- Caucasus - elections - Georgia - Mikheil Saakashvili
‘Better ties with Moscow, but not at any price’
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili faces a serious challenge from Bidzina Ivanishvili as voters head to the polls in parliamentary elections Monday. FRANCE 24’s Robert Parsons says Ivanishvili has struck a chord with many voters.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who swept to power after the Rose Revolution of 2003 and led the country into a brief, disastrous war with Russia in 2008, is facing a tough race against a charismatic billionaire in October 1 elections.
Candidate Bidzina Ivanishvili has energized Georgia’s feeble opposition, and turned heads by saying he would move the former Soviet state closer to Moscow once again.
FRANCE 24's foreign affairs editor answered questions about Georgia’s crucial poll.
Saakashvili claims that Ivanishvili will move Georgia dangerously close to Moscow. Is that a legitimate concern?
The problem is no one really knows what Ivanishvili is going to do. He’s said various things at different times that contradict each other, but what he has said clearly is that Georgia needs good relations with Moscow. Nobody could possibly dispute that, Georgia desperately needs better relations with Moscow. Saakashvili’s relationship with Russia has been extremely confrontational. Things have reached such a pass now that there is zero communication between the Russian government and the Georgian government. If Ivanishvili could improve that, I think everyone in Georgia would welcome that. However, the key question is at what price? Nobody knows what Ivanishvili is prepared to offer Russia to get a good deal with them. People are not prepared to have better relations with Russia at any cost.
What groups or parties are behind Ivanishvili success?
He’s a billionaire, the 153rd richest man in the world with 6.7 billion dollars at his disposal. That allows him to set up an immensely powerful machine. He has united a disparate collection of political opponents under the Georgian Dream banner, and they have brought their political machines with them.
However, there is no question that these small political parties that are united under his wing are subordinate to him. He is the driving force. Without him they were absolutely nothing before in Georgian politics, or almost nothing. Now with the force of his personality, his popularity, they are becoming something.
What should Western European leaders expect from Ivanishvili if he wins the election?
What anybody should hope from Ivanishvili is that he will not go back on the successful reforms that have been made by the previous government, such as reforming the police and the army and cracking down on corruption.
But there are a number of areas where the current government has signally failed. One of these, as we have seen recently, is the penitentiary system. Another has been the judiciary. Those are two areas I think the international community has to concentrate very hard on if Ivanishvili wins, to make sure he pushes ahead much more strongly than the present government does.