A World To Win News Service, October 29, 2012
A shift in orientation after the Georgian elections
Georgia held parliamentary elections in October in an intense contest between politicians backed by the U.S. and Russia, reflecting the rivalry between those two powerful states, each seeking to influence this strategically important country. The current Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and his party suffered a humiliating defeat.
The situation was extremely tense as election day approached and the ruling and opposition party supporters prepared for a showdown. On the eve of the election, plane-loads of Western diplomats and American Congressmen arrived in Tbilisi. So did their Russian counterparts. A shuttle mission was set up to prevent a war between the two camps from igniting accidentally. Election officials in many parts of the country were beaten up.
In the middle of the preparations for this potentially explosive election, a video of torture, rape and other forms of abuse in prisons was repeatedly shown on private television channels opposed to President Saakashvili, particularly by a private channel owned by opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili. This video sparked many days of mass protests just before the election. To calm and control the situation the president sacked numerous prison officials and other functionaries, but that did not help. The release of this video showing the extreme abuse of prisoners was an exposure of the Saakashvili government and a blow to his governing party and his Western backers, because filling the country’s prison had been a central feature of Saakashvili’s “anti-corruption” campaign, which he had made his signature issue.
After the elections, Saakashvili had no choice but to admit defeat, a move that surprised many Western diplomats who had expected him to contest the results. Unless he meets demands for a snap presidential election, he will remain in office until the scheduled presidential elections next year. But with his party in control of parliament, Ivanishvili will take the reins of government.
Ranked by Forbes magazine as number 153 in its list of the world’s richest people, Ivanishvili has a personal wealth of 6.4 billion U.S. dollars. By comparison, Georgia’s entire production of goods and services in 2010 (the last year for which its GDP figures are available) was worth less than 16 billion dollars. Although Georgian, he made this massive wealth by doing business in Russia, where he took advantage of privatization over the last two decades by buying state-owned businesses for tens of millions of dollars and selling them for billions. His current holdings include businesses involved in banking, metal, imports, hotels, drug stores, construction, etc
It is no surprise that he pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into his party funds. He seemed not to care when he was imposed a fine of 90.9 million U.S. dollars in June for allegedly violating Georgian legislation on party funding.
Ivanishvili has not concealed his relationship with Russia. During the election campaign and after his victory he made it clear that in his view, the best economic option for Georgia is to re-establish economic ties with Russia, not only because they are neighbours but also because of the history of decades of close links between them. (Annexed by Russia in 1801, after the 1917 Russian Revolution Georgia became a republic and a member of the USSR until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.) However he insisted that he will not change or oppose the country’s good relations with the West and its plan to join NATO. Continue reading →