Key Campaign Highlights: Mayor Plays Nice Guy, Opposition Speaks of Intimidation – Gender Quotas Discriminatory? – Election Campaign Turns into Vaccine Campaign – Fissures at the Top as Covid-19 Rages – Ceasar’s Own: Church Absconds from Taking Position on Vaccines
Greetings from Georgia, where the campaign ahead of local self-government elections is picking up the pace, showing key differences in priorities and strategies of political parties. In the meantime, the dark shadow of the raging pandemic cannot be ignored. Here is Nini with usual and unusual updates from Georgia.
FIRST COME, FIRST SERVE On August 3, Georgia has entered the official campaign ahead of the October local elections, however, it is far from intense at the moment. ISFED, Georgia’s key election watchdog, said the unofficial campaign phase was dominated by the ruling Georgian Dream party, and rightly so: GD’s Mamuka Mdinaradze took pride in starting it all ahead of most opposition parties, saying such strategy gives the ruling party some advantage. In Tbilisi, for example, the GD is obviously employing a strategy to make it all about Mayor Kakha Kaladze’s promising run for re-election.
GEORGIA’S SWEETHEARTS Kaladze looks to be moving away from his earlier “urban cool” image to turn into a nice family guy: the huge banners all around the city featuring his portraits radiate humble and innocent expressions rather than strength and assertiveness. The mayor also took to Tik-Tok to post cute couple videos with his wife, designer Anouki Areshidze. Georgian Dream even made the campaign for majoritarian candidates running for Tbilisi’s Sakrebulo (local representative body) about the Mayor’s persona, with respective banners reading “Kaladze’s team in Sakrebulo.”
OPPOSITION’S STRUGGLES Where’s the opposition? Nika Melia, Chairman of the United National Movement, is campaigning as another Mayor candidate along with Elene Khoshtaria who is running as Sakrebulo’s head, a duo endorsed by several opposition parties. Part of smaller parties is in no rush to name their candidates, though promising they’d do it. In the meantime, the For Georgia party led by ex-Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, the main novelty of the upcoming election, leads active campaigning in the regions, but not without its struggles: party’s deputy chairperson Natia Mezvrishvili spoke on August 12 about “politically motivated pressure” over party supporters, with public servants particularly targeted. “They now also resort to the methods of intimidation, pressure, intimidation of relatives, and pressuring the private business,” Mezvrishvili said.
WRONG & RIGHT TARGETS As for the rest, the European Georgia party seems to focus on gender quotas – more specifically, about rejecting gender quotas. The latest social media posts speak about appealing the quotas at the Constitutional Court of Georgia, with female party members describing the quota policy as “offensive” and “unfair.” The Constitutional Court already ruled on quotas before – and the provision was upheld by the judges who cited embedded inequalities. And while those in European Georgia refer to honest work as the only fair way into the representative bodies, the question they will have to answer first is – how come that in a country so strongly dependent on female labor, their honest work has not paid off better yet?!
COMMON GOOD To do European Georgia justice, it was the party that initiated helping people book vaccine appointments, and rightly so: the latest NDI poll says more than a half of the population know little about how to do it. The ruling party soon followed the suit, theft of the idea that may be justified should it lead to a common good.
CRISIS AMID CRISIS Authorities, though first reluctant, had to reintroduce restrictions starting on August 14 to contain the virus spread. New measures that include halting local public transportation till September 4 should contribute to easing the crisis as daily cases now regularly surpass 5,000, daily deaths hit 50, and hospitals run out of resources to manage the patients. It was, however, days ago that Prime Minister Garibashvili did not abstain from attending a massive feast celebrating Olympic golds, with an excuse that “feast is no crime.” The move met subtle criticism from Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze, who said it is everybody’s moral value to comply with restrictions. Minister Tikaradze is now rumored to not get along well with PM Garibashvili or Culture Minister Tea Tsulukiani, who got slammed days ago for organizing concerts amid the peaking pandemic. PM himself had to rectify his mistake by posing publicly as he received his vaccine shot the next day.
SALVATION THAT WASN’T Another rumor has been appearing in Georgian media for days, namely that Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II – the most influential persona countrywide – was going to publicly get vaccinated. Many hoped the last-ditch publicity from the revered patriarch could break the back of Georgia’s anti-vaxxer problem. But the rumor was quickly debunked: the Patriarch’s office issued a statement saying His Holyness’ vaccination status cannot define the choice of others. “The specialists of the relevant field should inform the public to help people make a personal choice,” the Patriarch said, adding that the shots need to be “voluntary” and not be forced upon or leading to judgments or insults. On a positive note, however, more clergymen seem to be turning in favor of vaccines, calling on believers to get the jabs to protect themselves and others around them. And there is President Zurabishvili who demonstrated the courage on August 12 to openly call on Church to play its role in the battle against the virus.
That’s the full lid for today. Celebrate the bizarre and the curious in Georgia’s politics with us every Monday and Thursday!