Pre-election tensions in Zugdidi – opposition candidate, journalists attacked
Ruling Georgian Dream party supporters attacked opposition candidate for the mayorship of Zugdidi Sandra Roelofs yesterday in addition to local journalists.
Sandra Roelofs, the wife of former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, is running on behalf of the united opposition.
Local TV company Odishi says the incident took place in the courtyard of the Zugdidi Historical Museum, where TV programme Lyustratsia was being shot with Sandra Roelofs and other guests.
Odishi says several people verbally assaulted Roelofs, and physically attacked journalists and Odishi TV operators. The television station claims that the incident lasted 15 minutes, and the police arrived late on the scene.
A verbal confrontation between supporters of Roelofs and members of the ruling party continued at the Zugdidi Sakrebulo, local government, meeting.
Commenting on the incident, Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia denied reports that the police were late to the scene of the clash.
“The last elections were rated by international organizations as free from violence and clean. That is why all excesses will be thoroughly investigated and regardless of [ed. the perpetrator’s political allegiance], they will be brought to justice”, Gakharia said.
Accusations of bribery
The Zugdidi incident was preceded by Rustavi 2 releasing secret video footage, which portrays a member of the Georgian Dream party explaining to deputy of the Zugdidi Sakrebulo, Gia Danelia, orders “received from above.”
Danelia says that he, along with other local leaders, was summoned and instructed to bribe voters at any cost, and that whoever wouldn’t take a bribe should be intimidated.
The opposition reacted quickly..
“Bidzina Ivanishvili (the leader of the ruling party) has long been giving orders personally to bribe and intimidate [and use] any dirty methods to win the mid-term elections, especially in Zugdidi.
“Ivanishvili knows well that his defeat in Zugdidi will forecast his defeat in parliamentary elections. I want to say personally to Ivanishvili that neither bullying nor bribery will help him. The population will certainly make the right choice”, said Tina Bokuchava, an MP of the United National Movement opposition party
European Georgia MP Elena Khoshtaria at a meeting of the parliament reminded representatives of the parliamentary majority the case of Ia Kersaia, the school director who, according to the opposition and her family, died of a stroke due to political pressure exerted on her during the presidential elections.
“Why do you panic so much that you lose face during the elections? Again with the secret footage and “probes”, pressure, abductions. You have already reaped the rewards of this in the form of the case of Ia Kersaia during the presidential elections. I don’t believe that any of you are not ashamed of this case, although you make political statements that say otherwise”, Khoshtaria said.
Minister Giorgi Gakharia stated while commenting on the footage that “we will not allow anyone to discredit the elections by disinformation. We urge everyone to give our citizens the opportunity to calmly make a choice.”
Gakharia says “the police are ready to protect the freedom of expression of citizens’ choice.”
By-elections will be held in Georgia on May 19.
Elections will be held in the Mtatsminda District of Tbilisi for a spot in the parliament, while in Zugdidi, Zestaponi, Chiatura and Marneuli mayoral elections will be held.
The United National Movement is pinning its hopes on Zugdidi: the opposition believes that victory in this city will be a step towards victory over the current government in the parliamentary elections of 2020.
The main slogan of Sandra Roelofs’ campaign is “Victory begins with Zugdidi.”