“There is skepticism about the ability to manage political competition,” said Ghia Nodia, chairman of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development. “Political opponents don’t just want to win the election, they want to destroy the government and put people in prison.”
‘Georgians are dreamers’
Last week found Ivanishvili traveling into the mountains beyond the capital, Tbilisi, to the poverty-stricken Tianeti region. Official statistics put national unemployment at 16 percent, but the real rate is double that or more, Nodia said. Anyone with two acres of land is considered employed, and Georgians say that means if you own two fruit trees and can sit on the curb selling a basket of apples, you have a job.
Getting to Tianeti required driving about 15 miles of what was once a road but is now little more than a winding, bone-jarring path strewn with gravel here and there. Along the edge of a field, a horse pulled an elderly couple in an ancient cart, the woman so absorbed in talking on her cellphone that she paid no notice to a clutch of sport-utility vehicles stirring up dust.
“Georgians are dreamers,” Ivanishvili told an appreciative crowd in Tianeti. “We should try to make our dreams come true.”
He offered plans to invest in agriculture, create jobs, promote small business — and save Georgia’s dying villages, responding to cheers with an air of modesty. “Please don’t shout my name,” he said.
Tamuna Zedginidze, a 21-year-old villager wearing jeans and a blue Georgian Dream T-shirt, had come with her extended family of seven from their hamlet 10 miles away.
“I will vote for him,” she said, “because I think he can end the injustice. No one in our family works. We are full of energy, but we cannot use it. We want a better future for our kids.”
The family keeps a cow, sheep, some pigs. There is no school, and women move to town with their children when they reach school age.
“Why must we leave, when it’s the most beautiful place in Georgia?” she asked.
Later, in an interview, Ivanishvili said Georgia needs to solve its internal problems before becoming a reliable part of Europe and NATO, and repairing relations with Russia. “If we build a country with a foundation of democratic institutions,” he said, “we’ll get more attention from America and Europe.”
The Rose Revolution of 2003, set off by citizens infuriated by rigged parliamentary elections and fed up with inept government, brought the reform-minded Saakashvili into the presidency in 2004. His term expires a year from now, when the system changes from a strong presidency to one in which power rests with the prime minister, who is to be elected by the largest faction in Parliament.