the following year and Burjanadze became a pillar of the ruling coalition, serving as speaker of parliament until stepping down in May.
Zhvania, the other member of the "Rose Revolution" trio, died in 2005. A police investigation found he had been asphyxiated by a faulty gas heater.
Georgia's $10 billion economy grew more than 12 percent last year. The World Bank has praised its reforms.
But many Georgians say their leaders ignored public opinion and did little to ease widespread poverty and unemployment. High-level corruption is perceived to be endemic.
"I'm ready to share responsibility for mistakes of the past... One of the main was ignoring opinion of the society," Burjanadze said.
"People thought that all decisions had been taken by a small group of people without consultations with the society." (Editing by Ralph Boulton)
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