Hundreds line up at rumors of Patarkatsishvili’s cash handouts
By Nino Mumladze
Wednesday, December 19
The campaign team of presidential candidate Badri Patarkatsishvili claimed to have no knowledge of a purported plan to distribute gifts of USD 300 after hundreds gathered outside his campaign headquarters to collect their “promised” payments yesterday.
“The government has purposefully spread rumors… no kind of material aid could be given to population before the elections as it would be considered bribery,” Levan Chkheidze, a representative of the business tycoon’s campaign team, stated.
The day before, Patarkatsishvili unveiled the main points of his social assistance program, promising to put GEL 1.5 billion of his personal fortune towards social programs if he is elected on January 5.
Reiterating his desire “to be an ordinary soldier in Georgia’s service,” Patarkatsishvili said the first “assistance” phase of his program would cover electricity bills up to 100 kilowatts per month, gas bills up to GEL 16 per month and water supply costs up to GEL 2.40 per month for every family, over an eighteen-month period.
He also promised to “fully” buy out next year’s grape and citrus harvests.
“It is not villagers’ fault that they were denied a market for their produce and [the state] abolished taxes on imported products,” the businessman told Radio Imedi, which he owns, on December 17. Both vineyard owners and citrus farmers had bumper harvests this year but had difficulty exporting their produce.
Patarkatsishvili said that, if he won the presidency, an employment program would be launched that would create more jobs in the long run, and until this program takes effect each unemployed person would receive an annual payment of GEL 600.
Government officials swiftly condemned Patarkatsishvili’s promises as a violation of the election code.
“There is no difference whether you hand out money prior to elections or promise to pay a certain sum to voters if you win,” Levan Bezhashvili, chair of the parliamentary Legal Issues Committee, according to Interpressnews.
Ruling party MP Nino Nakashidze said she “does not doubt” Patarkatsishvili would keep his word and distribute the money during the proposed “year and a half assistance period,” but suggested he would make a profit from the Georgian people in later years.
Acting president Nino Burjanadze downplayed the significance of Patarkatsishvili’s social assistance program, saying it was up to voters to decide whether promises made during election campaigns are realistic or not.
Patarkatsishvili’s campaign team said he is expected to return to Tbilisi on December 20. The prominent businessman, who founded the Imedi media holding, initially left Georgia on November 7 and is wanted for questioning by the Prosecutor General’s Office over his role in an alleged coup attempt.
He is currently immune from prosecution due to his status as a presidential candidate; however, his campaign team are pressing for extra immunity guarantees before he returns.