Ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili said he plans to hit the campaign trail, travel in regions, meet locals and make TV appearances to convince the electorate to vote in the October 8 parliamentary elections for the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG) party, which he founded four years ago.
Ivanishvili, who was the PM for a year till November 2013 and who is widely considered to be still wielding much influence on government, made an announcement in a lengthy open letter, released on May 30.
In the 19-page letter, almost half of which is dedicated to describing “positive trends” that were made in the country since the Georgian Dream coalition came into power in late 2012 and “injustices” made under the previous government when UNM was in power, Ivanishvili also speaks of “threat of returning to past” and vows to use all of his resources to prevent UNM from “turning the clock back.”
On foreign policy, he reiterated that Georgia should continue its European and Euro-Atlantic course and “wait patiently” before NATO will be able to open its door for Georgia.
He said that “high level” of Georgia’s democracy development outpaces country’s economic progress, creating threat of return back to UNM’s “authoritarianism”. “We should all realize the threat accompanying this gap between democracy and economic development… We have no right to return back into tyranny. We should maintain high level of democracy and pick up the pace of economic growth,” he said.
He, however, said that UNM, “which ruled with terror” when it was in power, is now “making full use of existing free environment in the country” and operating in full swing its “machinery of lie”, producing “torrent of slander”, “providing citizens with deliberately distorted picture of situation in the country”, which causes sense of “disappointment and hopelessness”. He said it is done by the UNM to prepare ground for “revenge” and to return back to the government.
“Machinery of lie” is a term which Ivanishvili and his allies have used for multiple times previously to refer to Tbilisi-based Rustavi 2 TV, which is currently in court battle with its former shareholder over ownership dispute.
The case, which was lost by Rustavi 2 TV’s current owners in the lower court and which the opposition and the TV channel itself claim is an attempt by the authorities to take over the opposition-minded broadcaster, is now in Court of Appeals, where the most recent hearing was held on May 30. After the hearing, presided over three-judge panel, which will continue on May 31, Rustavi 2 TV’s director and ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s ally Nika Gvaramia again accused the authorities and personally Ivanishvili of trying to seize the channel through the court, which he said, is under Ivanishvili’s control; he warned that such a scenario would lead to “civil confrontation”.
Ivanishvili said in his open letter without mentioning specifically Rustavi 2 TV’s ownership dispute: “We will certainly maintain free media environment, where any media outlet will also have the right to be biased, politically agitated and to also spread wrong and slanderous information – regrettably that’s what we are witnessing on daily basis.”
He said that UNM’s “machinery of lie spreads all kind of slander against personally me and developments in the country.”
“The reason is not just the fact that I’ve made a significant contribution to their [UNM’s] defeat [in 2012 elections]; I am a source of irritation for Saakashvili’s team even more because I represent a serious obstacle for them in their struggle to return back into power and they are not wrong about it,” Ivanishvili said.
“I will definitely use all of my resources to prevent them from turning the clock back and turning the country again into a laboratory for their sadistic experiments,” he added.
“This letter and my TV appearance, which I plan ahead of elections, will aim at offering compatriots my analysis of events before they take final decision [how to vote] and why they should vote for the Georgian Dream and chairman of this party [PM] Giorgi Kvirikashvili,” Ivanishvili said.
‘Cascade of Lies and Bragging’
UNM has responded by saying that Ivanishvili’s letter is “yet another cascade of lies and bragging.”
“He says there is no violence in the country, while we see how wrestlers were persecuting people in Kortskheli,” UNM MP Irma Nadirashvili said, referring to a violent incident in the village of Kortskheli in which UNM leaders and its activists were beaten up by members and supporters of GDDG who arrived in the village during local by-election on May 22; although the perpetrators were identified, no one has been charged.
“Ivanishvili says that he is the main obstacle for UNM to return back into power – in fact he himself is an obstacle to country’s development and UNM will overcome this obstacle successfully [in the parliamentary elections] on October 8,” she added.
In his letter Ivanishvili also said that Georgia’s success will largely depend on two factors – the foreign policy priorities and “what kind of the state we will build.” Speaking about this latter he stressed importance of tolerance.
“We should know well that attempts to impose upon us political or religious radicalism, aggression against dissent opinion or different way of life poses threat of destruction to foundation of our existence. Therefore we have to be especially vigilant and intolerant towards any such sign,” Ivanishvili said.
“Since our welfare is related only to democracy and free environment, it is also obvious that integration into the EU and Euro-Atlantic space, NATO membership is a strategic priority of Georgia’s foreign policy and we have no question marks about it,” Ivanishvili wrote.
“We should understand well that the issue of Georgia’s EU accession is not on the immediate agenda.”
“We will also have to wait until we join NATO, because it is a part of a difficult geopolitical process and it does not depend only on our desire and readiness. But it should in no way become a pretext for speculation and, especially, for disappointment,” he said.
“Euro-Atlantic course is unambiguously Georgia’s foreign policy direction. We will wait patiently for a convenient time; we will be ready and join the Euro-Atlantic structures as soon as our friends and partners are able to open the door,” he added.
“When talking about our foreign policy priorities, importance of relations with our strategic partner, the United States, should be especially stressed, which is the important guarantor and supporter of Georgia’s independence. It was the United States which rendered the largest financial, military-political and moral support to our country in difficult times,” he said. “We should all understand very well that Georgia’s future security and political-economic successes largely depend on further deepening of relations and close cooperation with our main partner.”
On Russia he said: “We will do everything in order to normalize relations with Russia without infringing interests of Georgia.”