Three senior U.S. Senators, paying a two-day visit to Georgia, have called for free and fair parliamentary elections and expressed concern that the vote might be followed by “continued dispute” over the conduct of election and its results.
The delegation is led by Republican John McCain, ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, whom President Saakashvili awarded with Georgia’s highest state order of National Hero when he visited Georgia in January, 2010. Two other members of the delegation are chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Joe Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate, and Republican Lindsey Graham, who co-chairs Georgian caucus in the Senate.
The delegation met earlier on Thursday with Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of Georgian Dream opposition coalition; MP Giorgi Targamadze, leader of Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM), as well as ruling United National Movement party leaders and senior officials including Secretary of National Security Council Giga Bokeria. The U.S. Senators were due to meet with President Saakashvili later on Thursday.
“We of course urge a free and fair election and we will be paying a very close attention,” Senator McCain said at a news conference on September 6. “We will also be relying on assessment of various international NGOs, who will be observing election and the process leading up to the election. Their assessment will obviously have a great affect on our view of the upcoming election. The United States government and the Congress do not favor any particular candidate or party, but we are proud of the amazing progress Georgia has made in recent years.”
“We are here on the eve of these elections to advocate and support free and fair elections that will continue Georgia’s progress on the road to democracy, freedom and prosperity,” Senator Lieberman said.
Senator Graham said that there was a “strong bipartisan support” for Georgia in the United States. He said upcoming election “is a defining moment in the history of this country.” He also said that democracy was working in Georgia, because everyone the delegation had met were “complaining about each other.”
Asked what’s their opinion about the authorities’ accusations against Ivanishvili that he was “pro-Russian”, McCain responded: “We met with Mr. Ivanishvili; he made a strong case that he has severed all ties with Russia, that he is committed to democracy and freedom and membership in NATO of Georgia.”
“We certainly will take him at his word and the people of Georgia will make their own judgments,” McCain added.
At the news conference Rustavi 2 TV journalist asked Senator McCain what was his opinion about assumptions by “many pundits” that upcoming elections would be a choice between “going back” into the past, becoming “pro-Russian”, and maintaining “pro-western course”. One of the main lines of attack by the authorities against Ivanishvili is to claim that if his coalition comes into power it will result into derailing Georgia from its reform path and “throw the country back into the past.”
“I don’t think Georgia will ever go back,” McCain responded, but also added his concern was that after the election day there might be “continued dispute about the election” results.
“So what we want to see is a free and fair election as judged by the observers and those who don’t win – accept the verdict of the people,” Senator McCain said.
The ruling party says that preconditions set forth by the Georgian Dream for recognition of election results signals that Ivanishvili-led coalition “is preparing for post-election disorders” rather than for competing in the October 1 parliamentary polls. Ivanishvili says that his coalition will defend the votes of his supporters in case of ballot fraud through any constitutional way including through going into the street, but will never call for a confrontation.
Senator Lieberman said leaders of all the political parties they had met stated that they were committed to Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration and close cooperation with the United States.