Ruling party MP quits election race over intimidation allegations
By Shorena Labadze
Tuesday, May 6A ruling party incumbent pulled out of the parliamentary elections race yesterday after the opposition released an audio tape they claim reveals him intimidating state employees.
The nine-party opposition coalition say the tape reveals Valeri Giorgobiani, the ruling party’s candidate for the Tsageri majoritarian seat, telling local state employees they will lose their jobs if they do not vote for the ruling party in the May 21 elections.
Conservative MP Kakha Kukava, a leading member of the opposition coalition, said the tape would be handed over to prosecutors for investigation.
Giorgobiani initially dismissed the allegations, saying he does not have the authority to dismiss anyone from their posts.
“I can’t say anything about what I haven’t heard and haven’t said,” he told online news source Civil.ge, adding that he had not met with state employees on April 30, the day the opposition claimed the recording was made.
However, hours later a ruling party representative announced that Giorgobani had withdrawn from the race.
“Although no investigation has been started, and although the truth is not yet established, [Giorgobiani] submitted a written statement to withdraw his candidacy in the parliamentary elections,” party secretary-general Zurab Melikishvili said.
He added that Giorgobiani would cooperate with investigators and called on the person who submitted the tape to the opposition to do the same “in order to establish the truth.”
Davit Bakradze, a leading ruling party member, said the government would undertake “appropriate measures” if the tape was proved genuine.
“We will not leave any violation without a response,” Bakradze remarked yesterday.
And in Georgia’s second city of Kutaisi yesterday, the Rightist Alliance-Topadze-Industrialists candidate announced his withdrawal from the race, claiming that activists campaigning on his behalf had come under “pressure.”