The Dispatch

The Dispatch – September 6/7: Mercury Retrograde

Saakashvili Announces Comeback (Again) – Pads at the Ready: Parties, Activists to Document Elections – Garibashvili: Gakharia Was ‘Nobody’ before GD – Kaladze Toys with Drug Test – For Whom the Police Sire Wails

Mercury retrograde is a prominent astrological event. It is believed that in a three-week phase when the planet Mercury goes retrograde, much of the communication and technology go wrong (delays, errors, repairs). Also, people and events from the past tend to pop up during this time. The next such phase will last from September 27 to October 17. Do not plan anything when Mercury goes retrograde, astrologists warn, predicting chaos. You may think it is a mere superstition: but remember, Georgia plans to hold local elections on October 2 and today’s ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili said the time is high for his coming. Beware the astres! Here is Nini, with updates from Georgia (and the rest of the universe).

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OOPS, HE DID IT AGAIN Ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili pledged to return to Georgia for October 2 local elections and called on Georgian emigres – like a latter-day biblical patriarch – to follow in his footsteps, be it “by land or by air.” And he fears no evil: Saakashvili said he could not care of the imprisonment by the Georgian Dream (there is the warrant out). Why?! Because the Georgian people “will liberate the country and me with it!” Blessed are the believers, one can say. But the ruling party seems nonplussed. At the end of the day, it is the emerging, smaller parties who try to supersede the Misha-Bidzina dichotomy that may once again find their hopes turn to ashes. The predictable drama of “Misha’s” return and his inevitable arrest would galvanize UNM and Georgian Dream radicals, probably helping the GD to cling to power. And while Misha knows no borders (just think of him overcoming Ukraine border guards and breaking into the country forcefully in 2017), some in Georgia think he won’t risk the voyage.

AVERTING CHAOS Even if Saakashvili fails to manage to make it all about himself early in October, it still does not guarantee the absence of chaos, and those suspicious of the Central Election Commission’s commitment to conduct fair elections decided to take matters into their own hands. Activists’ group Shame Movement, along with the Union of Social Initiatives, launched a “Civil Election Commission,” a platform aiming to ensure fairness and transparency in the upcoming local polls. The objectives of the initiative include monitoring campaigns and elections, alternative vote tabulation, as well as providing an assessment of the elections. Political parties also look more alert: the “Droa!” (It’s Time!) party, for example, also pledges to do more to inform the public and the international community on campaign and voting day breaches and launched a newsletter. After the controversial elections last year, coupled with the struggles of the opposition to document the alleged election violations in the aftermath, it is never a bad idea to prepare better.

MR. NOBODY Many find it hard to believe there is a [political] life after the Georgian Dream. The current Prime Minister burns with the faith of a true zealot and believes there is none of it before either. In his another spiteful media rant against his predecessor Giorgi Gakharia (a.k.a. “The Traitor”, a.k.a. “The Devious One”), Garibashvili denigrated the former PM, saying he arrived from Moscow and was “a nobody” lifted from the rags by the party, appointing him to important positions, lavishing him with trust and bestowing wisdom, in addition to “dressing him up” in a dignified manner.

Indeed, a political unknown, Gakharia was not “a nobody” – he held a relatively high-level regional position in Lufthansa Service Holding before joining the Georgian Dream government as a Business Ombudsman in 2013. How and why he ended up in politics is a mystery: Gia Khukhashvili, once a political pundit close to Ivanishvili, says Gakharia’s father handed him his son’s CV and he put it on the big man’s desk. But whatever the exact story, Garibashvili’s rant speaks volumes about the feudal system of patronage within the Georgian Dream, where links to the family and business of Bidzina Ivanishvili, and personal loyalty to him determine one’s entire career path.

DEBATING THE DEBATE As you know, Gakharia is challenging GD for Tbilisi Mayor’s position. The current mayor, Kakha Kaladze said he was ready to take up the challenge and debate all mayoral candidates in a debate – masterfully showing the contrast to his rival who booked the seats only for two male frontrunner candidates, a move that upset female competitor Anna Dolidze (read more). However, after all, Kaladze still caught backlash over not being inclusive enough: Media Advocacy Coalition, uniting over a dozen CSOs, observed that the Mayor only agreed to participate in debates organized by the Public Broadcaster, while the debate invitations by some regional TV channels were also rejected by ruling party candidates. Refusing to take part in the debates “goes against the general principles of democracy and hampers the rights of citizens to make an informed choice,” the coalition statement said.

COMING CLEAN Mayor Kaladze made a nonsequitur gesture of taking a drug test a part of his campaign, and called on his rivals to follow suit. The purpose of the move was to “popularize healthy lifestyle,” Kaladze said, adding that results came negative and he is “completely clean.” Here, however, he still could not get away from angering Ms. Dolidze: she said that “Soviet” procedures currently in place to test the substance abuse are degrading, particularly the rule of public urination while being watched by forensics staff and camera.

MATTER OF PREFERENCES Public Defender Nino Lomjaria said today that she has approached the Prosecutor’s Office to launch criminal proceedings against two individuals for inciting and organizing group violence on July 5, which led to attacks against civic and gay activists and journalists. Lomjaria said that two months after the violence, the Prosecutor’s office failed to open criminal cases under these charges. The publicly available evidence reaches the necessary threshold to bring charges against Zura Makharadze, founder of right-wing TV channel Alt-Info, and Spiridon Tskipurishvili, a clergyman, the Ombudsperson argued.  Being authorized to request criminal proceedings in such cases, the Ombudsperson took the initiative. The Deputy Minister of Interior Aleksanre Darakhvelidze pointed out in response that “sufficient grounds do not exist” for opening up the case, rising eyebrows since the two called for violence publicly, on live TV.

The contrast in the prosecution’s willingness to act was even more striking, since Giorgi Tabagari, Director of Tbilisi Pride, said yesterday he received a call from Tbilisi police notifying him about administrative proceedings opened against him for verbally insulting a police officer on the phone on July 5. Tabagari said he lost his composure after receiving an “inappropriate” call from the police on July 5, while the violence was unfolding. The police were asking Tabagari to open up the Pride office to inspect the damage. He was, at the time, on the run, escaping the homophobic mob trying to lynch him and his friends. “The Police, which was absent that day where a real risk for life was present, called me on July 5 at 3 pm to open the door for them to look around,” the activist wrote on social media.

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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