Former State Minister Vazha Lortkipanidze’s decision to join the pro-presidential election alliance, For New Georgia, t! riggered speculations that Lortkipanidze’s close friend and influential tycoon, Badri Patarkatsishvili, will finance the presidential-backed bloc.
The news of Lortkipanidze’s move to the alliance For New Georgia broke on September 5, after a tęte-ŕ-tęte meeting between President Shevardnadze and Badri Patarkatsishvili, who is wanted in Russia for fraud allegations.
“Vazha Lortkipanidze might lead our election alliance. He has great experience and is capable of defusing tensions with our opponents,” President Shevardnadze said in his Monday radiobroadcast on September 8.
However the President downplayed Patarkatsishvili’s role in Lortkipanidze’s decision and said that “it was State Minister Avtandil Jorbenadze’s idea to invite Vazha Lortkipanidze to our bloc.”
Despite the President’s statement, observers have no doubts that Lortkipanidze’s appearance in the pro-governmental bloc is ! connected with Patarkatsishvili.
“Badri Patarka! tsishvili considers Lortkipanidze to be his political ally. Hence, no wonder that Patarkatsishvili promotes Lortkipanidze on the political stage, hoping to ensure his [Patarkatsishvili’s] safety, which is of vital importance for Patarkatsishvili, who is wanted by Russia,” Ia Antadze of radio Liberty told Civil Georgia.
On September 6 the leaders of the presidential-backed alliance admitted that Badri Patarkatsishvili would support them during the elections. “We are really happy that people like him [Patarkatsishvili] will be with us,” said Levan Mamaladze, one of the leaders of the alliance For New Georgia and governor of the Kvemo Kartli Region.
Badri Patarkatsishvili, former aide to Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, arrived in Georgia in 2001 and started to gain huge influence within Georgian political circles. He also started to build a media empire, either acquiring control of or establishing a TV and radio company, a daily n! ewspaper, and a news agency. He has also purchased a great deal of real estate in the country.
Close links between Badri Patarkatsishvili and Vazha Lortkipanidze first became obvious during the elections for Parliamentary Chairman in December 2002. After Zurab Zhvania resigned from the Chairmanship post, the MPs had to make a choice among Nino Burjanadze, Vazha Lortkipanidze and Jemal Gogitidze of the Revival Union, backed by the leader of the Adjarian Autonomous Republic, Aslan Abashidze.
Badri Patarkatsishvili even visited Adjara and tried in vain to convince Aslan Abashidze to support Lortkipanidze in the election race. However, his attempt brought no success. Jemal Gogitidze did not back down and the MPs elected Nino Burjanadze.
Before the September 5 meeting with President Shevardnadze, Badri Patarkatsishvili held consultations with the representatives of opp! osition parties regarding cooperation and funding. Unofficial! reports say that Patarkatsishvili rendered financial assistance to the United Democrats and the New Rights parties.
As Badri Patarkatsishvili told reporters in April, he would prefer to see only two parties in the government, the New Rights and the United Democrats, for he does “not see any other real force in Georgia.” However his sympathies have changed since April.
“He [Badri Patarkatsishvili] seriously needs safety guarantees, thus his decision is quite understandable. As for funding, we will manage to gain pre-election funding from other sources,” one of the leaders of the New Rights, Levan Gachechiladze, said.
Experts say that support of Patarkatsishvili, despite his controversial personality, would be favorable for any political movement, as Patarkatsishvili possesses very important resources – money and media sources that will be of vital importance for political parties during the pre-election campaign.
Obs! ervers emphasize the foreign political aspect of Patarkatsishvili’s decision. The latter finds it important to preserve definite links with Russian authorities, for which Lortkipanidze is an appropriate figure. Before his appointment as State Minister in 1998, Vazha Lortkipanidze served as Georgia’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation and had a good relationship with high-ranking Russian politicians.
“Everybody needs finances on the eve of elections, but in this case foreign considerations have played a crucial role. Patarkatsishvili seems not to approve of the pro-American course of the New Rights and the United Democrats. It seems that he gives preference to pro-Russian parties,” Ia Antadze says.
The appearance of Vazha Lortkipanidze in the pro-Presidential election bloc has also revealed that State Minister Avtandil Jorbenadze lost the race for leadership in that bloc.
“Jorbenadze is a very weak political figure. He fai! led to create strong political support. Therefore, the Presid! ent considered it senseless to back him,” Ia Antadze of Radio Liberty told Civil Georgia.
If the presidential-backed election alliance succeeds in the parliamentary elections, Vazha Lortkipanidze will be able to run for the Parliamentary Chairman’s post once again, since the leadership in the election bloc gives him a good chance to win it.
By Tea Gularidze, Civil Georgia