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Georgia's Democracy

In Georgia, after 7 days of peaceful protests, things have hit an impasse between the government of President Mikheil Saakashivili and opposition protesters, who have demanded his resignation. The President has not resigned, but the way forward remains the path of democracy. Georgia has demonstrated democratic dialogue and leadership in its past, and it is incumbent on all Georgians to continue to do so now.

Mikheil Saakashvili swept into power in the "Rose Revolution" of 2003, which saw the ousting of then-President Eduard Shevardnadze, and was re-elected in 2008. He pledged to create a more prosperous, western-style democracy; eliminate corruption; and pursue a NATO membership.

While much progress has been made, critics say that many of these promises have gone unfulfilled. His supporters point to his crack down on corruption and a vibrant economy. His critics say poor judgment in August 2008 led Georgia to war with Russia and backsliding in democracy with the intimidation of the opposition and diminishing of media freedoms.

The protesters say that President Saakashvili must go because he is too authoritarian, and that he must bow to public opinion, although various public opinion polls affirm that most Georgians do not want protests, but stability and a desire for stable, democratic processes to bring about any changes in leadership, not actions that risk instability.

The fact that the protests are peaceful, and that the government has not resorted to force to put an end to the unrest, demonstrates Georgia's capacity for democratic dialogue and underscores the present demand for constructive, meaningful engagement that respects the rule of law, exemplifies the will of the people while respecting minority opinions among them, and promotes continued reforms that will only serve to strengthen Georgian democracy.

"Peaceful protests are an important part of any democracy and an integral and acceptable way to express political views," said U.S. Department of State Acting Spokesman Robert Wood in a written statement: "Building a democracy can be facilitated when all political forces engage in dialogue, follow through on commitments, and collaborate on the hard work of democratic reform, including the electoral code and political environment, the judiciary, and independent media."

"The United States," said Acting Spokesman Wood, "stands ready to sustain and deepen its support for these reforms, which are essential to Georgia’s success as a democracy in which voters determine the country’s political future.