U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Batumi June 5. (IPN.)

TBILISI, DFWatch – Leaders may come to power and leave power, but institutions should be strengthened, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday.

Appearing next to President Mikheil Saakashvili in Batumi after having had consultations with him and the opposition leaders, she laid out the U.S.’s vision of how Georgia can be turned into a democracy.

-It is necessary to conduct fair elections for democracy to be sustainable, Clinton said.

The Secretary of State underlined that emphasis should be placed more on institutions than leaders and specific persons.

Government power in Georgia has never been transferred through legal ways. It has had two coups d’etat after the end of the Soviet Union, one in 1993 and one in 2003. The latter brought Saakashvili to power on a wave of popular support, promising to establish real democracy. But all elections since have been marred by serious violations, and the country is internationally seen as only partly democratic, while partly an autocracy.

As Saakashvili is nearing the end of his last term as president, many in Georgia suspect that he will opt for the post as prime minister and that way remain in power. Addressing a question from Reuters, he did not categorically exclude this possibility.

“People’s choice is the most important decision, which we should respect and which will change anything.”

Clinton said the U.S. expects to have strong relations with whatever leaders the Georgian people elects. Each Georgian deserves living in a democratic country, Clinton said.

Civic activism, open debates, equal working conditions for political players — this is what the U.S. believes to be important for the democratic process, she said.

Saakashvili maintained that he is committed to holding free and fair elections in October, and thanked Clinton for the extra election observers which the U.S. has committed to sending, a request originally made by local pro-democracy groups and then picked up by the government. Clinton called on the international community to send more observers.

The two also addressed the security situation ahead of a summer and fall season that will see an unprecedented military exercise by Russia in and around Georgia. Kavkaz-2012 in September will take place both north of the country, in Armenia south of Georgia, and inside the two breakaway republics Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Georgian officials have warned that it could be a prelude to another war, as a similar exercise, though smaller, took place right before the war in 2008. This time the exercise comes right before elections are to be held in Georgia.

The Secretary of State said the U.S. the most important thing is the elections in the fall and not a Russian military exercise, even if it takes place on Election Day.

The best Georgia can do to increase its security, democracy and international reputation is to conduct free and fair elections, she said.

Clinton arrived in Georgia in the evening on June 4 as part of a tour of the South Caucasus. On her arrival, the Secretary of State spoke about a ship called Pazisi which the U.S. has helped modernize, to used for patrolling and rescue purposes.

Batumi is a bridge between West and East Europe, she said. The U.S. will help Georgia defend its borders.

“We continue our obligations under the strategic partnership and will help you maintain your sovereignty. You should defend not only your waters, but borders and own ground.”

The Secretary has now left for Baku, Azerbaijan.