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The race: a local look

By Sopo Datishvili
Wednesday, May 21
While major television stations have followed party leaders on the national campaign trail, lesser local candidates have been waging battles within Georgia’s 75 election districts.

In Telavi district, the center of Georgia’s historic wine-making province of Kakheti, eight candidates are competing for the local parliamentary seat.

Of the competitive candidates, the ruling National Movement’s Gia Arsenishvili is a former Kakheti governor and served as state minister—a precursor to the office of prime minister—under former president Eduard Shevardnadze.

The United Opposition, a coalition of nine opposition parties, is fielding New Rights MP Pikria Chikhradze.

Asked why Chikhradze—who is from the other side of Georgia—is running in Telavi, her campaign spokeswoman said the coalition is spreading its talent across the country.

She also said the government has not met local voters’ needs, but was short on details when it came to describing what the coalition would offer voters instead.

United Opposition representatives in Telavi say the main priority is simply getting into parliament, so that they can represent the electorate’s interests there.

Arsenishvili’s campaign headquarters was more ready to talk specifics. They promise voters better local infrastructure, including new roads, stadiums and libraries.

“We have been to every place here, we have visited villages and talked with the people,” Gia Papunashvili, the head of Arsenishvili’s campaign headquarters, told the paper.

Both sides report foul play. The opposition say National Movement youth activists disrupted a campaign meeting at the local university. One eyewitness—a member of staff at the university who wished to remain anonymous—said that students burst into the meeting shouting and waving flags.

A reporter from this newspaper also saw the incident, but characterized the episode as essentially peaceful.

Meanwhile the National Movement claims its members in Telavi have faced verbal abuse from the opposition, but did not give any specific cases.

The Labor Party is represented by Dali Abashidze, who was an MP from 1995–1999. Other significant parties fielding candidates are the moderate Republicans and the recently-formed Christian Democratic Party.