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Election campaign details

By Messenger Staff
Monday, May 24
Now there is less than a week left before the elections it is interesting to see how the candidates for Tbilisi Mayor and their parties are conducting their campaigns. The first point of interest is that not every party has selected its leader as its candidate for Tbilisi Mayor. The ruling party's candidate is incumbent Mayor Gigi Ugulava, and the Alliance for Georgia has nominated its leader Irakli Alasania and the National Council, after holding primaries, leader of the Conservative Party Zviad Dzidziguri. The Christian Democrats however nominated the former head of the Georgian State Oil Corporation Gia Chanturia, who has been living in Azerbaijan establishing businesses since the Rose Revolution.

Businessman and founder of the Industrialists Party Gogi Topadze is recognised as the leader of this party even though he is not himself an MP at this time. Among the parties which met the Parliamentary election threshold last time round the former radical opposition and now loyal opposition MP Gia Tortladze's Democratic Party has nominated the former Shevardnadze era Finance Minister Davit Iakobidze as its Mayoral candidate.

Of course United National Movement candidate Gigi Ugulava is a known ally of President Saakashvili and as such benefits from what American political scientists call the "coat-tails effect." The Christian Democrat candidate is in a similar situation, as the leading figures in the party are much better known and more popular and he is likewise banking on this to secure votes for himself. Alasania is supported by other members of the Alliance who also have their own parties and distinct supporters. Tortladze is trying his best to present Iakobidze as a worthy professional but his chances are vdry small.

To achieve success every party, leader and candidate have elaborated slogans and images using media outlets and public advertising through billboards and posters. The Christian Democrats seem to be taking up the most billboard space but the ruling party is not far behind. Surprisingly David Iakobidze also has a lot of billboard space to his name. Alasania and Topadze are well behind in this respect. There is a fight going on to corner the most attractive poster sites, such as the walls of all the buildings along a particular street, fences, bus stations, block entrances, elevators and elsewhere. Although it is against the law activists of the various parties have been caught putting their posters over those of rival parties and there have been several confrontations over this. It is also against the law to tear posters down, although there have been cases of the owner of a house tearing down posters someone has put there on the grounds that it is his property and he objects to someone sticking posters on his house. By coincidence these were the ruling party's posters.

The candidates are presenting different images. Gigi Ugulava can be seen everywhere, at the opening of different enterprises, concerts, schools, you name it. He is always confident, self-aware and solid. Alasania mostly meets people in the streets but is also very solid and confident, talking with assurance and leaving a very convincing impression of being someone who can make a difference. The image on his posters of Alasania and his candidates giving a thumbs up is generally accepted here in Georgia as portraying confidence, support and the expectation of victory.

The most memorable image of Zviad Dzidziguri is of him standing in front of a cheering crowd at Tbilisi stadium while making a speech. His portrayal of himself as a family man, with his wife and five children, is also popular. Topadze mostly appears in industrial environments, factories or businesses, highlighting his business success and his claim to thus be the means of giving Georgia a future.

Christian Democrat candidate Gia Chanturia is always portrayed with his team members. The most common image is the leader of the party Giorgi Targamadze and fellow former TV anchor Inga Grigolia standing next to Chanturia. The candidate claims he is not a politician but a business executive. The question arises as to how someone can be Mayor of Tbilisi without being a politician, but Chanturia thinks he can manage this.

Yet another issue is the slogans the candidates use. Ugulava is running under the slogan ‘There is Still Much to Do’, a phrase which seeks to excuse the ruling party's failures and unfulfilled promises and gives it room to make yet more promises. However people are responding to it, wanting to live in illusions. Irakli Alasania uses the slogan 'We Will Change . This optimistic Obama-type slogan targets the future and as Alasania has not been in executive power and therefore not had the chance to break his word this sounds quite convincing. Dzidziguri has the quite aggressive slogan "The Fight Starts Today'. Gogi Topadze tells us ‘I Am Coming To Do Business', underlining his business past and presumably the country’s business future. Chanturia’s slogan is 'Employment and Low Tariffs', also a very business type and pragmatic one which targets the issues the public are interested in.

With the administrative resources and money he has at his disposal Ugulava is of course leading the race at present. How much people respond to slogans, posters etcetera might still have an effect on the election though, as whoever wins will still have to do what the public responded most strongly to, whether or not this corresponds with what they actually promised.