TBILISI, DFWatch–Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s party is under investigation for pretending to be victim of political persecution.
Justice Minister Thea Tsulukiani has asked the Prosecutor’s Office to investigate whether the National Movement planned to register candidates for the election and then withdraw their candidacies and pretend it was because of pressure.
Tsulukiani also chairs the interagency commission on election and as such has a key role in getting to the bottom of claims about violations.
There have been several incidents in the last few months, mostly involving National Movement activists who claim they are being vitcimized. The party has claimed that its candidates are being targeted in municipalities where they stand a chance to win.
Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili has said that the governing Georgian Dream coalition will win everywhere and they won’t allow UNM to win, statements which he has been criticized for.
Non-government organizations Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association and Transparency International Georgia have sided with the National Movement in the debate and characterized the withdrawal of their candidates as suspicious, and asked that each case is studied properly.
National Movement member Khatuna Gogorishvili claimed in an interview with DF Watch that the justice minister is inciting political violence and retribution.
On Thursday, the Prosecutor’s Office issued a statement (http://pog.gov.ge/eng/news?info_id=501) saying that they have investigated 80 cases of possible pressure towards election subjects and in 76 cases pressure from law enforcement bodies or other persons was not confirmed. In these cases, the reason for withdrawing the candidacies was given as personal reasons like family condition, age, and being busy.
“Hereby we inform you that the survey is voluntary in nature, aimed at explaining the facts,” the statement reads. It continues saying that the prosecutors studied all of the cases discussed during the session of the interagency commission.
The commission is meant to react immediately to violations during the election campaign to avoid any interruptions of a free and democratic environment.
In a comment to the Prosecutor’s Office, the justice minister, who heads the commission, asked prosecutors to continue trying to find out whether UNM has staged scenarios where their candidates have begun to register but then withdrawn, pretending to be pressured.
Tsulukiani said this year’s local election is the first time the government isn’t putting pressure on people. There is freedom of expression and voters know that they are free to support anyone they want.