The Dispatch

The Dispatch – August 26-27: Mazakvali Traitors

PM Lambasts Ungrateful Predecessor – Politicians Ponder Postponing Elections – Ombudsperson Says Well-Founded Vaccine Mandate Non-Discriminatory – Georgian Female Athletes Win

As politicians in Georgia started to hesitantly discuss the rights and wrongs of holding elections amid the raging pandemic, the bad breakups from the past continue to bedevil the campaign. Here is Nini with usual and unusual updates from Georgia.

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BETRAYAL During a campaign trip in the western Samegrelo region, incumbent Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili could not hold it, calling his predecessor and now opponent Giorgi Gakharia – a man with roots from the very region – “treacherous traitor.” Garibashvili is not known for holding his tongue for the sake of decorum, but what made this outburst notable was the curious instrumentalization of Georgia’s strong provincial identities. Gakharia hails from Samegrelo, while Garibashvili is from the heartland of Eastern Georgia, Kakheti province. To characterize Gakharia, PM Garibashvili used the word mazakvali, denoting scheming traitor in Megrelian – appropriating this regional language. He said the former PM, who enjoyed “full trust” from Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, made mistakes during his tenure for which the ruling party had to pay “high political price,” listing controversial moves such as violent dispersal of the anti-occupation rally in June 2019.

“After this, the entire [GD] team shielded him, kept him, stood by his side,” the PM went on, saying that Gakharia chose to quit “amidst one of the most critical times” in the country. Reciting Ivanishvili’s words, the government head accused his predecessor of committing “treason” against the state and his team. He also alleged that Gakharia and his team deliberately spread reports that they are “Ivanishvili’s project,” calling it “a complete lie.” At least we know now how the ruling party is handling responsibility: through shielding. How long would Garibashvili’s shield last? We’d just have to wait.

In the meantime, Gakharia’s political tactic is to refrain from bad-mouthing his former party comrades, apparently hoping to get the Georgian Dream voters who are rubbed the wrong way by Garibashvili and Co.’s toxic style of doing public politics. Gakharia’s right-hand man, Kakha Kemoklidze, did lash out though, calling the Garibashvili’s cabinet handling of the crises “mindless, incompetent and lacking the elementary knowledge of managing political processes.”

MORAL CLAUSE The critical questions that Public Defender Nino Lomjaria posed about campaigning in the middle of pandemic spike have elicited the response: the parties started to discuss postponing elections. Some in the opposition, including the United National Movement, say they would listen to the experts on the matter. However, UNM’s leader-in-exile Mikheil Saakashvili wrote on August 25 that the postponement “should not even be considered.” Instead, he suggested the polls should be moved forward since each day of delay “will be a new day of death, emigration, and further devastation of the country.”

The ruling party, too, refuses to consider the postponement, suggesting upholding the safety rules would be enough. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili pledged the elections will take place, even saying the opposition “used” the Office of Public Defender to push for postponement, knowing they are going to “severely lose” the vote. The government also expects the situation to “stabilize” in October when the majority of the population will have immunity either through a vaccine or through having overcome the illness. The discussions come as authorities reported well over 1,000 virus deaths in August alone, and the country has been seeing 4 to 5 thousand daily infection cases for weeks now.

PAST YEAR EXPERIENCE: A little flashback: last year, Georgia conducted October 31 parliamentary elections amid spiking infection cases: after surviving the first wave of the pandemic through strict lockdown measures, cases started rapidly going up after summer vacation season, moving from 23 daily cases on September 1 to 326 recorded infections on September 30. At the end of October, daily cases regularly exceeded 1,500, and the voting took place under special precautions. The outdoor mask requirement was only introduced on November 3. At the end of November, authorities announced strict lockdown as daily cases exceeded 4,000. Until then, Georgian authorities chose to employ targetted restrictions in certain regions and fields to contain the virus.

LIFE PREVAILS Ombudsperson Lomjaria also said in yesterday’s briefing that after many approached her with the question, she studied whether mandatory vaccination is discriminatory. In certain fields such as healthcare, social services, education, public service, etc, requiring vaccination is not a discriminatory practice, the Public Defender argued. According to Lomjaria, it is the obligation of an employer to ensure a safe working environment, thus making certain restrictive measures or incentives non-discriminatory when they are well-founded, specific, and time-bound, saying the overarching public health interest means the same applies to specific public spaces, which may require vaccine certificates or negative test results. “Mandatory vaccination will interfere with individual rights, but such an interference can be justified when it serves a legitimate goal – protection of public health and human lives,” she said.

YOU GO GIRLS Good days for Georgian women to prove their strength: wheelchair fencer Nino Tibilashvili won silver at the Tokyo Paralympic on August 25, the first Georgian female athlete to win a medal in Paralympic games. 13 Georgian athletes will be among over 40,000 Paralympians to compete in the games taking place in Japan’s capital from August 24 to September 5. Also, on the same day, Mariam Murgvliani, a 15-year-old Georgian weightlifter, won three Golds in her debuting performance at the European youth & under-15 Championship taking place in Poland. The next day, Natia Gadelia, 17, also won three more golds in her age category, with two of them also being the country’s first female weightlifters to win European titles.

That’s the full lid for today. Celebrate the bizarre and the curious in Georgia’s politics with us every Tuesday and Friday!

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