UNM’s presidential candidate MP Davit Bakradze, who is visiting Washington this week, met with the State Department official and several senators.
Accompanied by several other UNM lawmakers, Bakradze met on September 18 Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Eric Rubin; Republican Senators John McCain and Jim Risch, as well as Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.
UNM’s press office said that Bakradze spoke of Russia’s occupation of Georgian territories, as well as discussed internal politics and upcoming presidential elections, stressing on “violent acts” during the campaigning and use of “selective justice” by the authorities.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Eric Rubin, said that he had “a very positive” conversation with Bakradze about the importance of the upcoming presidential elections.
“I talked about how important these elections are in our policy towards Georgia, that we see it as very, very important opportunity for Georgia to take a step forward towards political stability, towards real multi-party system and the holding of free, fair, open elections with free media access, with the ability of all candidates to campaign… is very, very important in solidifying Georgian democracy and for Georgia to take next steps that it aspires to take toward its Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” Rubin said.
“So we see these elections as very, very important… I hope that these elections will really be a milestone for Georgia’s democratic progress,” he added.
The U.S. inter-agency delegation paid a fact-finding visit to Georgia last week to assess pre-election situation in the country. The delegation said that although challenges remain, there is a “substantial consensus” among many stakeholders that electoral environment is freer and more competitive than it was a year ago.
U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, Richard Norland, was in western Georgian town of Zugdidi this week as part of the embassy’s monitoring efforts ahead of the October 27 presidential election. Zugdidi was a scene of a stone-throwing incident in July when UNM supporters and leaders were attacked by anti-UNM activists. Bakradze’s outdoor campaign rally in the town on September 11 ended without incidents amid heavy police presence as a small counter-demonstration was also held nearby.
Speaking with journalists in Zugdidi on September 17, Ambassador Norland said that ahead of last year’s parliamentary elections, “there was clearly a great deal of tension in the air.” “Right now, I don’t feel that tension,” he said.
He, however, also stressed that it is important that “nobody take for granted that everything will go smoothly through the election; it’s important to stay focused on the need for peaceful election.”
Ambassador Norland said it’s especially important that “the police are aware of their responsibility to maintain law and order, while also maintaining strict neutrality and disengagement from the actual voting process itself.”
Responding on a question how the situation in general has changed in the country since last year’s parliamentary elections, the U.S. Ambassador said that Georgia has a government with “a strong electorate mandate in a competitive election” and the opposition which is “experienced and articulate.” The Parliament, he said, is “increasingly independent as a separate branch of government” and the judiciary is “by definition independent, because it was appointed by the previous government and is increasingly becoming factually independent.” Media and civil society sector is “very vibrant and more active than ever,” he added.
“There are still, of course, issues that we have to focus on together in terms of making sure that the opposition is not pressured in some of the local regions. It’s very important that legal processes that are underway now, some of the big cases [against former government officials], are handled with scrupulous attention to the rule of law, but I think the democratic fundamentals are sound,” Norland said.
He also said that he “detected a growing confidence on the part of the Georgian people that they are ready to move towards democratic institutions, greater reliance on democratic institutions, and less of a reliance on individual leaders per se.”
“So I see this as yet another very important step forward on Georgia’s path to full democracy,” the U.S. Ambassador added.