U.S. Calls for Georgia Opposition to Drop Boycott Threats

Senior U.S. officials called for Georgia’s opposition to work within the legal system to address their concerns over last month’s parliamentary elections, as Secretary of State Michael Pompeo visited in a show of support for the country’s efforts to orient itself toward the West and away from Russia.

The officials, who spoke to reporters on Wednesday on customary condition of anonymity, said the election results were generally accurate and not fatally flawed, though they said there were some concerns like vote-buying and intimidation. They said they’ll urge the opposition not to boycott parliament but to push for electoral reform within the law.

The comments came as Pompeo visited the country as part of a seven-nation swing through Europe and the Middle East. He met President Salome Zourabichvili in the morning and planned to meet civil society leaders later in the day, while his acting assistant secretary for Europe, Philip Reeker, planned to stay on and meet opposition leaders.

“We want to do everything we can to support your democratic process,” Pompeo said at a meeting with Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia. Pompeo’s visit is an opportunity to deepen cooperation in “defense, security, economy and consolidating democracy,” Gakharia said.

Opposition supporters in the capital, Tbilisi, have kept up protests in the weeks since the ruling Georgia Dream party, founded by the country’s richest man, Bidzina Ivanishvili, claimed victory in Oct. 31 parliamentary elections for the third straight election.

The opposition has said the election was rigged and have called for a new vote and the resignation of electoral commission chief Tamar Zhvania. Opposition parties have said they’ll boycott run-off elections for 16 seats that are due to be held Nov. 21.

“We are ready for a dialogue that will lead to resolving this political crisis,” said Salome Samadashvili, a deputy from the opposition United National Movement. The ruling party should offer “electoral reform and a way forward toward new elections” she said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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