Election campaign 2016 in Georgia

When the roads in Tbilisi are renovated and flash lights are installed, it is again time for elections. On 8th october 2016 the voters will decide on the composition of the parliament. After a hot august, when the elction campaign activities was resting, they started again in september and left several injured.

The German word for election campaign “Wahlkampf” can be understood literally. Four days before the elections a car bomb exploded in central Tbilisi. Opposition politician Givi Targamadze and his guard who sat inside survived. It is the high point of a for Western European circumstances violent election campaign. In May two politicians of the United National Movement (UNM) got beaten up by professional wrestlers in the small town of Kortskheli in Western Georgia. The two politicians are members of the party of former president Mikhail Saakashvili and layed the blame on Georgian energy minister Kakha Kaladze to be responsible for this incident. He rejected the accusations and pointed on violent attacks against him during the election campaign in 2012. In the end of September two politicians started to fight in front of the camera during a TV debate after one accused the other of holding close ties to Russia. The TV show had to be stopped. And on 2th October shots were fired on the former minister of defense Irakli Okruashvili, which injured two of his employees.


Publication of intimate videos

But there were also other democratic dubios incidences in the run up of the election campaign. In March this year intimate videos of opposition politicians were released online. Accusations went into different directions. Some accused the governing party Georgian Dream (GD), as the opposition was target of the publications. Others suspect UNM, because during the time when Saakshvili held office many politicians, journalists and activists were observed and secretly video taped. And also Russia is suspected to be responsible by some people in order to diminish Georgia’s reputation in Western Europe.


„Low survival rate of politcal parties“

With the end of summer a new TV series started in September which is about the term of office of Ex-president Saakashvili. Short time before the elections in 2012 videos were published which show how prisoners were systematically tortured by their guards. The TV series focussed on these incidences and portrays Saakashvili as a coke snorting politicians who amuses himself with prostitutes. The series was ordered by billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili – founder, financier and person pulling the strings of governing GD. His mansion sits enthroned above the Freedom Square in Tbilisi in the hills and looks like the secret headquarter of the villain in a James Bond movie. The estate is worth 50 million US-Dollar and was designed by Japanese architect Shin Takamatsu. Ivanishvili is not playing an active role in politics but according to the political analyst Dr. Ghia Nodia the GD is hard to imagine without him. “The survival rate of political parties in Georgia is not very high. They are highly dependent on their leaders. And the Georgian Dream is not exception. It is unified by his personality – even if this is behind the scenes”, says Nodia – minister of education and science under Saakashvili and today university professor at the Ilia State University.

As governor of Odessa Saakashvili is right now supposed to fight corruption there. In the streets of the Ukrainian port town people are commenting differently on him. A 26-year old woman praised him: „He prevented that some of the most beautiful beaches were used by rich business men and gave them to the public.“ An old lady laughes scornfully saying that he didn’t do anything so far. „I see no difference. The pensions are still low and people are dying. When he is on TV I switch the channel“, she says. And a woman in her mid-forties thinks, that it would be better if a guy from Odessa would do his job instead a foreigner. In early summer Saakashvili announced to return to Georgia if his party will win the elections. But is this possible, as he relinquished his Georgian citizenship. Asking such a naive question as a foreigner people in Tbilisi can just smile weakly. With enough money this shouldn’t be a problem at all. But it remains unclear how welcome he is in his home country. Opinons differ completely. For some he symbolizes progress, the developpment of a modern infrastructure and an effective fight against corruption. Others remember the pictures of violent suppression of demonstrations, the torture videos from prisons and not least the desastrous war against Russia in 2008. This applies mainly for the younger generation, whereas the older generation can remember the catastrophic 1990ies which were dominated by power outages, corruption and a high crime rate, which changed under Saakashvili.


Benefits from Association Agreement with the EU?

Since then a lot has changed. Georgia is pursuing a pro-European course, participating in NATO manoeuvres and signed an Association Agreement (AS) with the European Union in 2014. This Western orientation manifests itself in EU flags in front of almost every public building. Still it remains doubtful in which way the AS will contribute to the well-being of Georgian citizens. Primarily the EU would make a profit of a new export market. Georgia’s greatest export hits – wine and agricultural products – would meet saturated market in the EU and especially Italy and France would be against a new provider of wine in the common market. Foreign investment could have a positive effect on the Georgian economy. According to Nodia it’s to early to talk about possbile effects. But he also can identify risks: “It would mean to implement regulations for which we are not ready, yet as well as an increase of prizes”, the political scientist says.


An increase of prizes and EU-regulations would hit a big part of the population hard. Poverty and unemployment rates are high and would probably increase, when all the taxi drivers without a licence, the fruit and vegetable sellers and the grandmothers, who are selling semichki in the street, couldn’t pursue their businesses anymore. Especially old-age poverty and the issue of the pensions are a topic of this year’s election campaign. All parties offer more or less realistic concepts for the pensions.

Student Protests and Green Initiatives

An other stone of contention is the education system, which is opposed by the student alliance Auditoria #115. After demonstrations and occupations of the university in spring and failed negotiations the protests escalated in the end of september in clashes between activists and police. Also ecological issues, such as the low air quality and the preferential treatment of prestigious construction projects like shopping malls and hotels compared to green initiatives are the basis of protests.

In the last days the parties are mobilizing their supporters at last rallies before the elections on saturday. Tbilisi is full of people carrying Georgian flaggs and the hope that the last days until the vote will remain peaceful.


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