Georgia opposition says ready to accept defeat in fair vote

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 28, 2012 3:40 PM
Georgia opposition says ready to accept defeat in fair vote

By Margarita Antidze

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgian opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili said on Friday he will not stir unrest if his coalition loses fairly in a parliamentary election, due to be held amid tension following nationwide protests against prison brutality.

Ivanishvili, a once-reclusive tycoon whose wealth at $6.4 billion equals nearly half of Georgia's economic output, launched his political movement last year and has campaigned on calls for President Mikheil Saakashvili to resign.

An opinion poll in August showed Ivanishvili's six-party "Georgian Dream" coalition a long way behind Saakashvili's United National Movement ahead of the October 1 election, but analysts believe support for the opposition has risen since mass protests against abuse of prisoners last week.

"If we don't get an expected result and the international community recognizes this election as legitimate, then we will accept any kind of outcome," Ivanishvili told a news conference.

"We won't allow civil confrontation. Whatever outcome will be, we won't allow any unrest and confrontation," he added.

Protests broke out across the country last week after two local television channels broadcast images of prison guards beating, punching and humiliating prisoners, as well as inmates being raped. The two channels oppose Saakashvili and one is owned by Ivanishvili.

The abuse scandal has increased tensions before the vote, prompting calls for restraint from the West.

An opinion poll conducted by the U.S. National Democratic Institute in August put UNM on 37 percent support against 12 percent for Georgian Dream and showed 43 percent of respondents could vote either way.


The government said the video was recorded by guards who were bribed by "politically motivated persons" and Saakashvili called it "Russian mud" financed with "Russian money."

The opposition says 60 supporters have been detained by police and blamed the government for creating an "atmosphere of fear and intimidation". The ruling party says its supporters have been attacked by opposition protesters and urged the Georgian Dream to reject violence.

The grim prison footage has enabled Ivanishvili to call the vote "a choice between good and evil". Yet Ivanishvili said he was ready to work with Saakashvili, whose second and the last presidential term expires next year, if the opposition coalition wins the vote, and would not try to impeach him.

Saakashvili, 44, became a political darling of the West when he rose to power after a bloodless revolution that toppled Eduard Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister.

But opponents have accused him of monopolizing power and criticized him for leading Georgia into a disastrous five-day war with Russia in 2008. His promise to take Georgia into NATO remains unfulfilled and has soured relations with Moscow.

Saakashvili said on Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to gain sway over a country that was under Russian or Soviet control for almost two centuries.

"Georgia cannot be sold, our people cannot be sold," Saakashvili told tens of thousands of his supporters at the ruling party's final rally at the capital's main stadium.

(Editing by Jason Webb)