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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs