News / Europe

Georgia Casts Ballots in Test of Democracy

A woman leaves a voting booth at a polling station in Tbilisi, Georgia, October 1, 2012.
A woman leaves a voting booth at a polling station in Tbilisi, Georgia, October 1, 2012.
James Brooke
Georgians voted under sunny skies Monday in a parliamentary election seen as a political crossroads, for this former Soviet republic, a rare democracy in the region.

The hotly contested vote is the biggest challenge yet for the eight-year rule of Mikheil Saakashvili, a close ally of Europe and the United States.

Saakashvili’s term expires early next year, and  the winning group in today’s elections will win the right to appoint a prime minister under a new system in which the nation’s paramount ruler is to be the prime minister.

Georgia’s richest man, Bidzina Ivanishvili, has mounted a sudden, and strong, challenge to the president.

Tbilisi company worker Tea Konladze is one voter who has migrated to Ivanishvili and his Georgia Dream coalition.  After voting, she talked to VOA. 

“He is a hope for Georgia,” she said. “He will give a great calm.  And, I think, he will give the population, society, a much better life.”

On Saturday, a massive rally of 100,000 Ivanishvili supporters in Tbilisi underlined what polls indicate: the opposition is expected to win the capital.

But Saakashvili has deep working class support.  

A Tbilisi driver, Temuri, praises the Georgian president for fighting corruption, and bringing stability and jobs to Georgia.  He says he no longer has to pay bribes to police and inspectors.  He says President Saakashvili promotes Georgia overseas and brings in tourists and foreign investors.  He says Georgia will be better off sticking with a proven performer.

Georgia's Parliamentary Election

  • 16 political parties and blocks are contesting the election
  • All 150 parliamentary seats are being contested
  • More than 3.5 million Georgians are eligible to vote
  • More than 90 observer organizations are monitoring the vote
During the campaign, the government fought hard against Ivanishvili.  Government agencies took away his citizenship, imposed $60 million in fines, and jailed militants for his coalition.  This did not stop the challenger.  And in recent days, the opposition was boosted by video clips showing jail guards abusing prisoners.

One voter who asked that her full name not be used said the videos pushed her to change her vote.  “I changed my mind,” she said after voting in Tbilisi. 

“It is impossible to live in such conditions when you are afraid, when you are scared everywhere, every time, you can not speak, you can not always whisper not to be heard.  It is very difficult," she said.

At the Saturday rally, Ivanishvili said he smelled victory.  

"Saakashvili's system must be destroyed,” he told the crowd massed on Tbilisi’s main avenue, Rustaveli.  “The fate of the country is being decided at these elections.”

Early voting was peaceful.  Leander van Delden, from Holland, chairs the European Institute for Democratic Participation, a student observer movement. 

“At the moment, things are going fine,” he said after voting began Monday. “Minor violations are taking place, but it is still only four hours into the elections.”

Georgia has a rocky political history.  Two decades ago, violent demonstrations led to independence from the Soviet Union.  Since then, street protests have overthrown two elected presidents.  Four years ago, Georgia lost a war with Russia and two provinces to Russian control.

In recent weeks, the election campaign polarized this nation of 4.5 million people in two opposing camps.  Analysts fear if the results are close and the perception of fraud is high, the losing side could resort to violence.

  • Supporters of an opposition Georgian Dream coalition celebrate exit poll results in Tbilisi, Georgia, October 1, 2012.
  • Georgian billionaire and opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, left, celebrates with supporters at his office in Tbilisi Georgia, October 1, 2012.
  • Opposition supporters reacts on the central square during a rally in Tbilisi, Georgia, October 1, 2012.
  • Georgians vote during Parliamentary elections at a polling station in Tbilisi, October 1, 2012. Voters in Georgia are choosing a new parliament in a heated election that will decide the future of Saakashvili's government.
  • Lines at a polling station in Tbilisi, Georgia, October 1, 2012.
  • An elderly woman casts her ballot at her home in the village of Sartichala in Georgia's Kakhety region, October 1, 2012.
  • Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, his wife Sandra Roelofs, and his son Nikoloz at a ballot box before voting in Tblisi, October 1, 2012.
  • Leader of the opposition Georgian Dream coalition, Bidzina Ivanishvili, addresses the media in Tbilisi October 1, 2012.
  • Bidzina Ivanishvili and his wife Ekaterine Khvedelidze pray in a church in Tbilisi, October 1, 2012.
  • Supporters of the opposition Georgian Dream Coalition attend an election rally in Tbilisi September 29, 2012.

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Al Dorman from: Baltimore
October 01, 2012 5:05 PM
It's a democracy now? I'll define a democracy for you: it's countries that cave in to American multi-nationals.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs