High hopes as committed democrat takes over key post.

The election of David Usupashvili as Chairman of the Georgian Parliament sends an important signal that the new Georgia embraces the rule of law.

In one of its first decisions after reconvening after the historic 1 October Parliamentary elections, the new Georgian Parliament elected David Usupashvili as its new Chairman. The election of Usupashvili sends a strong signal to Georgian citizens, and the international community at large that the new Georgian government will respect the rule of law and will submit itself to proper parliamentary scrutiny.

Usupashvili has for the last two decades been a major figure in the struggle for human rights, democratic values and the rule of law in Georgia. He was one of the founders of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, and later joined the Republican Party, a small but influential political group that has strong liberal values. Usupashvili is credited with turning the party from a small fringe group to a key player in Georgian politics. Despite considerable internal soul searching Usupashvili persuaded his party last year to join the Georgian Dream coalition established by Bidhzına Ivanishvili. Political observers consider the election of Usupashvili as one of the most significant moves of the new government.

Usupashvili is known to be a stickler for respect of the rule of law and constitutional propriety. After years when the law was used by the government as simply a tool of power many consider that strong parliamentary oversight is necessary to bring the country to strong legal foundations.

In his acceptance speech Usupashvili told lawmakers that the new Parliament should put an end to a practice of legislative body being “submissive” to government. “Healthy competition and polemic with government – that’s not only up to the parliamentary minority, but up to the parliamentary majority as well,” he said. Usupashvili said that the new Parliament should help eradicate, what he called, “shadow governance”. “UNM achieved successes in number of directions and one of them was curbing shadow economy, but shadow governance was established when decisions were made through bypassing laws and democratic procedures,” he said.

He thanked Georgia’s western partners for their “diligent, well-thought work” in run-up to the October 1 parliamentary elections and said that after the Georgian people itself, it was the international community which played a huge role in peaceful transfer of power based on election results. “[In the run up to elections] emotions were running high and there was a high probability of making mistakes by the both sides. Our friends from the U.S., Europe and others did their best in confirming their friendship to the Georgian people and not to any specific political leader… With their timely advices, monitoring it was made possible to do what we managed to do [peaceful transfer of power after the elections],” Usupashvili said.

He, however, also said that what was happening before the October 1 parliamentary elections should not be forgotten.“Full-scale violence against the opposition, media and voters was underway,” he said. He said that truth should be established and that should happen not because “to fill the prisons”, but in order not to make the same mistakes in the future. “For us zero tolerance means not sending everyone to jail, but establishing the truth,” he said. “Numerous violent crimes have been committed in some cases with orders from high-ranking officials.” “Such cases should be investigated, but in no way we should go beyond limits,” he said, adding that while seeking for justice this process should not be used as a pretext for personal revenge.

For that reason, he said, the process should be carried out in close scrutiny from media and civil society organizations. “Those times when winners had the right to do everything and losers were left to their fate should now be over,” Usupashvili said. He also said that change of constitution and creating “firm constitutional system” wherein it would become difficult to amend constitution and tailor it to specific political goals would be one of the priorities of the new Parliament.

Source: Caucasus Elections Watch with further reporting from civil.ge.