Welcome to the presidential election circus in Georgia
19 November, 2018
Before the first round of presidential elections took place, the ruling party “Georgian Dream” was certain of success. Party leader, former prime minister and oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili even publicly congratulated the officially independent candidate Salome Zurabishvili who is backed by the ruling party on her victory. Notabene, before the results of the election were known. For me - a Swiss journalist on an eight week traineeship abroad – this behavior was already outlandish to say
the least.
Salome Zurabishvili is smiling at the people from every corner in Tbilisi

However, during the last couple of days I was rubbing my eyes once more. As a second-round runoff will be held next week, I obviously was expecting new election banners to hang in Tbilisi. Just like before the first round, Salome Zurabishvili banners are omnipresent in the city while those of the united opposition candidate Grigol Vashadze are less common.

But simultaneously, other banners were hung up too. On them you see the ruling party leader Bidzina Ivanishvili – although he isn’t a presidential candidate, as everybody knows.
“Election” banner of ruling party leader Bidzina Ivanishvili

For those who aren’t able to read Georgian, let me translate what is written on this banner:
"A fundamental choice, dignity, freedom, development"
And further down there is the election number 48 of Salome Zurabishvili as well as her name.
Please note that the name of Ivanishvili doesn’t appear on the banner. But what is his face doing up there?

The ruling party displays nerves

The fact that the ruling party leader feels obliged to show his support for his candidate in this way isn’t just strange. It proofs also that the initial confidence in “Georgian Dream” has vanished. And there are good reasons for this latest nervousness. First, Zurabishvili’s lead over Vashadze in the first round was paper-thin. Second, the third-placed Davit Bakradze – he got 11 percent of the votes – declared his support for Vashadze in the meantime.
These montages show the prime minister and a famous pianist on banners like the ones of ruling party leader Bidzina Ivanishvili

But no matter what kind of reasons there might be. In my opinion this kind of interfering into the presidential election by the ruling party leader is dubious – and something to laugh at (if only the matter wasn’t so serious). And I’m not the only one. Meanwhile Georgians started joking about the so called “transgender banners”. People are posting all kind of montages in the web with various people on presidential election banners.

But the banners with Ivanishvili aren’t the only curiosity that has struck me lately. Also the party “Patriotic Alliance” who is backing Salome Zurabishvili shows its support in a peculiar manner.
“Say no to the National Movement party, say no to evil” – is written on this banner

Their banners show prominently the former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, who lives in exile in the Netherlands. He is surrounded by other people among them Nika Gvaramia, head of the opposition channel Rustavi 2, and the actual presidential candidate Grigol Vashadze – an ally of Saakashvili. This display has several subtle messages. One of them suggests that with Vashadze becoming president chaos and war will return to Georgia. Just like in 2008, during the Georgian-Russian war when Saakashvili was president. Saakasvhili, the leader of the Rose Revolution, lives in exile in the Netherlands right now in order to avoid prison. This year, he was condemned to several years in prison due to misuse of power by a Georgian court.
Salome Zurabishvili thanked the popular pianist for her alleged support on Facebook

And last but not least, let me mention another embarrassing incident. Last Friday, the famous Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili posted on her Facebook account a picture promoting a new movie about her and a concert that took place in Georgia. “48 Stunden in Georgien” is the German title of the movie. Obviously, Salome Zurabishvili got misled by the number 48 that is her official list number in the presidential election. She thanked the pianist for her support, although there is no connection between the film title, which means “48 hours in Georgia” and the election.

Don’t get me wrong: I haven’t written this blog post in order to dismantle the supporters of Salome Zurabishvili. But to tell you, what many people here in Georgia think. Namely, that the whole presidential election has become something of a laughing stock. Somehow, the laughter sticks in my throat. Georgia and the Georgian people have deserved better than this.

Author: Martina Polek

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