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Saakashvili Invites Shevardnadze’s Supporters Back to the Parliament

April 14, 2008

Gela Mtivlishvili, Kakheti

April 21 is the deadline for the introduction of majority candidates for various election precincts. In spite that several days remain till this candidate is official those from the Kakheti already knows who will be candidate for the leading party in their region. Alongside of businesspersons and people from former leading party “Citizen’s Union” current high-ranking officials from the Security Service Departments and Prosecutor’s Offices also take part in the Parliamentary Elections on May 21 2008.

Petre Tsiskarishvili, Georgian Minister of Agriculture, will fight for a seat in Georgian Parliament in Akhmeta District and Gia Arsenishvili, former State Minister during Shevardnadze’s governance will fight in Telavi in under the banner of the United National Movement, which is currently the leading party. Reportedly, MP Guram Kakalashvili, will take part in the balloting in Lagodekhi District; Giorgi Ghviniashvili, Tbilisi Prosecutor, will stand in the Gurjaani District; Zaza Gelashvili, former head of Kakheti region’s Security Service Department-in Kvareli District; Zaza Gulikashvili, who is the director of a chicken farm in the Sagarejo District; Avtandil Lekashvili, former district governor-in Dedoplistskaro district. Nobody is appointed as a candidate of the leading party in Sighnaghi district. Giorgi Botkoveli, Deputy Regional Governor, stated that Tamaz Gaiashvili, the President of the “Airzena-Georgian Airlines” is more likely to be the candidate from Sighnaghi district.

Prior to becoming a minister, Tsiskarishvili served as a regional governor of the Kakheti region. During the time that he held this post he was known for suppressing businesspersons in the region. Non-governmental organizations reported that Tsiskarishvili and that time Regional Prosecutor were connected with the detention of the owners of the network “Avtogaz” in Kakheti in 2004. Reportedly, the businessperson and his children were released after he assigned 50 % of his business to a person who was close to Tsiskarishvili. The fact that the former regional governor was very much interested in auto-gas business became evident when Zurab Zviadauri, Olympic Champion, built an Auto-Gas Service Station in the village of Akhasheni in Gurjaani district.

In 2005-2007 regional printed media blamed the regional governor for importing a large amount of smuggled oil from Azerbaijan. Journalists still remember how their respondent was sacrificed because of article that opened a public debate on Tsiskarishvili’s smuggling activities. Fridon Buidze, a resident of Lagodekhi District, who witnessed how smuggling oil was being imported, could not physically stand up to the threats from the officials of the Kakheti Financial Police Department and died.

Tsiskarishvili was particularly strict with Ingilos, residing in the village of Samtatskaro in Dedoflistskaro District. These people loudly spoke about business-interests of the governor. The controversy between the local population and the regional governor ended on December 31 2005 when Tsiskarishvili ordered to block the bridge linking Georgia and Azerbaijan. Ever since then regional authorities have continued to harass ethnic Ingilos. Each attempt of the locals to inform the central government about their problems ended with the dispersal of the demonstrations. Independent media was particularly harassed during the time when Tsiskarishvili served as the governor. Journalists were attacked and even murdered

Population of the Akhmeta District is not very happy for the Minister of Agriculture and former regional governor, who is supposed to be candidate of choice for their region. Irakli Margoshvili, a resident of Akhmeta, said only specially invited people attended the event when current regional governor Levan Bezhashvili introduced Tsiskarishvili as the candidate from the leading party. “If Tsiskarishvili hopes that we do not know why he was kidnapped in Akhmeta with a young woman several years ago, then he is mistaken. The number of drug-addicts has been substantially reduced in the valley. One respondent asks, “how should we be guaranteed that after Tsiskarishvili becomes MP that such a profitable business like drug-business would not flourish again?!”

Voters have several questions with Guram Kakalashvili too. The population is curious how Kakalashvili, being a director of the Lagodekhi Flour Mill rapidly bankrupted his huge enterprise with all its ten branches and afterwards became the leader of Lagodekhi Regional Organization of the United National Movement. Before the Rose Revolution Prosecutor’s Office became interested in the bankruptcy of the enterprise but Kakalashvili replied to their interests with political statements and stated he was harassed for political reasons. In 2004-2007 being an MP he blatantly interfered in the activities of the local government. In fact, Kakalashvili was running the human recourses; he even appointed directors at public schools.

Gia Arsenishvili, majority deputy of the Telavi District, stated in his interview with journalists that he was offered to take part in the elections by several politicians. “I represent the town in the elections where I was born and grew up. Initially, Mikheil Machavariani, the Vice-Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, asked me whether I wished to take part in the election. President Mikheil Saakashvili and Nino Burjanadze, the chairperson of the Georgian Parliament, soon repeated the same offer. They told me according to the survey in Telavi, locals wished me to be their representative to the parliament over all others. Levan Bezhashvili repeated the same request. However, I never intended to stand in the elections. I wanted to support several people,” said Arsenishvili and added: “I have occupied several high positions but you will never find any shares of mine in any business; it has never been my objective in life to collect much property.”

We asked Giorgi Botkoveli, based on which survey they selected candidates in districts. “We have not implemented any kind survey but we know that the leading party is more likely to carry out such kinds of activities.”

-Based on which priorities were the candidates selected?

-They are professionals who will assume their duties and responsibilities very well. 

-Many of them were in government during the previous president. National Movement blamed them for being engaged in corruption.

-Maybe you are right but as I have already said they will fulfill their responsibilities very well,” said the deputy governor.

Opponents of the government claim the leading party selected rich people as their candidates for the parliamentary elections in districts in the same manner as they did it in the capital. Candidates from Sagarejo and Dedoplistskaro districts are all running businesses. However, candidates from other districts do not have less influence than those other two. Based on reliable sources, local businesspersons are ordered to come up with the financial resources to fund their pre-election campaigns in the districts.