With Ukraine boiling over, another former Soviet Republic is seeing the temperature rise in its domestic political scene. The Caucasus nation of Georgia is seeing domestic turmoil heat up the fraught polity.
Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has been summoned to answer questions over the death of a former prime minister in 2005. Zurab Zhvania died in February 2005 from poisonous fumes said to have been released by a faulty heater. On Friday, his bodyguard and the pathologist who performed the autopsy were arrested and charged with dereliction of duty. Mikheil Saakashvili, who ruled the strategically located Caucasus nation for a decade, was replaced last November after his party lost an election in 2012.
After losing power, Saakashvili’s United National Movement became the target of a witch-hunt under the new billionaire prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has huge business interests in Russia. The US-educated and West-leaning Saakashvili was still occupying the presidential palace in the capital Tbilisi with the government being steered by his bete noire Ivanishvili. It had become clear to Saakashvili and his aides that one day he would be targeted by the new dispensation as have been some of his aides.
Last month, his close ally and former prime minister Vano Merabishvili was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for corruption. Though Saakashvili has been putting up a brave front in public against the new government’s intentions of launching a witch-hunt against him, chances are that he will have to appear before prosecutors on March 27 to answer some probing questions. If not treated fairly, he might get entangled in a web of intrigue from which it would be difficult to come out. Currently out of the country, the enterprising politician told journalists in Brussels recently that he refuses to become a victim of intrigue.
The fate of firebrand Ukrainian leader Yulia Tymoshenko springs to mind first when it comes to a political witch-hunt. She was thrown into prison on trumped up charges by ousted president Viktor Yanukovich. While Tymoshenko was the darling of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, Saakashvili led the Rose Revolution in Georgia that brought about a change in government in 2003. Corruption and poverty being the scourge of the new nation, Saakashvili brought about extensive reforms. His zero-tolerance policy to corruption saw the administration crack down heavily on the corrupt. The 2008 brief war with Russia, however, made a dent in his record as president. The Georgian government, instead of digging up the past of former leaders and bringing up old cases, should focus on making the strategically important country stronger in economic and military terms. It should improve its international standing and move up on the road to European integration.