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Twin Peaks

Two Winners of the Locals – Similar, and Yet so Different

June 2 elections have the Nationalists and the Labor peaking. Two winners have a lot of similarities, both in election strategy and in having a clearly visible leader, but also many differences.

The locals showed that against the background of increasing social-economic discontent anti-governmental image can earn the voter sympathy.

Pre-election platform of both winners – the Labor Party and the “National Movement -Democratic Front” parties was based on social issues. Traditionally leftist Labor Party promised voters free education and healthcare. Party’s leader Shalva Natelashvili went even further and took an oath together with his party members that they will not have relations with persons, suspected in corruption, as well as with government representatives in general.

The “National Movement – Democratic Front” campaigned under the slogan “Georgia without Shevardnadze.” During the campaign, Mikheil Saakashvili made a good use of the draft law on expropriation and transfer of unjustified property, elaborated while he was the Justice Minister. National Movement’s ideology is eclectic, combining the liberal values in support of the strong state institutions with the leftist appeal to the impoverished.

Non-conformism with widely unpopular government during the pre-election period has helped both parties to capture the protest votes. After dissolution of the Citizens Union, many political forces attempted to win Shevardnadze’s favor and thus replace the ruling party. While others were busy shaping their relations with the government, the National Movement and the Labor Party made emphasis on the voters and succeeded.

Both parties promise people solution to economic problems through fighting against corruption. Their objectives enjoy wide support among people, while some government representatives called these statements ‘neo-Bolshevik’.

The Labor and New Nationalists also have clearly defined charismatic leaders. Both Shalva Natelashvili and Mikheil Saakashvili are fast and smooth talkers. They use easy, commonly understandable language and always have the answer ready. They also deliver simple and clear quotes and slogans.

Their speeches are emotional, underlining the image of a radical, non-conformist politician, ready to sacrifice himself for the right goals. In clear manifestation of this attitude, Saakashvili told his voters, he would “not stop [his] battle even if crucified.”

Trying to capture popular sympathies, both Saakashvili and Natelashvili often use public transportation. Saakashvili even addressed representatives of the ethnic minorities in their language – this is quite an innovation in Georgian election campaign technology.

However, the locals also revealed the differences between the Labor Party and the National Movement. Political scientist Zurab Chiaberashvili says that in Tbilisi, where the competition was toughest, Saakashvili was supported by the residents of prestigious districts, while Natelashvili acquired votes from suburbs.

There is also considerable difference between the leadership styles and organizational practices of Natelashvili and Saakashvili. Saakashvili prefers to work with the team of co-thinkers under his leadership, while the Labor Party is essentially a union, formed around a single leader – Shalva Natelashvili.

The leaders also differ in their ambition – for Saakashvili Tbilisi city council is a launch pad for capturing the Parliament in elections of 2003, while the recent years showed that the Labor usually succeed in locals, but are unable to maintain and use this success in the parliament race.

Due to discrepant ideologies and a personal antipathy between the leaders, the Labor and the Nationalists are less likely to cooperate in a city council. On the contrary the council is likely to transform into the arena of a bitter confrontation between these forces. Considering the limited rights of the council it is mainly expected serve as a political forum and a PR facility for each party, trying to appeal to the City before the approaching parliamentary elections.

By Revaz Bakhtadze, Civil Georgia


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