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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Srebrenica Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
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.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs