The United States ambassador at the time thought that two recordings which were televised by Saakashvili’s government right before the presidential election in January 2008, decided the final outcome in his favor.
The two clandestinely acquired tapes purportedly proved that one the president’s challengers to the presidency had plans to commit a coup d’etat.
The new cable released by WikiLeaks shows that just as the country geared up for presidential elections on January 5, the U.S. ambassador John Tefft thought there was considerable uncertainty about the outcome, until the government released the tapes.
“We believe [the secret tapes] have turned the tide in Saakashvili’s favor, as most Georgians were shocked and revolted by an alleged plot…” – U.S. Ambassador John Tefft, 04.01.2008
“The polls are unreliable and all over the map. Those commissioned by the opposition show former president Saakashvili not gaining enough to win a first round victory; those commissioned by the ruling party show just the opposite. The most interesting aspect of all the polls is their common denominator: a large number (some 25 percent) of undecided voters. The key to who wins this election will be whoever captures this vote. Although many assume that these votes would go to the opposition — why else would not people declare their voting intention — all but one of the polls were conducted prior to the Government’s December 24 and 25 release of tapes allegedly revealing a coup plot by presidential candidate and business tycoon Badri Patarkatsisvili. We believe these have turned the tide in Saakashvili’s favor, as most Georgians were shocked and revolted by an alleged plot to overthrow the government by force. This is borne out by the results of the one post-coup plot poll we know about from an UNM source.” wrote the ambassador, according to the leaked cable, dated the day before the election.
“There are other factors that we believe will benefit Saakashvili on election day: the weakness of the other opposition candidates, the continuing popularity of Saakashvili in the regions, and the strong organizational advantage of the ruling UNM which has done more than any other party to advertise and get out the vote. A huge snow storm that hit the country today will also likely give an edge to Saakashvili and his party’s superior organization. Still, the events of November have had a negative impact on Saakashvili’s overall popularity. We believe that his margin of victory will be significantly less than it was for the local elections, where the UNM, with Saakashvili leading the charge, garnered 76 percent of the vote nationwide. This time, we believe, Saakashvili will garner enough votes (50 percent plus one) to win the election in the first round but his percentage will likely be in the 55-60 percent range,” wrote Tefft in a note to Washington dated 4. January 2008.
As a result of the incriminating recordings, the wealthy financier Badri Patarkatsishvili pulled out of the presidential race. Shortly after the election, he died of a heart attack at his estate near London, England.
Patarkatsishvili’s death is considered suspicious among the opposition in Georgia, although the Scotland Yard found no indications of wrong-doing.