A bill introduced by U.S. Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott earlier this week was seized upon by Georgian television channel, Rustavi 2, to accuse billionaire opposition politician Bidzina Ivanishvili of “asking the U.S. to suspend assistance” for Georgia with Ivanishvili’s supporters responded by blaming the TV channel and the Georgian authorities of slander campaign.
The bill, Republic of Georgia Democracy Act of 2012, introduced on March 26 by Congressman McDermott calls for suspending U.S. assistance to Georgia from 2013 unless the Secretary of State “certifies” that the parliamentary elections later this year are “carried out in a free, fair, and competitive manner consistent with international standards.”
News about the bill was first reported in a post titled ‘Ivanishvili's Washington Lobbying Starts Paying Off’ on EurasiaNet’s blog, The Bug Pit, which received text of the bill, before it was put online, from a PR firm working for Ivanishvili.
“Scandalous bill commissioned by the Georgian oligarch. Bidzina Ivanishvili is demanding suspending the U.S. assistance to Georgia,” an anchor of Rustavi 2 TV’s primetime news bulletin on March 27 announced. “A Democratic Congressman, who has the least information about Georgia, has been selected to initiate the bill, prepared by Ivanishvili’s lobbyist firms… Fight against government or against the country?”
“Mr. Ivanishvili is spending lots of finances to lobby for stopping the U.S. assistance to Georgia, including military and humanitarian assistance… Contrary to his declared political goals that he wants to develop the country, Bidzina Ivanishvili tries to suspend [the U.S.] assistance for Georgia,” ruling party MP Akaki Minashvili, chairman of parliamentary committee for foreign affairs, told Rustavi 2 TV.
Tina Khidasheli of Republican Party, part of Ivanishvili-led opposition coalition, convened a news conference on March 28 to confront allegations by saying that the Rustavi 2 TV report was part of the pro-government channel’s long-standing “slander” campaign against the government opponents and it had “propagandistic purpose”.
She stressed that the bill was making U.S. assistance to Georgia conditional to holding democratic elections.
“Everything is very simple; [the bill] is not about conspiracy and acts against Georgia,” Khidasheli said. “This is the bill by friends of Georgia – and not by [friends] of Mikheil Saakashvili – aimed at promoting, assisting and encouraging democratic processes in Georgia; so speculations in this regard are simply dishonesty.”
The bill, which mentions Ivanishvili for thirteen times, says that “the Saakashvili regime has launched a concerted, aggressive campaign to undermine” Ivanishvili’s opposition coalition Georgian Dream’s “ability to compete against Saakashvili's party in the Parliamentary elections”.
The bill says that Ivanishvili launched opposition Georgian Dream to “challenge Saakashvili's increasingly dictatorial control over Georgia's government.”
It says that “democracy in Georgia is facing serious challenges and political freedom and fair competition between political parties is under assault.”
The bill also says that the Georgian authorities have “increased harassment and detention of the supporters of Ivanishvili”, adding that “hundreds of opposition supporters have been detained in March 2012”. Here the reference is apparently made to summoning of opposition activists by the state audit agency for questioning, but none of those summoned for questioning were detained. On March 25 an activist from Our Georgia-Free Democrats (OGFD), party in Ivanishvili-led opposition coalition, was arrested in Zugdidi, western Georgia. OGFD slammed its activist’s arrest as politically motivated, dismissing charges against him as fabricated.
The bill also mentions the case involving death of Solomon Kimeridze while in police custody in Khashuri in late February; the bill links this case to politics by describing Kimeridze as “an Ivanishvili supporter”. Although Ivanishvili-led opposition coalition was in forefront of a campaign calling for investigation of circumstances of Kimeridze’s death, it has never been suggested or hinted even by members from the Georgian Dream that Kimeridze was somehow linked to politics or was supporter of Ivanishvili.
“An undemocratic Georgia will breed instability in a volatile region and increase the likelihood of violent conflict. As such, it is incumbent on the United States Government to clearly communicate to President Saakashvili that if he continues down his current path and does not allow free, fair, and competitive elections, the special relationship between the United States and Georgia will be at risk,” the bill reads.
In its report on March 27, the Rustavi 2 TV’s Washington-based correspondent, who interviewed several commentators, concluded that the bill was doomed for a failure.