The Dispatch

The Dispatch – August 30/31: The Matrix

GD Chair Juggling Numbers – Nigeria-Born Mayoral Candidate in Spotlight – “The Third Force” Stuns with Furutistic Party Event – Two More Silvers at Tokyo Paralympics

Those awaiting the release of the fourth part of the Matrix film series may spend their time productively goggling at the developments in Georgia: the political life of past days was shaped by strange use of digits, wannabe Wachowskis, and peculiar deployment of technologies, while everything else over the past couple of years has been about making the hard choice between red and blue pills. Here is Nini showing you how deep the rabbit hole really goes…in Georgia.

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NUMBERS MATTER Like a fisherman bragging about his catch, the ruling party chair Irakli Kobakhidze boasted today that his approval ratings are THIS big, “somewhere at 30%”, which is more than any MP, even though those in the executive usually can count on higher scores. The GD Chair got into the swagger while answering journalist’s prying questions about reports that he may have been sidelined by the party due to his low popularity. Few minutes later, however, MP Kobakhidze said it was the former Prime Minister – and now opposition politician – Giorgi Gakharia who “has lost relevance” and popularity after the GD informed the public about his true persona. If the Georgian Dream leaders that used to sing hosanna to Gakharia have been branding him as a traitor, this comes as no surprise. The former PM has been picking out the GD’s field office lieutenants one after another, threatening the outcome of the fast-approaching local elections. Rest assured, says Kobakhidze, the traitor’s hopes will be quashed in the October 2 elections.

…until they don’t Unlike the two-digit approval ratings, the eight digits (EUR 75 mln.) of the second tranche of EU macro-financial assistance is apparently not too much to speak about for the GD Chairman. In the same interview, he said the financial aid that has been conditioned by the European Union on properly passed judicial reforms has “lost its economic significance” after the economy saw a far bigger growth than initially expected. Two things to keep in mind: this is the same economic growth that the government was criticized for: the opponents said the pre-election bump in GDP figures was achieved by lifting most of the regulations, including mask-wearing, and thus risking public health to the virus that took the lives of hundreds. Also, the same government that does not need EU assistance has been borrowing heavily from the international financial institutions…

NEW ONE When the Central Election Commission issued a list of 50 parties and blocs running up for the upcoming local elections, Our United Georgia appeared like one of the many small political parties that pop up on the ballot papers in Georgia, with low publicity and near-zero chances of success. And so it was until Georgians learned that the party’s mayoral candidate for Tbilisi would be Richard Ogbunuju, a Nigerian-born who has been living and doing business in Georgian since the 90s. Ogbunuju, who is married to a Georgian woman, says he is a king of the Nigerian Obo tribe, but also shows his fascination with Georgian culture and traditions. True, his Georgian is a little bit broken – but his son, who is backing his father’s campaign, has been hinting that the current Georgian President, French-born Salome Zurabishvili is making mistakes, too. And that is hard to argue against…

Spotlight: In Georgian elections shaped by power imbalances, deep polarities, dirty games, and campaigning strategies often involving bringing out the worst in the electorate and converting them into votes – few would expect a black candidate risking the race that is all but inclusive: “Lelo for Georgia” party recently made headlines by having the courage to pick a woman as a candidate for the mayoral office. Yet here we are – Ogbunuju, who looks quite optimistic, was propelled into the media spotlight days ago and remains there. The public reactions differ: a video from RFE/RL Georgian edition shows some capital city residents having a “is this some kind of joke” attitude when meeting the candidate, while others are joyfully greeting him in the streets.

& Envy: But somebody got jealous: Mikheil Kumsishvili, the mayoral candidate from the labor party, was not happy about all the media fuss and took to social media to protest what he sees as “the exotic candidate” being more interesting for the public than his own ideas. And while he may have wished to decry the racial prejudice in media, his choice of strategy – by going blackface and doing Ogbunuju’s impressions for his own campaign purposes – got the very predictable backlash. As for the Labor, the party has been known for gaining its publicity through eccentric remarks of the leadership rather than through backing the downtrodden in the class struggle.

THE THIRD PILL MP Giorgi Vashadze loves innovation: having claimed to have led some notable digital reforms in the United National Movement era, he wants more, and never runs out of ideas. Many call him the blockchain guy. After running in 2020 parliamentary polls as the “Strategy Agmashenebeli” party, he now teamed with other lonely opposition politicians – including former UNM Chair Grigol Vashadze – to form “The Third Force” a new (or rebranded?) party to contest the local polls. The most remarkable show was the party presentation event: the leaders addressed a huge futuristic screen with lots of virtual faces starring back at them. This may appear innovative and Covid-safe to some, but also present the many conspiracy-friendly voters in Georgia with their worst apocalyptic nightmare.

So now we have two Vashadzes (Giorgi and Grigol) in the same party – and while they are not related to each other, the parallels with Lilly and Lana Wachowski, legendary creators of The Matrix film series come readily to mind. Will the Georgian duo compete with their script to the iconic dystopia? At least they promise that the voters would not have to choose between the red and the blue pill anymore: there is a THE THIRD ONE (…but still, no spoon…)

SILVERS Three is the happy number: after Georgian wheelchair fencer Nino Tibilashvili won the first silver, Paralympian judokas Revaz Chikoidze and Ina Kaldani followed her suit, with three silver medals now being on the record of Georgian athletes at Tokyo 2020 Paralympic games. As the sporting event continues, a total of 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.

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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