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Ugulava and his eight opponents

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, May 4
The battle for Tbilisi mayor has entered the decisive phase. 25 days are left. 8 opposition pretenders are trying to unseat incumbent Mayor Gigi Ugulava from the National Movement. Of course the number of pretenders is not a guarantee that one if them will win, in fact quite the contrary, the more opponents Ugulava has the more chance he has. However the opposition are optimistically asserting that they will win and each individual opposition candidate is saying that Ugulava is his only real opponent.

The Tbilisi Mayor elections coincide with local elections in municipalities around the country. All the focus is on the Tbilisi Mayor contest though because according to most observers he who wins Tbilisi wins the country. It is expected that the Tbilisi Mayor, whoever it is, will run for President in 2012 and have the best chance of success.

Now registration is complete we can name all nine Tbilisi Mayoral candidates. We will give them in alphabetical order so as not to give preference to anyone: they are Alasania, Chanturia, Dzidziguri, Iakobidze, Ivanishvili, Lagidze, Topadze, Ugulava and Vashadze. Irakli Alasania is from the Alliance for Georgia, Giorgi (Gia) Chanturia from the Christian Democrats, Zviad Dzidziguri from the National Council (Conservatives, People's Party, Movement for Fair Georgia and three others); Davit Iakobidze is from the Georgian Democratic Party, Nika Ivanishvili is from the People's Democrats Party, Giorgi Lagidze from Future Georgia, Gogi Topadze from Industry Will Save Georgia, Gigi Ugulava from the United National Movement and Tamaz Vashadze from Solidarity. Altogether there are 11 parties and three blocks running in the municipal and Mayoral elections in Tbilisi and the country.

As we have said all the candidates are claiming they will win but we must be very sceptical about the chances of many of them as not all the candidates are competing on a level playing field. The decisive role will be played by campaign financing, and as many analysts and journalists acknowledge Ugulava has a big advantage in this respect and actually started his campaign much earlier than any other candidate. There is a high probability that some opposition parties will mount protest actions if they lose the elections. Some parties, and particularly those who have refused to take part in these elections, Labour and the National Forum, say that the Government began manipulating the results long ago and although rigging will not be that obvious on election day but direct bribery, intimidation and other means of influencing the results, such as false names added to the voters list, will take place. However a large number of observers are expected, some are already here and everybody will wait for the assessments international observers will give before taking direct action.

Many Georgians see these elections as a dress rehearsal of the forthcoming Presidential and Parliamentary elections of 2012. Local analysts speculate about the chances of the opposition but there are plenty of signs of disagreements within the ruling party too, and these could also affect the results. An extra layer of intrigue is added by the three week absence of President Saakashvili, who is in the USA doing various things but has not yet succeeded in achieving what some analysts state is his probable goal, an extensive face-to-face meeting with President Obama.

It is very difficult to make prognoses, particularly in Georgia, so let us see how the election campaign goes. The combination of opinion polls conducted during the campaign, exit polls on election day itself, the actual results and their assessment by international observers will tell its own story.