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For whom the vote goes?

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, May 25
Georgia is a very politicised society. In a taxi, a marshrutka or while standing in line in a shop you hear hot discussions and even debates on different political issues.

Some time ago I asked a friend of mine, a Swiss citizen, who the current Swiss President was. He started laughing and answered that he could not remember, as they keep rotating and it is very difficult to trace who is the current President of Switzerland. “How lucky you are,” I told him, because here in Georgia we remember every small detail not only about the President but every Government member, all 150 MPs, and their wives and families, and often these details are not very edifying.

Obviously the forthcoming local elections on May 30 are the main topics of discussion everywhere in Georgia. Over the weekend I was travelling long distance on a marshrutka and here is a brief account of what I heard whilst travelling.

First two friends or acquaintances asked each other who they would vote for as soon as the bus started. Presumably both of them were Tbilisi residents as their hottest discussion was who they would vote for as Mayor of Tbilisi. One of them had not decided yet, though the other had, so they discussed almost all the candidates and their pros and cons. It was fun to listen to because other passengers got involved in the discussion, making their own comments and asking questions. I really regretted that I did not have my dictaphone to hand, it being in my bag under my seat. However I tried later to recollect what I heard.

“I will vote for Gigi Ugulava,” said the one who had decided. “I did not like him, I did not like the Nationals, but recently he paved our yard with new asphalt and cut down an old tree in the middle of the old yard and now he has started mending our roof, which was leaking. So I will vote for him,” she said.

Her opponent, who was sceptical, said that, “I know you have been complaining about the yard for a long time, so why did your beloved Ugulava pave it right before the elections and not earlier? Paving the streets, cleaning the yards, mending the roofs, keeping the police in good shape so that citizens can walk the streets safely, putting up street lighting, regularly collecting rubbish and supplying the city with gas and electricity are the duty of the Mayor and his Office. Why do you think having your yard paved is a privilege? It is what we pay the Mayor to do. He is not doing us a special favour, he is fulfilling his obligations. I will not vote for Ugulava,” she said.

But the first lady insisted, “I still prefer the devil I know to a new one. These ones at least have already understood what is needed and how it should be done and I think they have already satisfied their appetites. If new people come in, they will have to spend time learning and then grab money and only afterwards will they start taking care of the Tbilisi population.”

The second lady was more principled. “I still hope,” she said, “that there are some candidates who might perform better.” “Who?” asked the first one. “I would prefer one who has not been involved in political issues but professional activities, for instance, Alasania. Most of the others have been involved in politics, were Members of Parliament and so forth, and could have done something for their country. For instance, Topadze was an MP and so was Zviad Dzidziguri. Chanturia was a big boss during Shevardnadze's time, as was Iakobidze, who was a Minister, and not much was done by either of them. So I would prefer to vote for Alasania,” said the second lady.

As I mentioned there were more discussions then these, involving other passengers, but I am giving the essence. Neither of the disputants mentioned any political principles, such as adopting Western values, defending human rights and the rule of law, having an independent court system and a free media and the like. They made judgments on the basis of their pragmatic needs. These needs are easily met, it seems: you can ignore the people the rest of the time, but give them new asphalt and electricity just before the elections and they will vote for you. On 31 May, after the elections, it will become clear how many Tbilisi citizens have voted with neither heart nor head, but eyes and stomach.