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From Stray Dogs to Orwellian Pigs: Campaign Highlights of Georgian Elections

October 2 is a big day for Georgia’s political life: the local self-government elections have been burdened with the added significance of an informal “referendum”: the ruling Georgian Dream party has ditched its commitment to hold early parliamentary elections in 2022 if it now scores under 43% in proportional vote, but most of the opposition still views the elections through the 43% lens.

This made the campaigning as diverse as it may get, with themes stretching from stray dogs to Orwellian pigs, from medieval history to smart cities, or from the water supply problem to coalition governance. And, of course, special mention goes to hate theme which did not go anywhere and continues to accompany tense Georgian campaigns.

Below we compiled some of the most characteristic themes of the current municipal election campaign (and keep scrolling, smaller parties are less boring, we promise!)

Georgian Dream: More, More, More

While less creative and distinctive, the ruling Georgian Dream party leads one of the most active and intense campaigns: lots of blue billboards anywhere you go featuring GD mayoral or majoritarian candidates have felt too overwhelming to some.

One of the many giant GD billboards featuring Mayor Kaladze in Tbilisi. Photo: Otto Kobakhidze/Civi.ge

A big variety of high-quality campaign clips are another proof that GD is financially well ahead of other parties competing in October. Each municipality has several clips dedicated to different campaign issues, including social policy, healthcare, and infrastructure. Tbilisi clips actively show incumbent Mayor Kakha Kaladze with a key campaign line “more life in every neighborhood,” and the videos radiate nothing but the harmony (and symphony):

Video: GD Tbilisi campaign clip saying that “each wake-up in Tbilisi is symphonic”

In the regions, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has been the one leading the campaign, with the key message of “development to each region.” He is the speaker in the video clips and did not spare efforts to tour the country with other party leaders in the past weeks. The party, however, faced criticism over largely refusing to look beyond tourism when talking about development in any of the regions, including claiming that it was also the main concern raised by miners in Tkibuli, Imereti region.

Video: PM Garibashvili talking infrastructural development in a campaign clip addressing regions

United National Movement: It’s Now Or Never (Again)

The key campaign strategy of the United National Movement, former ruling party and GD’s arch-rival, has declared the upcoming vote as “referendum” and the candidates as “leaders of the referendum.” Otherwise, the campaigning lacks consistency and while the immediate municipal issues are highlighted, they are easily overshadowed by distant future promises such as early elections and the change of government.

UNM Chair Nika Melia, Tbilisi mayoral candidate. Campaign card reading “come to the referendum!” and “we should write history on October 2.”

Debating and confronting the ruling party – both on municipal and state levels – makes up a huge portion of the UNM campaigning, while offering the voters to choose between “oligarchic rule” or “Russia” on one hand, and the western future on the other. And rather than hearing Tbilisi’s wake-up symphony, UNM leaders would rather go for Ode to Joy:

Video: MP Khatia Dekanoidze, Kutaisi’s mayoral candidate, explaining the significance of the October 2 vote in her campaign clip

UNM’s overall campaign, just like that of the ruling party, lacks creativity, unlike the 2020 general elections when ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili went to prepare Super Mario-inspired ads. This year, however, the exiled ex-President decided to first post a Kyiv-Tbilisi flight ticket with the arrival date of October 2 instead, and then earlier today announcing unexpected arrival in Georgia – a claim the authorities deny.

For Georgia – Start Wearing Purple

The newly-founded For Georgia party, led by former Prime Minister and now Tbilisi mayoral candidate Giorgi Gakharia, tries to maintain a relatively peaceful and youthful appearance amid the existing political polarization, while also carrying the weight of being at the center of all the controversies only a year ago. To paraphrase one of its members in a Twitter discussion, rather than usual Blue (GD) vs Red (UNM), the voters now have a purple choice (did they get it by mixing the former two colors?).

The party, enlisting Gakharia-aficionado MPs, former civil servants and some fresh faces, was one of the firsts in the opposition to start the active campaigning across the regions.

For Georgia, too, advocates for early elections in 2022 and is expected to play a decisive role should the ruling party end up below 43%. Also lacking any distinctive campaign direction, the party positions itself as a team of business-minded people promising good governance as an alternative to a confrontational environment. Thanks to Gakharia’s controversially popular personality and heavy pressure exerted by the Georgian Dream, the party enjoys high publicity and is projected to end third in races.

Anna Dolidze – Alone For People (and Animals)

After last year’s relative success as an independent majoritarian candidate, Anna Dolidze, a lawyer, decided to try again – this time with her own For People party. Her main focus remains to raise specific local issues. While basically going it alone again, Dolidze has been stepping in to defend the rivals from the opposition she is otherwise at odds with, such as Melia or Gakharia, and offering her legal competencies to help fight for justice.

Dolidze pledges to present policy plans on animals. Georgian cities face the problem of stray dogs: many admire and feel sorry for the sad-faced homeless animals, while others fear them. The issue landed on several small party platforms this year.

Having joined Tbilisi mayoral race, she is projected to end fourth. In a race clearly dominated by powerful men, Dolidze has been also vocal about women’s issues and might be inspiring other future lone fighters on the way.

Lelo For Georgia: #MenCare

Lelo is another party with the “end insane polarization” campaigning genre. Equipped with the eye-catching yellow and channeling entrepreneurial competence, party leaders Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze appear to be distancing from the usual toxic masculinity and machismo so familiar to Georgian politics. A series of campaign clips showing Khazaradze – himself father of five – offering a couple to watch their child while they go to vote did warm hearts and may appeal to some young families struggling to manage their daily chaos:

Video: clips showing Khazaradze watching toddlers and singing children songs while parents vote have become a campaign hit

While sharing the demand for early elections, Lelo decided to stay away from excessive noise in Tbilisi and is leading an active independent campaign in the capital city. The party is again offering a consistent “Marshal Plan” for the city development, engaging Ana Bibilashvili, an architect and urbanist, as a mayoral candidate, and putting forward innovative ideas such as creating functional centers – cities within the city – in Tbilisi. Whatever their success in the upcoming vote, Khazaradze taking up the role of a street musician and offering old-but-gold repertoire is something Tbilisites could enjoy in a tense political environment:

Khazaradze warming up Tbilisi streets with his vocal and guitar skills

Elisashvili/Citizens: Woodpeckers

The Citizens party, led by MP Aleko Elisashvili, is among those refusing to see the upcoming locals as a referendum. Having alienated mainstream opposition after early withdrawal from the parliamentary boycott, the Citizens rather focus on specific problems faced by local neighborhoods. Once unexpectedly coming second to Kaladze in the 2017 mayoral race in Tbilisi, Elisashvili now refrained from joining the race, posting billboards throughout Tbilisi instead to remind the frontrunners main problems of the city.

With the main campaign message “take care of the city,” the party sticks to the old strategy of disclosing their hotline number to hear out citizens’ concerns and then air them through TV ads. Elisashvili, whom controversial GD-loving poet Rezo Amashukeli gave a nickname of a woodpecker, allegedly due to his prominent nose, decided to make lemonade from the lemons and turned the noisy bird into his party symbol.

European Georgia: Willingdon, 1940

European Georgia decided to reciprocate the campaign hate with negativity and satire: after all, Giga Bokeria, its leader, has his solid place booked on the bloodstained anti-opposition banners appearing during the campaigns. After the party went into a deep crisis since part of the leaders quit following unsuccessful 2020 elections, it has now attracted some fresh faces.

This year, the main campaign theme shows allegories between current governance and George Orwell’s Animal Farm – a book Bidzina Ivanishvili, GD founder, once said he enjoyed. Leading probably the most intellectually shaped campaign, the dystopian posters showing a figure with Ivanishvili’s hair and Napoleon-pig’s face are now all over the city. The key promise of the EG is to turn Soviet Georgia into a European country.

Animal Farm-inspired posters of European Georgia along with UNM’s “Come to Referendum” ads in Tbilisi. Photo: Nini Gabritchidze/Civil.ge

Droa! – Time Is High

Elene Khoshtaria, once European Georgia’s top member, now runs with her newly-founded Droa (translated: time is up) party to be future Chair of Tbilisi Sakrebulo, endorsed by three other opposition parties. Truthfulness is the quality the party tries to advertise, along with the continuous efforts to inform the public about the wrongdoings of the party in power.

Droa leader Elene Khoshtaria: “The single thing I can promise is that there will be never, ever a lie between us.” Photo: Elene Khoshtaria

Droa! is a party that loves numbers and statistics, which are strongly represented in the campaign clips that try to expose the ongoing concerns related to social policy, youth engagement, elections, stray dogs, etc.

The party also actively tries to update the public about the campaign violations and documents the breaches in weekly reports. The ad reading “do you want to know what ways they resort to buying votes in 2021 elections?”

Girchi – More Freedom: Help Yourself

Zurab Girchi Japaridze founded Girchi – More Freedom after falling out with his party colleagues from the right-libertarian New Political Center – Girchi last year. While leaving some significant policies which attracted young voters to the original Girchi, Japaridze took one of the main attractions – his personality – with him. Now he, too, is teaming up with UNM, Droa and European Georgia in many of the mayoral/majoritarian races, and the party tries to advertise their usually original, no-bull**it takes: if I can’t dance to it, it’s not my system.

Video: In Girchi’s campaign clip with the “end this bull**it” message, partygoers struggle to dance to non-rhythmic music, which, as shown later, comes from viral footage featuring now PM Irakli Garibashvili, surrounded by Kaladze and Gakharia taking up amateurish DJ roles.

Some of the earlier campaign themes remain, including libertarian ideas or introducing U.S.-style elected sheriffs and reforming law enforcement in Georgia. The party tries to show the voters that they are the ones who can change the sad reality. And, of course, Bolshevism and (again) Orwellian scripts take up much space in their messages.

NPC Girchi – Elections Are Winning Game

New Political Center – Girchi, now led by three MPs who also do not get along with the mainstream opposition after boycott disagreements – looks far more chill than its alienated former leader. Under the campaign line “elections are a winning game,” NPC Girchi recently raffled a Porsche purchased with the funding they receive from the state for those who signed up on the website and posted a selfie from around the polling station during the 2020 elections.

The lottery continues, now with a chance to win Tesla:

Video: in the campaign clip, NPC Girchi leaders say the 100,000$ Porsche symbolizes senselessness of state funding for parties, government wasting tax money, Girchi delivering on promises, and elections giving a chance to win your life, freedom, and happiness.

Labor Party – Shake Up, Wake Up

Labor party has traditionally enjoyed a good record in making noise to raise municipal issues and the trend goes on with young and energetic Tbilisi mayoral candidate Mikheil Kumsishvili: the candidate, though, attracted criticism after shooting a blackface parody clip to slam race-driven media focus on the Nigerian-born mayoral candidate Arinze Richard Ogbunuju – the clip, unsurprisingly, ended up looking quite counterproductive.

Meanwhile, Shalva Natelashvili, the eccentric party leader, won’t let go of his identity as the single man trying to spare his country the worst: the epic campaign clip, with dramatic music playing in the background, features him reciting the verse by famous poet Murman Lebanidze, dedicated to emptied and abandoned Georgian villages and fears that others may come and take over. “Remember me, I would shake you and wake you up,” so it ends, making a perfect campaign line to match Natelashvili’s spirit.

Third Force – We Are the Ones

Having emerged from what was Strategy Agmashenebeli plus some smaller parties and alienated opposition politicians, the Third Force positions itself as – surprise – a third force. The party also managed to get the number 1 on the ballot paper, well matching the pioneering qualities of its leader Giorgi Vashadze.

The party picked Tamar Kekenadze, Chair of the Free Democrats party, as its mayoral candidate in Tbilisi, which the Thirdforcers promise to turn into a highly developed, European-style “safe and comfortable city” with environment-friendly public transport and more green spaces. Across Georgia, the party promises to spare the country all the unnecessary -isms and confrontations.

Video: the campaign clip of Third Force, calling to end the rule of two leaders and saying it’s time to show them the power of the people.

Alliance of Patriots – In the Shadows

The large-scale and expensive campaign the nativist Alliance of Patriots had last year is nowhere to be seen: those with money have claimed the parliamentary mandates last year to quit the party and establish European Socialists. While religion and conservative values are the big topics in the campaign phase, the party does not look quite motivated: even the campaign line “we win – you win, you win – Georgia wins” is the same.

Party leaders – Irma Inashvili and Davit Tarkhan-Mouravi – campaigning in Adjara. Photo: Irma Inashvili

The current passivity strikes a contrast to previous elections when the AoP’s campaign sparked multiple controversies, including due to billboards, finances, and alleged Kremlin links.

Honorable Mention: People’s Party

People’s party is one of the lesser-known parties usually landing on the ballot paper but not making any real difference. The campaign clip, however, is something: all in all, we’re just another brick in the wall. It is thus up to us to decide what we build with that brick – a wall of love or a wall of hate.

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