Ex-Georgian president's Ukraine ambitions suffer blow

28th October 2015, Comments 0 comments

Ex-Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili's nascent but ambitious career in Ukraine got off to an inauspicious start Wednesday when his candidate for mayor of Odessa was beaten badly in the historic port.

The 47-year-old foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin was voted out of office in ex-Soviet Georgia after losing a brief but disastrous 2008 war with Kremlin forces that saw the tiny Caucasus nation lose disputed territories to Moscow's control.

But Saakashvili was a prominent member of three months of winter protests from 2013-14 that ultimately swept a Moscow-backed leadership from power and appeared to set the former Soviet republic on its current westward course.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko rewarded Saakashvili in May by unexpectedly appointing him as governor of Odessa -- a Black Sea region that remains under firm government control and enjoys a rich cultural history as well as a thriving port.

Saakashvili's approval ratings in the war-scarred nation soared thanks to his local anti-corruption drive and history of being able to transform Georgia's notorious bribe-taking police into a transparent force that won the public's trust.

The fluent Ukrainian speaker soon began attacking Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk for his alleged ties to criminal oligarchs and was frequently mentioned as a possible future cabinet chief himself.

But Odessa's mayoral election commission said Wednesday that incumbant mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov -- allegedly tied to the vast business interests of Saakashvili's great foe Igor Kolomoyskiy -- was re-elected with 52.9 percent of Sunday's vote.

Saakashvili-backed candidate Sasha Borovik placed a distant second by picking up just 25.7 percent of the ballots cast.

The former Georgian leader denounced the vote as grossly mismanaged and marred with violations.

"All the exit polls clearly showed that the acting mayor did not cross the 50-percent threshold," Saakashvili said in televised remarks.

"We have records from more than 80 precincts and there are violations in almost each of them."

Some of the cast "ballots were changed in favour of the acting mayor," he said.

Odessa's police said they had already launched a pre-trial investigation into the cheating charges.

They also confirmed that election "commission members appeared to be fixing the official protocol figures in favour of one of the candidates."

Trukhanov was a member of the now-disbanded Regions Party that brought Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych to power in a tightly fought 2010 race.

He also supported pro-Kremlin protests in the ethnically mixed city after Yanukovych's fall from power and subsequent flight for safety to Russia.

© 2015 AFP

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