If Georgia’s unusually low-drama parliamentary election-campaign seemed too good to be true, it was. Any appearance of normality ended abruptly last night with the explosion of a leading opposition MP’s car in downtown Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.
The apparent target, 48-year-old Givi Targamadze, a longtime comrade-in-arms of ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, escaped unharmed from the car when its rear section exploded sometime in the mid-evening on October 4 near Freedom Square, a key traffic artery. The vehicle was parked outside an office for Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM), of which Targamadze is a senior member.
Four other people were injured; one remains in serious but stable condition. Targamadze’s driver suffered a concussion.
In connection with the October 4 incident, the Georgian interior ministry has opened an investigation into attempted murder, but not, as yet, into an act of terrorism – a decision that has heightened the political accusations still further.
Politicians on all sides see the car-explosion as a flashback to the troubled 1990s, when kidnappings and street violence ran rife, and served as a way to carry a point with a rival. The calls now are for calm, but with fingers pointed at political opponents.
The UNM, which believes it’s on the cusp of returning to power after a four-year-long break, took aim at the government and its alleged grey cardinal, Bidzina Ivanishvili, for the explosion, claiming (without elaboration) that both have undermined institutions and relied on violence to strengthen their rule.
The blast occurred on the eve of what the UNM pledged would be an “unprecedented” afternoon demonstration of its supporters through downtown Tbilisi, including near the site of the explosion.
Along with Saakashvili, who has been pledging on Facebook to return to Georgia from Ukraine after the October 8 elections, the UNM’s members have been busy predicting the imminent defeat of Ivanishvili’s ruling Georgian Dream.
The state inquiry into the Targamadze car-blast will go quite differently once the vote is over, they told the sympathetic Rustavi2 on October 5.
Along with Saakashvili, the party itself is under investigation for allegedly plotting a supposed coup – a claim so familiar to Georgian politics that many ordinary voters appear to have tuned out.
But Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili took aim at a broader culprit – “Georgia’s enemies.”
“What happened tonight in Tbilisi is not only act committed against the state, but also a provocation set up by Georgia’s enemies to instigate instability in the country ahead of the elections,” he said in a late-night televised statement on October 4.
Immunity and “foreign citizenship”—a remark some interpreted as implying Saakashvili, now a Ukrainian citizen and government official -- will not shield the perpetrators from prosecution, he underlined.
An outspoken backer of the 2003 Rose Revolution, Targamadze certainly has his own enemies – including in Moscow, which considers him an agent provocateur of the 2011-2012 protests against the Kremlin. Targamadze himself has excluded any mechanical reason for the explosion.
But one former Saakashvili government official, ex-deputy foreign minister Serge Kapanadze, argued that the government is barking up the wrong tree when it suggests that foreign figures and/or the UNM are to blame for the attack.
The attack on Targamadze, the death of a 15-year-old boy from a knifing at a Georgian Dream concert and the wounding of two people from gunfire at an election rally for former Saakashvili-era Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili “are a clear example of the situation the country is in,” Kapanadze said, Interpressnews reported.
But the ruling party has batted the attack right back. Georgian Dream Executive Secretary Irakli Kobakhidze warned the UNM to “renounce their criminal intentions and don’t seek to undermine the democratic election process.”
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili also took aim at those politicians who allegedly see “criminal elements” as a way to settle scores.
“These people are dangerous not only for democracy, not only for the normal development of society, but for you as well . . .” he cautioned local political groups.
“Let’s unite around stable, peaceful, democratic development,” he urged, local news sites reported.
So far, at least for this vote, it appears to be a toss-up whether Georgia can.