Europe supports controversial Georgian ex-president Saakachvili

Two days after the defeat of Micheil Saakachvili’s protégé during Georgia’s presidential election, the departing president stopped in Brussels for a “farewell” meeting with European Commission president José Manuel Barroso. The latter had insisted on Georgia advancing towards democracy. “If Micheil Saakachvili finds himself in the opposition today, it’s a bit his own fault. By leading Georgia towards democracy, he allowed an opposition to emerge,” said José Manuel Barroso. “Georgia’s new president proves that political change is possible.”

The results of Georgia’s presidential elections mark the end of Micheil Saakachvili’s ten-year reign. Sunday, voters punished “Micha’s” party, the United National Movement (UNM). David Bakradzé, the UNM candidate, only carried 22% of the votes, while Guiorgui Margvelachvili, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanichvili’s party candidate, won 62%.

The election results only confirmed the choice already expressed by Georgia in October 2012, during legislative elections. Monday evening, the departing president recognized that Georgia wanted to “move beyond me.” “Micheil Saakachvili played fairly. He used a political approach that was decided at the ballot box, and recognized the rules of the democratic game. In that regard Georgia is one of the rare former Soviet Union countries where a candidate that brought about a revolution is today accepting the fact that he has lost power,” explains Aude Merlin, ULB expert on the Caucasus.

Threats of charges

The Georgian Dream party, which won the 2012 legislative and 2013 presidential election, attacked Micheil Saakachvili and his supporters. Monday, the ex-Interior and Defense minister, Bachana Akhalaia, received more than three years in prison for abuse of power.

Bidzina Ivanichvili, the prime minister and Saakachvili’s sworn enemy, is currently threatening the outgoing president with charges on the same issue. It has gotten to the point where Saakachvili’s entourage encouraged him to leave the country. “His opponents want to kill him politically, demonize him and write his crimes on his tombstone,” says Régis Gente, journalist and correspondent in Georgia. “It’s true that Saakachvili made mistakes,” Aude Merlin continues. “He drifted into authoritarianism, and lost contact with the people.” 

Saakachvili’s supporters have denounced these political reprisals. The outgoing president mentioned 25,000 of these kinds of accusation on Tuesday. José Manuel Barroso defended him, affirming that it is “essential that all political motivations be removed from legal proceedings.”

One month before the Vilnius summit, when Georgia will initial the eastern Partnership now being negotiated with the European Union, Europe’s support of Georgia (“which we hope will be more and more democratic,” according to Barroso) is particularly apparent.

CATHERINE JOIE

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