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Pre election surprises: square as a present, newly found map and possible 2-day election

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wednesday, October 14
The pre-election campaign is becoming more active, with pre-election surprises appearing as well. Last week, Bidzina Ivanishvili donated the territory of the former hippodrome to the Tbilisi City Hall to arrange a square there, a map of 1938 appeared, on the basis of which the previous government was accused of ceding part of the Davit Gareja monastery complex to Azerbaijan during the demarcation of the border.

The Covid-epidemic could lead to a two-day election, which also came as a surprise to the opposition. Apart from the surprises, the government's election piggy bank turned out to have a much-anticipated big advantage in terms of mobilized funds, and it was also no surprise that the Georgian Dream did not agree to the pre-election debate with the opposition.

On October 5th, it became known that the Cartu Group had returned the area of the former hippodrome to the Tbilisi City Hall and solemnly informed the public that the city's central square would be built there. Bidzina Ivanishvili redeemed this area from his own charity fund for GEL60 million. There were no government spokesmen left who did not speak out and did not thank Ivanishvili. The opposition saw the move as an attempt to bribe voters in the run-up to the elections, noting Ivanishvili could’ve chosen November for his ‘act of charity.’

The opposition criticized Ivanishvili for not giving up the entire area of the hippodrome, leaving 8 hectares of the most valuable part for himself in addition to the former hippodrome 36 hectares in Varketili and 38 hectares of land in Gldani for development. In the run-up to the elections, the most important thing is which information will reach the voters more firmly - Ivanishvili's charity or his ‘trick.’

One of the main topics of the rup-up to the elections is Davit Gareja this time. Davit Gareja has been a meaningful Orthodox sanctuary for a long time and the fact that Azerbaijan refers to part of it as its territory, is a painful topic for Georgians. The fact that this topic would emerge in the pre-election period was first discussed by journalist from the opposition Nika Gvaramia. He said that the Georgian Dream would bring an ‘accidentally found’ map from Russia, marking the Georgia-Azerbaijan border differently, in an attempt to accuse Saakashvili for giving up this part of the country to Azerbaijan in exchange for a bribe and discredit the United National Movement party in the pre-election campaign. Gvaramia’s anticipation became true. Private businessman Davit Khidesheli bought a map of 1938 somewhere in Russia, brought it to Georgia and handed it over to the Ministry of Defense. The Ministry handed over to the Prosecutor's Office and on October 7th the Prosecutor's Office arrested two experts participating in the Georgian-Azerbaijani border talks - Iveri Melashvili and Natalia Ilychova. The border on the Gareji section has not yet been agreed between the two countries, and the detainees are accused of hiding a 1938 map that would better protect Georgia's interests.

This was followed by a protest by the opposition. They saw this as a pre-election attempt by the government to discredit Saakashvili and his party, while pointing out that Georgia's strategic partnership with Azerbaijan and raising the territorial issue when Azerbaijan is at war is not exactly recommended. They also point out that the government may be playing the ‘Russian game’ by raising the issue with Azerbaijan and the current events may be the ‘Russian scenario.’ According to government officials, the ongoing investigation is ‘Georgia's internal affair’ and will not lead to any problems in relations with Azerbaijan (as if saying to Baku that the Gareji issue is strictly of the electoral context).

The Covid-epidemic is still raging in the country and the opposition fears that the government will use it for electoral purposes. The government is talking about holding the elections not for one day, but for two days, allowing those in quarantine to vote as well, whose votes they would count after 24 hours. Leaving aside all the other questions that may arise in regard to the idea, it contradicts the existing legislation.

As for the opposition, in September Lelo received the largest donation - GEL1.3 million, followed by Strategy Builder - 1.3 million, the third - National Movement - 665 thousand, and the fourth - European Georgia - GEL408 thousand. Authorities say their advantage is logical, as they say they have freed businesses from the harassment of the previous government, while the opposition claims that large donors should be screened because the government is in a privileged position in return.

Last week, the opposition tried to turn political debates in Georgia into part of the election campaign, in which government officials also took part. The political union Lelo also submitted a bill to the parliament, according to which it was obligatory for the government candidate to participate in the debates planned by the Public Broadcaster, but to no avail.
(Translated from Georgian by Mariam Mchedlidze)