Last Sunday, 27 October, a few minutes before the announcement of first exit polls in the Georgian presidential election, Tomasz Kobylański (Eastbook.eu) in cooperation with Bartłomiej Kisiel, talked with Giorgi Kandelaki, a UNM member of the Georgian Parliament since 2008, the former-head of the Georgian delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and a deputy chairman of the European Integration Committee. In 2003, as a 21 year-old, Mr Kandelaki co-founded the youth movement “Kmara”, playing an important role during the Rose Revolution.
Do you believe that during this election we watch an improvement of democratic standards in Georgia?
The election day itself was administered very well. However, the election environment in Georgia can hardly be called an “improvement” for specific reasons: For example, in no previous elections had any political figures, let alone leaders, been in jail during the election period.
For already five months, Secretary General of the UNM in jail, in pre-trial detention without a court verdict. Keeping political figures in pre-trial detention is not a European standard. We have more than 100 former officials charged. In no previous elections had opposition party activists been questioned on such a mass scale. N0w we have 12,000 party members who have been interrogated, including people questioned 10, 15, or 20 times. These two factors together have considerably undermined UNM’s party machine and its ability to carry out a campaign to the full of its capacity. Even after the pledge of the Prime Minister, prosecutions and removal of local government officials have continued.
While the media landscape is indeed pluralistic, extremely worrying developments are unfolding: Director General of the most popular TV is under prosecution while the Prime Minister is calling for an ownership shift of this medium, which is unheard of. In no previous elections were political talk shows shut down and journalists fired—and this happened on public TV. In no previous election would security services pressure members of the board of the public broadcaster, which takes place now and is confirmed both by members of the board and NGOs. Around 30 key producers and journalists have moved from TV9 to the Public Broadcaster (previously renowned for its professionalism and balance by all interlocutors) which was owned by the Prime Minister’s wife and shut down. And the list goes on.
What’s next for the Georgian opposition politicians who were arrested?
We already know, as it has already been declared, that after the election, and particularly after the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, there will be a new wave of arrests. These are Ivanishvili’s own words, not my interpretation. So that’s one question. Another question, which perhaps is also a signal that we have been trying to send to Georgia’s friends, including Poland–that friends of Georgia who are interested in the success of its democracy and the continuation of Georgia’s European trajectory, should help Georgia to bring this counter democratic backslide to a halt – to slowdown repression and press the Georgian government to switch from a campaign of political retribution to actual governing. So far, since last year’s elections, we haven’t seen much governing. The only item on the government agenda has been political retribution and witch-hunt. This will hurt everyone and must be stopped.
How would you comment on Prime Minister Ivanishvili’s decision regarding his resignation?
It’s an instinctual behavior of an oligarch: to remain in charge but to have no formal responsibility – a model that Russian oligarchs of the 1990s always wanted. Ivanishvili followed this instinct, picking Giorgi Margvelashvili for a presidential candidate, somebody without political expertise, without any relevant experience, without a political identity. Still nobody knows who Margvelashvili is. In that way, Ivanishvili can manipulate Margvelashvili whenever he wants—and that’s also the reason why we still don’t know who will be the country’s next head of the government – the top decision maker in Georgia. Ivanishvili keeps saying “it’s all in my head”. We may question if that’s democratic enough, but I think the main question is “What will that informal mafia-style rule mean for the development of democracy in Georgia?”.
Why is European integration for you, as Deputy Chairman of European Integration Committee, so important?
It’s part of our identity. European integration is a historic choice of the Georgian people, made long before we were born. Many generations of Georgians perished in the struggle for Georgia’s European idea. Very pragmatically, only following this path Georgia can keep its statehood. The only alternative to that trajectory is a return to the Russian sphere of influence, which means destruction of statehood, corruption, organised crime, ending in a merger between state institutions and organized crime. I don’t think it’s the kind of future that Georgian people want or deserve.
After first exit polls we asked Mr. Kandelaki what is the probability that indeed Mikheil Saakashvili will be arrested or leave Georgia after the election? Mr. Kandelaki said:
The PM and few of his aides have indicated that this is the intention and also that Mr. Saakashvili will be questioned. This in itself exposes the political nature of the on-going prosecutions. This will have a very destabilizing effect and must not be allowed. Political force that wins in elections must use its mandate for reconciliation, reduction of confrontation and moving the country forward. While David Bakradze’s concession speech was almost out of textbook of the best western political tradition, Mr Ivanishvili’s attack on UNM voters means, unfortunately, that the retribution will continue. This is not how winners should behave.