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Presidential Elections 2018: Weekly Digest No.4

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 fourth digest covers the developments of past week (October 1-7).

  • Watchdogs, candidates agree on ethics rules;
  • Opposition polls show their candidates in lead;
  • Businessman speaks of extortion, racketeering;
  • Watchdog CSOs slam Salome Zurabishvili;
  • Bidzina Ivanishvili joins Zurabishvili campaign;
  • Opposition candidates continue campaigning.

Election Administration – Code of Conduct for election observers; Ethics principles for presidential candidates:

  • On October 1, the Central Election Commission (CEC) and 28 local election observation organizations signed the Code of Conduct document, agreeing to observe professional and ethical norms for the upcoming elections.
  • CEC also facilitated the signing of the ethics principles for presidential candidates. The agreement was developed with the support of the Swiss government and was signed on October 6 by 20 presidential candidates. Parties agreed in the document to observe electoral legislation in their campaigns, and to carry out their campaigns without disinformation, discrimination and hate speech.

Political Ratings – Opposition polls show their candidates in lead:

  • According to the opinion poll, commissioned by the European Georgia and conducted by BCG research on September 15-22, asked who they would vote for if presidential elections were held tomorrow (weighed results), 29.1% of respondents said they would vote for Davit Bakradze; 27.5% – Grigol Vashadze and 20.8% – Salome Zurabishvili.
  • According to Rustavi 2 TV-commissioned opinion poll, conducted from September 25 to October 4, the percentage of support of UNM-led coalition’s Grigol Vashadze stands at 26%; followed by Salome Zurabishvili – 14%; Davit Bakradze – 12%; Shalva Natelashvili – 7%.

Pre-election developments – Businessman speaks of extortion; watchdog CSOs slam Zurabishvili:

  • Zaza Okuashvili, one of the founders of the Omega Group, a Georgian business conglomerate, and owner of a Tbilisi-based Iberia TV, accused the GDDG leadership, including ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, of extortion, racketeering and money laundering. Okuashvili’s claims drew headlines in the country, with opposition leaders slamming the authorities of systemic corruption, and with GDDG leaders trying to downplay its importance, saying the whole thing was about the businessman’s attempts to avoid paying taxes.
  • Thirteen leading civil society organizations expressed concern over the Okuashvili affair, which they believe indicates at “a severe crisis in the governance system, clear signs of high level corruption and informal, clan rule.” Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze responded with counteroffensive, slamming the organizations for “politically-biased” positions and saying their leadership was partisan, their objectives self-serving, and their claim to represent public opinion – unsubstantiated.
  • Levan Kipiani, the sports and youth affairs minister in 2012-2015, who was accused of facilitating the fraudulent scheme, offered his explanations on October 3, saying the recently-published audio tapes featuring his and Okuashvili’s conversations were real, but “staged” for settling the latter’s financial problems. Kipiani’s assessments were not convincing for the opposition. Grigol Vashadze of the UNM-led coalition stressed Kipiani was “frightened and morally destroyed” by the authorities, while Davit Bakradze of the European Georgia said Kipiani’s statement was “an attempt to throw dust in people’s eyes.”
  • Salome Zurabishvili’s remarks in the Armenian-majority Ninotsminda Municipality that ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili “granted citizenship to a lot of Turks, but not to you,” is “xenophobic,” the civil society organizations believe. CSOs say such a statement invokes historical grievances and thus fans ethnic hatred. Opposition also capitalized on Zurabishvili’s remarks in Ninotsminda, with UNM’s Mikheil Saakashvili saying her statement amounts to the “betrayal of the nation.” European Georgia’s Giga Bokeria slammed the candidate for repeating “the Russian narrative” in a politically-sensitive environment.

Presidential Campaigns – GDDG leader vows electoral mobilization for Zurabishvili:

  • Chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party and former Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, voiced his support to the GDDG-endorsed candidate Salome Zurabishvili. Ivanishvili made the announcement at a gathering of party leadership on October 1, convened for marking the six anniversary of the Georgian Dream coalition’s electoral victory over ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement. Addressing the GDDG members, Ivanishvili said with “right [electoral] mobilization, we will manage to win the elections.”

Presidential Campaigns – Candidates continue campaigning in Tbilisi and regions:

  • Grigol Vashadze of the UNM-led coalition held several small-scale campaign meetings in Tbilisi. Last week, the candidate also visited Mtskheta-Mtianeti and Guria regions. At his campaign meetings, Vashadze pledged to reduce bureaucratic expenses and spend it on social needs. He also stressed the coalition’s main objective was to win the elections, set early parliamentary elections and form a new coalition government. In the reporting period, Vashadze also unveiled his vision on education reform, saying he favors less state involvement in the field. He also said teachers’ salaries should be increased to GEL 1000. The candidate also took a hard-line stance against the cannabis cultivation law, accusing the authorities of wanting to “grab” agricultural lands “by corrupt means” and turning Georgia, “the wine country,” into “a marijuana exporter.”
  • Davit Bakradze of the European Georgia continued holding meeting with supporters in Tbilisi and the regions, reiterating his electoral promise of increasing pensions allowance by GEL 50. Bakradze also unveiled the party’s pension reform plan. In an apparent attempt to allay the concerns of some voters, Bakradze stressed change of government would only be peaceful. “I would like to convince everyone that our task is to change the government and to help the country move forward, but do it so that the wave of revenge and reprisals never returns to Georgia,” he told supporters in Tbilisi. “We have to make a choice not between bad and worse, but we should make a choice between stagnation, fear and a hopeful tomorrow,” he also said in his address. In the reporting period, the candidate also participated in a CSO-organized discussion on women’s rights.
  • Shalva Natelashvili of the Labor Party was actively campaigning as well. Last week, he convened several press briefings in Tbilisi. In a press briefing on October 2, on the 26th anniversary Gagra massacre, Natelashvili said as president he will declare the date the International Day of Genocide of Georgians. On October 4, the presidential-hopeful traveled to village Khurvaleti and visited the family of Maia Otinashvili, who was detained near the occupation line a week earlier. There, Natelashvili pledged to increase the presence of Georgian security personnel in the area, and called on the Georgian authorities to issue an arrest warrant on the chief of the Russian military base in Tsinagari, a neighboring village inside the Russian-held area. In the reporting period, Natelashvili also held two indoor campaign meetings in Khashuri and Telavi, where he pledged to put an end to “the rule of oligarchs and drug dealers.” He also held a discussion with representatives of ethnic minorities in Tbilisi.
  • Kakha Kukava of the Free Georgia was mainly using TV appearances to express his views. He also held several small campaign meetings in Tbilisi, Sagarejo and Senaki. Kukava continued capitalizing on the anti-immigration vote, pledging to restrict immigration from Muslim countries. He also promised to declare pawn shops illegal, and vowed to work on “opening Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian markets” for Georgian alcoholic beverages. Kukava stressed the ruling party-endorsed candidate will be defeated in the elections, provided that there is high turnout in elections. He also slammed the GDDG and UNM leaders, saying they “represent [two sides of] the same problem,” and calling for ending their “cohabitation.”
  • Davit Usupashvili of the Development Movement was campaigning in Tbilisi mostly. He also engaged with television channels widely. The former Parliament Speaker continued criticizing both the authorities and the United National Movement, calling for ending the “Misha-Bidzina” confrontation. The presidential candidate also slammed the cannabis cultivation law as “an imprudent decision.” In the reporting period, the candidate also participated in a CSO-organized discussion on women’s rights.
  • Zurab Japaridze of the New Political Movement-Girchi, a libertarian political party, used television appearances to express his views. Speaking at the Georgian Public Broadcaster, Japaridze said: “the only promise I can offer you is to spend the next six years fighting for right policies and more freedom, and six years later we will leave the country in a significantly better shape.” The candidate also stressed Girchi “is a party of people who never refrain from criticizing everyone, who criticize every center of political power, be it the Church, banks, the government and the opposition.” Last week, Japaridze also spoke in favor of the independence of the Ukrainian Church, but said such support should come from the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate and not politicians.
  • The ruling party endorsed candidate Salome Zurabishvili continued touring the country, accompanied by ruling party lawmakers, government members and local officials. This time, the candidate visited Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kakheti, holding indoor campaign meetings in major regional towns. In the Armenian-majority Ninotsminda and Akhalkalaki, Zurabishvili pledged to uphold equality of all citizens and promised to assist ethnic minorities in learning the Georgian language. At a campaign meeting in Borjomi, the presidential-hopeful stressed she would try to be “a unifying president.” “The country needs to be united, because it will be strong only if we stand together,” she told the voters. At his meeting with Tbilisi-based diplomats, Zurabishvili accused the opponents of waging “a Soviet-style [propaganda] campaign” against her; the candidate also said she was being targeted as a woman. MP Gedevan Popkhadze, who attended Zurabishvili’s campaign meeting in Borjomi, echoed the message, telling voters that “the wave of hateful campaign started against a female candidate by male candidates is not integral to the Georgian nature and morale.” Zurabishvili also held a large-scale voter gathering in Rustaveli Theatre in Tbilisi, with participation of Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze and other GDDG leaders, as well as well-known artists and public figures.
For the extended background, follow our Tag on the 2018 Presidential Polls.

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