Georgia’s former defense minister, Irakli Okruashvili, said he wants to run in mayoral race in the town of Gori in his native Shida Kartli region in the June 15 local elections.
But Okruashvili’s bid to run for mayor’s office will face legal hurdle as he fails to meet two-year residency requirement.
Okruashvili, who was an influential government member in ex-president Saakashvili’s administration before quitting the cabinet in November 2006, was arrested in September, 2007 just two days after launching an opposition party and voicing allegations against his former ally Mikheil Saakashvili. At that time he was charged with large scale extortion; less than two weeks after he was arrested, Okruashvili pleaded guilty, retracted his allegations leveled against Saakashvili and was released on bail; he then left the country in what his supporters said was in fact expulsion. He had lived in France, where he was granted asylum, before returning back to Georgia in November, 2012 after change of government. While remaining in France, Okruashvili re-emerged briefly in Georgia’s political developments in spring 2011 when his party joined ex-parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze-backed street protest rallies but the alliance was short-lived. After he returned back in Georgia some of the charges brought against him by the previous authorities were dropped by the prosecution and he was cleared of some other charges by the court in January, 2013.
Speaking in Imedi TV’s political talk show, Reaction, on March 7 Okruashvili claimed that residency requirement was introduced in the newly adopted amendments to the election code in order to prevent him from running. The two-year residency requirement has been in the election code for a long time already and it was applying to candidates willing to run for Tbilisi mayor’s office (the only city in Georgia where direct election of mayor was in place before the new law on local self-governance was adopted last year); the same provision was kept in respect of candidates willing to run for mayor’s office of eleven other towns, where direct election of mayor will be held in the June 15 elections.
Okruashvili also claimed that there are loopholes in the law, which will allow him to by-pass two-year residency requirement and to run for Gori mayor’s office; he declined to elaborate into details.
He said that for him running for Gori mayor’s office is like competing in third tier of football league, but he still decided to enter mayoral race in order “to show to everyone successful model of governance” on Gori’s example.
“I will win these elections at any cost… If I am allowed to run, I will win in the first round,” Okruashvili said.
He accused local authorities in Gori of misspending and embezzling public funds and claimed that in case of election he would allocate funds from the local budget for increasing pensions for elderly and salaries for teachers in Gori.
“No matter whether someone in Tbilisi likes it or not, if local residents of Gori want this statue back, it should be back,” he said.
While serving as defense minister Okruashvili said in May, 2006 that he would resign if Tbilisi failed to restore control over breakaway South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali by January 1, 2007 – he was dismissed from defense minister’s position less than two months before his self-imposed deadline expired.
Asked about the August, 2008 war, Okruashvili said in the interview with Imedi TV that question ‘who started the war’ is irrelevant for him. He said he “cannot understand” those people who blame the Georgian authorities for starting the war. “The main question for me is not who started the war, but why did we ended the war so shamefully. War is our sovereign right; we can go to war on our own territory whenever we deem it necessary,” Okruashvili said.