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Presidential Elections 2018: Weekly Digest No.3

On October 28, Georgian citizens will elect their fifth president for a six-year term.

With the Election Day approaching, Civil.ge continues its weekly election digest, a news compilation covering the presidential campaigns, election procedures and other pre-election developments, as well as the shortcomings reported during the pre-election period.

The third digest covers the developments of past week (September 24-30).

  • Regulator weighs in on anti-Zurabishvili campaign ads;
  • Opinion poll gives lead to opposition candidates;
  • Speaker emerges as leading Zurabishvili campaigner;
  • Opposition candidates continue campaigning.

Election Monitoring and Violations – Regulator weighs in on anti-Zurabishvili ads:

  • The Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) instructed the Georgian broadcasters to remove three campaign ads, which portray the ruling party-endorsed candidate, Salome Zurabishvili, in a negative context and describe her, among others, as “traitor” and “not serious.” The regulator thinks the ads include unethical content and go against the broadcasting law.
  • Following a wave of criticism from opposition partiesRustavi 2 TV, and two leading CSOs (GYLA and TI) that the decision questions the GNCC’s independence and endangers freedom of expression, the regulator said the instruction was just a recommendation and was addressed to three broadcasters only – Imedi, GPB and TV Pirveli. The GNCC also said it was the three channels that had asked the regulator for recommendation.

Political Ratings – Opinion poll gives lead to opposition candidates:

  • The upcoming presidential elections will go into second round runoffs, according to the public opinion poll, commissioned by Rustavi 2, one of the country’s leading national broadcasters. According to the survey results, asked who they would vote for if presidential elections were held tomorrow, 22% of respondents said they would vote for Grigol Vashadze of the UNM-led coalition, followed by Davit Bakradze of the European Georgia with 18%.

Presidential Campaigns – Speaker emerges as leading Zurabishvili campaigner:

  • Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze has actively joined the pre-election campaign, emerging as the leading campaigner for GDDG-endorsed Salome Zurabishvili. Kobakhidze slammed the United National Movement and the European Georgia as “absolutely marginal forces,” and accused them of carrying out “a campaign of black PR” against Zurabishvili. “We would like to conduct a civilized, European-type campaign,” he stressed, warning that “there are plenty of phrases of Grigol Vashadze” which they can use against the UNM-nominated candidate.
  • The Speaker lambasted the opponents in a lengthy interview with TV Pirveli, saying the ruling party’s “objective” is to ensure that the aggregate number of support of Grigol Vashadze and Davit Bakradze in the upcoming presidential elections “does not exceed 27%” (UNM obtained 27% in the last parliamentary elections, shortly before the party split). He also said Zurabishvili will be an “independent president standing above party interests.”
  • That opposition candidates are not conducting “a European-type” campaigns, was also voiced by Salome Zurabishvili, who continued touring the regions of Georgia; the candidate held meetings in AdjaraGuria and Samegrelo regions, all in the west of the country. On September 27, on the 25th anniversary of the fall of Sokhumi, she visited the memorial of fallen soldiers together with Kobakhidze. In a brief media engagement, the candidate said as president she will spare no efforts to carry out her constitutional authority in protecting “the Abkhaz language and identity, and the country’s territorial integrity.”

Presidential Campaigns – Opposition candidates continue campaigning:

  • Davit Bakradze of the European Georgia continued canvassing in the regions, holding campaign meetings in Senaki, Chiatura, Poti and Ozurgeti, all in western Georgia. At a meeting in Ozurgeti, in an apparent attempt to win the non-aligned vote, he stressed: “I am not a candidate of Mikheil Saakashvili, just like I am not a candidate of Bidzina Ivanishvili; I am a candidate of those who are sick and tired of the bipartisan confrontation that was established in the country in recent years.” Bakradze also held a meeting with Georgians living in Italy, reiterating his electoral promise that as president he will work for securing legal employment schemes in the EU. On the anniversary of the fall of Sokhumi, Bakradze visited the Enguri Bridge, which connects Abkhazia with the rest of the country. There, the candidate said Russian occupation should remain the country’s “main priority.”
  • Grigol Vashadze of the UNM-led coalition held a large-scale party gathering in Tbilisi Concert Hall on September 29. Zaza Saralidze and Malkhaz Machalikashvili, who have been demanding justice over their sons’ deaths, joined the gathering as well. Operatic bass Paata Burchuladze, who is the founder of the State for People party, also addressed the participants. Later, Vashadze, accompanied by supporters, UNM politicians and members of their partner parties, marched towards the Rustaveli Avenue – the venue of week-long protests of Saralidze and Machalikashvili. In the reporting period, Vashadze also visited the U.S. capital, holding meetings with congressmen, as well as with Georgians living in United States. Vashadze commented on the anniversary of the fall of Sokhumi from there, saying Georgia will reunify through “peaceful, but principled and consistent policy, through effective diplomacy and strengthening of security systems.”
  • Shalva Natelashvili of the Labor Party was actively campaigning as well. Last week, Natelashvili attended Chkondidloba and Alaverdoba festivals, traditional celebrations in Samegrelo and Kakheti regions, respectively. He also convened several press briefings in Tbilisi. In a briefing on Iranian immigration to Georgia, Natelashvili said he would abolish visa-free travel with the country to curb their “demographic expansion.” At Tbilisi International Airport, Natelashvili accused TAV Urban Georgia, Tbilisi airport operator, of being “the last remnant of colonialism,” and vowed to abolish the government’s “unfavorable” contract with the company. On September 27, on the anniversary of the fall of Sokhumi, Natelashvili announced he will declare Sokhumi Georgia’s capital. The candidate also touched upon the rights of the ethnic Georgians remaining in Abkhazia, accusing the Sokhumi authorities of carrying out a “genocide” against Georgian children (Natelashvili was referring to the participation of Gali schoolchildren in celebrations of Abkhaz victory organized by the district administration), and the Georgian authorities of their inaction.
  • Kakha Kukava of the Free Georgia was mainly using TV appearances to express his views. The candidate continued capitalizing on the conservative vote, pledging to curb the immigration from Muslim countries and increase social allowances for large families. Kukava also joined the committee of defenders of Iberia TV, amid its management’s claims that the authorities are trying to shut down the broadcaster.
  • Davit Usupashvili of the Development Movement was campaigning in Tbilisi mostly. He also engaged with television channels widely. On September 27, Usupashvili, accompanied by the leaders and supporters of the Development Movement, and their partner parties – the Free Democrats and the National Forum, laid a wreath at the memorial of fallen soldiers, telling reporters that reunification requires “persistence, unity, and confident national spirit, which is unfortunately, so lacking in the country.” In one of his media appearances, Usupashvili slammed the authorities and the United National Movement for polarizing the media and the political landscape. “The Georgian Dream has to be changed, but the return of what was under the rule of the UNM is not acceptable,” Usupashvili said.
For the extended background, follow our Tag on the 2018 Presidential Polls.

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