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Where do they all come from?

By Messenger Staff
Friday, April 23
Commentators who attentively observe the current situation in Georgia are almost unanimous that during the forthcoming local elections in Georgia the election of the Mayor of Tbilisi will grab most attention. Why? Mainly because this is the first time in Georgia’s recent history in which the Mayor of capital will be elected by direct popular vote. Previously he was either appointed from above or internally elected by a sophisticated and often unfair system.

It is commonly believed that whoever becomes Mayor of Tbilisi now will eventually become President of Georgia, so many think that this election is actually more about the Presidency than Tbilisi City Hall. But as always political turmoil in Georgia is taking on its peculiar native character. Romantic Georgians would prefer to elect their chosen future President as Tbilisi Mayor than a good manager who will do positive things for Tbilisi itself. A Mayor should not get involved in political games and express opinions about particular partirs, his job is to run the city which elected him. But unfortunately this is not the case in Georgia today.

So who are the leading candidates for Mayor and where do they all come from? The first is Gigi Ugulava, the current Tbilisi Mayor, who is expected to be the ruling party's candidate though no official announcement has yet been made. He comes from a traditional Tbilisi family, his parents being intellectuals with a good and solid education who have been associated with the Georgian Orthodox Church for some time. Ugulava is a smart, balanced and obviously capable person. If he were not a member of the ruling party the people of Tbilisi would have a neutral and quite acceptable Mayor, but his connections do taint him in the eyes of some. As the opposition is split Ugulava has the best chance of any candidate to achieve the 30% threshold and be elected Mayor. Most analysts think that if the election was held today Ugulava could win without ballot rigging or using administrative resources to fund his campaign. However he has to be officially nominated within the next six days.

Who are his competitors? We will concentrate on those who are likely to gain more than 1% of the vote. All already nominated candidates claim, as ever, that they are fighting to win and their only real rival is the ruling party's candidate. However some are clearly more credible than others. Among these the favourite is Irakli Alasania, son of KGB General Mamia Alasania who was killed in the early nineties during the Georgian-Russian war in Abkhazia. Alasania also worked for some time in the security system, then became President Saakashvili’s special envoy for regulating the conflict in Abkhazia and then the head of the Georgian mission to the UN in New York. He resigned this post to join the opposition. What is interesting about him is that the Abkhaz separatists and their Russian patrons have said several times that the only person they will negotiate with to resolve the Abkhazian conflict is Alasania. He has a very convincing ability to conduct diplomatic negotiations; he is a well balanced and constructive person.

Then there is Giorgi (Gia) Chanturia, another former diplomat who became one of those responsible for negotiating the building of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum pipelines. Chanturia left Georgia after the Rose Revolution and conducted business in Azerbaijan. On his return he highlighted that he is not an opposition politician but a business executive. He has made big promises to the Tbilisi population, saying he will make the gas tariff 10 tetri and the electricity tariff 5 tetri and provide free water. Some analysts think that these are very populist promises, in particular the one about water. Nothing is free, they say. If he means that water provision will be paid for from the city budget this means it will not actually be free. But Georgians love illusions, so he has some chance.

Next comes Zviad Dzidziguri from Samtredia, west Georgia. 20 years ago he was a big supporter of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Georgia’s first President. He spent some time in prison during Shevardnadze's era because of this, later supporting the Rose Revolution but then opposing Saakashvili. He is an honest man and a patriot but nothing is known about his executive ability. Probably he will gain some support but not much.

Next comes Gogi Topadze, founder of Industry Will Save Georgia. He is maybe one of the first Georgian millionaires, as owner of the Kazbegi brewery. He is a very good manager and successful businessman, but he is having some problems at present, possibly created by the administration. He also has a very small chance.

The other candidates, such as Nika Ivanishvili, Davit Iakobidze and the rest, are unlikely to receive more than 2% and probably less. Some analysts suggest they could be Government projects to further split the opposition vote.

It is difficult to say at this point who will get how many votes, but let's try – we can always check our prediction later. We think that Ugulava will get over 40%, Alasania under 20%, Chanturia less than that, Dzidziguri maybe around 10%, Topadze less than that. Therefore Ugulava will remain Tbilisi Mayor, though whether he will also be the next President is another story.