Mamuka Khazaradze, the founder of TBC bank and leader of Lelo party, gave a 40-minute long interview to TV Pirveli on June 6, outlining where his party stands on a broad spectrum of issues, including October 2020 polls, foreign policy, economy, minority rights, and state’s relations with the Georgian Orthodox Church.
On 2020 Polls
Lelo’s leader called on the ruling party to uphold the March 8 Agreement which would pave the way for redrawing of Georgia’s electoral map.
Khazaradze reiterated his party’s decision to field candidates in each of 30 single-mandate majoritarian districts if electoral changes are passed by the Parliament.
Meanwhile, he expressed readiness to carry on consultations with other opposition parties on matters of common interest.
Khazaradze described his party’s economic views as “center-right” and market-friendly – while being “open-minded” about some progressive talking points such as air pollution and occupational safety.
Khazaradze sought to capitalize on his “proven track record” as a banker and financier, stressing that together with Badri Japaridze – his former business associate and Lelo’s co-leader – they have attracted USD 6 billion foreign investments to Georgia and added 10,000 jobs to the market.
On Foreign Policy
Lelo’s leader voiced support for a proposal – put forward by former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen – that for the sake of accelerating accession to the military bloc, the country should consider joining without extending a clause on collective defense on Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia (until the territorial integrity is restored).
We should refrain from speculations that it would mean yielding of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region to Russia, asserted Khazaradze.
Condemning ongoing “borderization,” Lelo’s chair referred to Russia as “Georgia’s foe, an occupier.” He suggested revamping negotiation format with the occupier country by including “leaders of prominent countries as middlemen,” in order to make up for Russia’s disproportionate international sway.
Holding one-on-one talks with Russia would be “catastrophic” for Georgia, he insisted.
On Queer Rights
Lelo’s leader voiced strong objection to introducing marriage equality to Georgia and allowing same-sex couples to adopt a child.
Khazaradze said the rights of minorities were “well defined” in the Constitution and no “revision” was needed. “We don’t have to be innovative in this regard – minority rights are well protected in our country and if there are some digressions, it only means that the law is not observed [properly],” he noted, adding that “the minority should not abuse the rights of the majority.”
“I am opposed to legalizing the [same sex] marriage, and a child must be reared by a mother and a father,” stressed Khazaradze.
On Granting State-Owned Forestland to GOC
Asked to comment on the controversial amendment which allows the Georgian Orthodox Church to claim up to 20 hectares of state-owned forestland around each of its church houses, Khazaradze said it was justified as “the Church used to own these lands historically.”
“Does the state take care of the forest now? … Have you seen how [Georgian] forests are cut down? I prefer that the Church reclaims ownership of what used to be theirs [before],” stated the politician.
“I am certain that the Church will take very good care of it [forestland],” he added.
Khazaradze’s statements regarding minority rights and church-state relations shortly prompted an outcry from Georgia’s prominent CSO figures and human rights activists.
Many found fault with his “subservient” attitude to the most influential religious denomination in the country, suspecting an attempt to win clerics’ support in the run-up to the elections.
In a bid to soften his party colleague’s rhetoric, former Parliament Speaker Davit Usupashvili wrote granting forestland to the GOC before the elections was “clearly a political move” by the ruling party – serving partisan interests. He further demanded more scrutiny on how state funds allocated to the Church are spent each year.
As for minority rights, Usupashvili called for “more coherent and effective policy” to crack down on discrimination and for more efforts to stem “a social climate” conducive to violence.
Meanwhile, he sided with Lelo’s chair – disapproving of same-sex marriage and child adoption for gay couples, noting that “entire democratic world reckoned likewise some two decades ago.”