2021 Local Elections: First Polls Come Out – Key Legislative Changes Move Ahead – Gov’t’s Generous Move Triggers Déjà Vu – Baby in Parliament – Vasadze Treated in Turkey
October local elections do not look to be far away anymore: things start to heat up again as TV’s publish polling results, the ruling party gets generous, and game-changers appear in the opposition. Here is Nini with updates from Georgia.
POLLS AHEAD OF POLLS
Troubled Surveys. A couple of hot summer weeks need to pass until Georgia officially enters the campaign phase ahead of 2021 local polls, which are particularly crucial since they are also set to define whether early parliamentary elections will be held in 2022: for this, the ruling party needs to end up under 43% of votes in the coming October. The tension is already felt as key media outlets take to publishing commissioned survey poll results to assess the chances of certain political forces. Such surveys, though usually commissioned from “most renowned” foreign institutes, cannot brag about having much in common with real results, which may have to do more with local political culture than the research quality. Also, the sporadic nature of fielding and polling makes it unable to measure public attitudes amidst rapidly changing developments and landscape.
According to IPSOS polling results, published on June 24 by Mtavari Arkhi TV, 32% percent of surveyed would vote for the ruling Georgian Dream party in local self-government polls, followed by its key rival United National Movement (23%), and Giorgi Gakharia’s newly-founded For Georgia party (8%). Zura Japaridze’s Girchi – More Freedom comes next with 5%, while European Georgia, Labor Party and Alliance of Patriots score 3% each, and Lelo for Georgia, Strategy Agmashenebeli, and Aleko Elisashvili’s Citizens party have 2% each. Each from Nino Burjanadze’s United Georgia, Elene Khoshtaria’s Droa! Movement, New Political Center – Girchi, and Levan Vasadze’s newly-emerged ERI movement were favored by 1% of surveyed, while 11% of respondents refused to answer.
Edison Research. Another survey, prepared by Edison Research and published by Formula TV on June 25, give a slightly different picture: should local elections take place today, 25% said they’d vote for GD, followed by UNM with 19% and Gakharia’s For Georgia with 10%. Lelo, Labor, and Strategia Agmashenebeli ended up at 3% each, followed by Alliance of Patriots, Vasadze’s ERI, NPC Girchi, and Girchi – More Freedom with 2% each. Ana Dolidze’s For People and Aleko Elisashvili’s Citizens’ parties, as well as European Georgia and Droa! Movement are each favored by 1% of surveyed, with the same performance shown by Nino Burjanadze’s United Georgia and Irakli Okruashvili’s Victorious Georgia. 10% of respondents did not favor any party, and a further 14% were either undecided or refused to answer.
In the Tbilisi Mayor elections, Edison Research says the incumbent Kakha Kaladze remains most popular, expected to score somewhere between 32-42%, followed by UNM’s Nika Melia (17%) and Giorgi Gakharia, who is expected to end up third if Melia runs, and second if other opposition figures run instead. However, the poll also shows that a “joint opposition candidate” (34%) would beat a GD candidate (30%), with Gakharia coming third (13%). Also, 62% of those surveyed prefer early elections in 2022, with the rest wanting to leave things quiet for a while.
It is still not fully clear how upcoming elections will be conducted: constitutional changes necessary for some election-related amendments will be initiated in the parliament on June 28. The highlight is, among others, the 2% threshold in the next parliamentary elections. In the meantime, the lawmakers continue to discuss election code amendments too. For example, there is a disagreement over the 40% threshold in majoritarian races in local self-government elections. And there is a funny first come – first serve principle: should two contestants end up with the same number of votes, the winner is the one who has been first to register at the respective district election commission (DEC). Still, despite the discords, the MPs from some opposition parties like Lelo for Georgia and Citizens positively assessed the cooperation with the ruling party to push vital reforms in rare positive feedback.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
In Georgia, the official campaign phase usually opens after President announces the election date, some 60 days before the voting day, which this year is expected to be October 2 (the date turned out lucky for Georgian Dream in 2012 elections). Since the campaign period is subject to additional legal restrictions and scrutiny on matters such as vote-buying, the period before becomes particularly prone to some temptations: the June 24 happy announcement by PM Irakli Garibashvili about waiving some GEL 76 million (USD 24 million) worth of accrued unpaid fines for violating COVID-19 related breaches was perceived by opponents and observers as a pre-election move.
Not a precedent: similar concerns were raised when in November 2018, ahead of a tense presidential runoff, the Georgian Dream government announced it would facilitate writing off of the small debts of more than 600,000 individuals and their removal from the lenders’ “blacklists.” A problematic practice, but in a country with this share of bank-blacklisted individuals, it is hard to get angry.
The PM, however, did not limit himself to the pardoning of pandemic-related sins and went on to talk long-term future in his parliamentary speech on June 25, including by presenting his promised 10-year development plan (yes, this is how long they are staying in power). The ambitious plan envisages massive employment policies, mortgage subsidies for families with newborns, funds and assistance for companies and 1,300 new enterprises, etc. There was also continued focus on regions. Read key takeaways here. Speaking of newborns: Georgian Dream MP Mariam Lashkhi brought her baby to the session, who was greeted with applause. The little boy appeared to be enjoying the session – and saving the rest from boredom.
And speaking of newborn politicians: ultra-conservative leader Levan Vasadze is undergoing medical examination and treatment in Istanbul hospital due to a deteriorating health condition. His close affiliates say the businessman has been experiencing general weakness over the past months and ruled out earlier reports about him being poisoned. Active politics do appear to be way more exhausting and toxic than seen from outsiders’ eyes. We hope it’s merely fatigue, and wish him a speedy recovery.
That’s the full lid for today. Celebrate the bizarre and the curious in Georgia’s politics with us every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday!