Georgian political groups have never been great at focusing on their policy proposals during pre-election campaigns. But this year’s municipal elections, amidst a backdrop of a cascading number of scandals and stunts, may prove to be the strangest in the country’s history.
7. Declaring war on Mordor and Škoda
On 16 September, Libertarian group Girchi - More Freedom demolished a car in front of the Georgian State Security Service (SSG) office in Tbilisi with sledgehammers.
‘This Mordor needs to be crushed as their symbol, Škoda Oktavia, here’, Zurab Girchi Japaridze, the party leader, said in a live broadcast on Facebook before smashing up the car together with party members.
Škoda brand cars are often used by Georgian law enforcement.
The performance followed a massive leak of surveillance files on religious leaders, journalists, and civil society groups earlier this autumn, triggering demands for a prompt investigation into illegal wiretapping by the SSG.
6. ‘Not racist’
The Labour Party mayoral candidate for Tbilisi, Mikheil Kumsishvili, got so frustrated by the lack of media attention he received that he recorded a video segment wearing blackface,
‘In case of Tbilisi mayoral race, for people and especially for the media, the exoticism of a candidate turned out to be more interesting than the content a candidate offers’, Kumishvili says in the video before ‘turning into black man’ and doing a strange accent, in an apparent attempt to impersonate Nigerian-born Georgian mayoral candidate Arinze Richard Ogbunuju.
Kumsishvili later insisted that the video was ‘not racist’.
5. Covid-appropriate but copied
Announcing the formation of a coalition of opposition forces titled ‘Third Power’ on 30 August, Giorgi Vashadze held a presentation in front of dozens of screens connected to dozens of party supporters.
While the visuals were impressive and COVID-19 appropriate, Vashadze appears to have copied a nearly identical presentation held by Serbian President Aleksandar Vučič during an election last year.
4. A ‘disappointing’ candidate
Since early September, pro-government TV channel Imedi published at least 17 news items concerning candidates and members of the opposition For Georgia party, headed by former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, who had either quit campaigning for the party or withdrew their candidacies.
The unprecedented scale of pre-election withdrawals was explained as a wave of ‘disappointment’ in Giorgi Gakharia.
Similar news appeared over candidates of other opposition groups, primarily, United National Movement, European Georgia, Lelo, and Labour Party.
Government critics, however, have expressed suspicion that rather than disappointment, the candidates and supporters withdrew to pressure and blackmail from the government.
3. A concert for the SSG
Following the leak of files from the State Security Service that suggested the organisation carried out mass illegal surveillance in the country, Boris Chele Kurua, a candidate from the Girchi party alongside other opposition supporters ‘played’ a piano in front of SSG offices in Tbilisi.
Kurua said he played excerpts from the soundtrack to the 1976 French movie Toy, so as to ‘check the ear’ of the SSG.
The French comedy is frequently cited by critics of Bidzina Ivanishvli, a Georgian billionaire and founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party, that is often called Georgia’s ‘informal ruler’, as a reference to those allegedly ‘bought’ by him.
2. Running for office, unknowingly
Several days before the vote, Koka Kapanadze discovered that he was running for local council membership as a Girchi - New Political Centre party candidate in the central Kareli Municipality region.
Kapanadze was even more surprised to learn that he could not withdraw his candidacy as the electoral authorities informed him it was legally too late for him to do it.
Aleksandre Rakviashvili, one of the leaders of Girchi - New Political Centre, told journalists that there was nothing unusual about the incident as the party had purchased the rights from a number of individuals to use scans of their ID to register them as candidates for their electoral list.
Rakviashvili said they paid ₾5 ($1.60) for each, and apparently, it seemed that someone submitted an ID that did not belong to them to make a quick buck.
1. ‘I’ll be back’
As of publication, Georgian Dream and the opposition United National Movement (UNM) party, the two largest political parties in Georgia disagree on the whereabouts of exiled third Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Saakashvili, who serves as the honorary chair of UNM, first vowed to arrive in Tbilisi on the night of 2 October but has since claimed to have already arrived in the western Georgian city of Batumi.
Georgian Dream has claimed Saakashvili was last seen at Rixos hotel in the city of Truskavets, Ukraine and that he never actually left the country, meanwhile while UNM has insisted he is already in Georgia and will make a public appearance when the time is right.
A ‘manhunt’ for Saakashvili has hijacked headlines the last day before Georgia’s municipal elections, leading to Georgian President Salome Zurabishvii scolding both parties for contributing to the country’s polarisation before a crucial vote.