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The pre-election landscape

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, April 21
The situation prior to the elections is now clear. The opposition do not have a common candidate for Tbilisi Mayor and therefore their chances of winning are minimal if they exist at all. But confusingly the ruling party has not officially nominated a candidate. There have been hints that incumbent Gigi Ugulava will be its nominee but no more than that.

On April 16 former opposition Presidential candidate Levan Gachechiladze refused to stand for Mayor, stating that he was very much frustrated by the failure to select a common candidate. He declined to participate in the election in order to avoid splitting the opposition vote further.

The local elections in Georgia have in effect become the battle for Tbilisi Mayor now. There are four main opposition candidates for Mayor, Irakli Alasania from the Alliance for Georgia, Gia Chanturia from the Christian-Democratic Movement; Zviad Dzidziguri from the National Council and Gogi Topadze from Industry Will Save Georgia. Analysts think that the first two named will gain the majority of opposition votes. All the candidates express regret that it has not been possible to nominate one candidate but it is now too late. Each candidate is fighting individually, and of course saying that they have a better chance than all their rivals.

Many analysts and ordinary people state that a split opposition are doomed to lose and that the ruling party candidate will gain the necessary 31% of the vote when the remaining 69% is split between four/or more candidates. But who will this candidate be? We donít know as of yet. The ruling party has promised to nominate him/her before April 30 but the uncertainty is creating lots of rumour and speculation. One is that Saakashvili does not want Ugulava as Mayor, indicating that the ruling party is also split. Some European observers however give a very prosaic explanation for the delay and perhaps they are right. As soon as someone is nominated as a candidate they cannot use administrative resources during their campaign. Gigi Ugulava is appearing everywhere at public expense and his campaign has been going on for several months in a disguised form. He is meeting people, opening newly-paved streets and playgrounds etcetera but all as Mayor of Tbilisi, not a candidate. Therefore nobody can complain that he is campaigning although he is. Until he is officially nominated he will intensively exploit his advantages.

The local elections are both a test of democracy and a dress rehearsal for the Presidential and Parliamentary elections due to be held by 2012. The CEC is taking various measures in an attempt to prove that the elections will be conducted transparently, genuinely and fairly. However the opposition continue to complain about the huge administrative resources being used by the ruling party to secure its victory. Certain opposition parties will boycott the elections, saying that they will be rigged anyway. There are also some nasty accusations flying around, as always during any election campaign. One newspaper for instance has said that during his visit to the USA Irakli Alasania met Russian envoy to the United Nations Churkin to obtain finance from him and Levan Gachechiladze was offered USD 3 million of this money. The husband of Nino Burjanadze, Badri Bitsadze, has accused the government of collaborating with Russia during and after the war.

The election campaign has just started and there will be more harsh and bitter accusations as it progresses. These in turn will affect the public's perception of each candidate. Whoever is elected, the reason people voted for them may therefore come back to haunt them as time goes on.