BRUSSELS — Elections in Georgia Monday represent a key test of democracy in the country and will set the tone for presidential polls next year, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
NATO allies are following the outcome closely, with the polls a “litmus test of the way democracy works in Georgia,” Rasmussen said.
The parliamentary vote pits President Mikheil Saakashvili’s party against a coalition led by billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili who has threatened mass protests if Western observers do not declare a fair election.
Rasmussen said he was sure the Georgia government, which has applied for NATO membership, would do all it could to “make sure the election will be free, fair and transparent,” noting invitations to international monitors.
Earlier this month, the NATO secretary general told Saakashvili that his reforms had taken the ex-Soviet state closer to its goal of NATO membership.
“The future is in your hands but know that you have a friend in NATO and a future home in NATO,” Rasmussen said in Tbilisi.
The small Caucasus state’s aspirations to join NATO have infuriated its powerful neighbor, Russia, which fought a brief war with Georgia in 2008 and does not want the Western alliance to expand further to the east.
Asked about Georgia’s complaints over nearby Russian military exercises, Rasmussen said he had raised the issue last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, stressing NATO’s commitment to transparency in such matters.
“I hope the Russians similarly are committed to such transparency,” he said.