News / Europe

Georgia Set for Important Parliamentary Vote

James Brooke
On Monday, Georgian voters are to elect a new parliament. In turn, that parliament is to choose a prime minister with new presidential powers.

In a rarity for much of the former Soviet Union, this is an election in which the result is not known in advance. President Mikheil Saakashvili is facing the strongest challenge since he was first elected eight years ago.

His challenger is Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia’s richest man. Long known as a reclusive philanthropist, Ivanishvili is suddenly the new face in politics here.

Monday’s parliamentary elections will test whether Ivanishvili can convert his billions of dollars into millions of votes for his Georgia Dream coalition.

Keti Tsiptauri, a Tblisi primary school teacher, says she is impressed by Ivanishvili's charitable donations in Georgia.

“The first block of our university was reconstructed by Ivanishvili,” she said. “And we are grateful to him, and I want to thank to him for this.”

A competitive election would reinforce Georgia’s post-Soviet reputation as an island of democracy in an authoritarian neighborhood.

President Mikheil Saakashvili has dominated politics here since he spearheaded the 2003 Rose Revolution against fraudulent parliamentary elections.

On Friday night, he filled the nation’s largest stadium with 55,000 supporters. But unlike the spontaneous crowds of his early years, many people came on government-chartered buses from the provinces.

Outside the stadium, Nunu, a beauty shop owner who came by bus from Telavi, a provincial city, said she loves President Saakashvili, “He does everything he can,” she said. “He builds all the roads.  We all love him.”

But in 2008, Georgians’ love affair with President Saakashvili was shaken when Russian troops invaded Georgia. Four years later, Russian soldiers are still garrisoned in two of Georgia’s breakaway provinces.

Last week, Saakashvili took another hit when opposition channels aired footage of Gldani prison guards beating and sodomizing prisoners. The president fired the interior minister, but protests at the prison quickly spread to the city center.

Outside the jail, Mumuku, who did not wish to provide his family name, said his son has been in the jail since April. He says he was shocked by the videos: “Supposedly, people already knew about the prison abuse for some time,” the father, a wine expert, said. "There were well-known reports about it, but no one could have imagined it was this bad.”

The jail videos inflicted a serious political blow, said Alexander Rondeli, president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies.  “The ruling party has not had enough time to neutralize this blow, so this blow is serious,” said Rondeli, a government supporter.  “How serious, we will see with the elections.”

Angry over the prison abuse, thousands of university students swelled the ranks of Ivanishvili supporters.

On Saturday, the Ivanishvili campaign closed with a rally of about 100,000 people in the center of the capital.

With campaigning over, Georgia’s political future now is in the hands of the voters.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs