Georgians feel betrayed, hoodwinked and used

The long awaited and much discussed local elections are nearly here. The countdown is already underway. The 30th of May 2010 is a long anticipated day. Recriminations, finger-pointing and mud-slinging are already essential components of the pre-election campaign. Voters can expect more to come. However, in spite of all the good old fun and hoopla, commotion and double-speak, there can be little doubt about who will be the eventual winner, regardless of the continued boycotting of IRI, NDI and others for hired pollsters. It is already a done deal and part of a pony show of what is to come.

Just a bit of bit of retrospect – to adjust the eyes as to the landscape of Georgian politics, and this dates back to the ‘get-go; – the fledgling steps of the reformist Saakashvili’s Era, his successful Rose Revolution, the birth of a fledgling democracy, and all the rest that Misha gets credit for in the so-called free and mainstream press.

However, in spite of such press and carefully manipulated PR, to major issues surfaced as bones of contention among the general public based, and these are even supported by actual polling results. Hard to believe, and perhaps as a result of some flawed poll, margin of error, Georgians don’t like their ‘democratically-elected’ government and even fewer, only one in five supported the decision to send troops to Iraq (approximately 20 percent). How can that be?

Georgians feel betrayed, hoodwinked and used – and in spite of the all the much touted promises that all citizens would be able to be more active and involved in local decision-making and self-government, something taken from the pages of “Development as Freedom,” they consider that government is now more centralized, less responsive, and even fewer decisions than ever before, are left to locals – and they are intentionally being kept out of the real decision-making and being able to actually control their own lives. Some go as far to describe the whole process as Potemkin Democracy, and something best suited for outside consumption.

As for Tbilisi and other cities, despite early promises, there has been backsliding on being able to elect local mayors by the popular vote. Instead, a scheme was concocted to provide a semblance of real democracy by allowing for the election of majors by local elections; only a small percentage of voters supported such a scheme, 10 percent.

At last, to show that the government supports real democracy, the Tbilisi Mayor will be directly elected by voters, and it will be a he-man (although among eligible candidates females out number men by 10% over their male counterparts). It makes one wonder why only males are standing for such a prestigious and much sought after office. Perhaps a female touch would bring a bit of artistic flavor to such public work projects, and would show more empathy for those suffering from a wide array of social problems – and who feel the impact of government policies and the waste of pubic funds on a daily basis. Poverty reduction is talked about but not really practiced in the minds of many, just go and ask Georgian woman who bear such a heavy burden of responsibility in supporting her immediate and extended family members.

However, electoral war is not about real issues but appears to be more about who will be standing for the next president-elect of Georgia, and who will be the top dog of Georgia. But is there really any opposite to look at the real issues, and who will be taken seriously, not only by voters but the power brokers. Regardless, those who are truly or ‘seemingly’ in opposition are doing their best to convince come and vote for them. Regrettably, the opposition gave ground in the regions and they are convinced that their strategic depth up lies in the political trenches of the capital city and will make their stand in Tbilisi. Here is where the real battle will be won or lost!

Movers and Shakers & Dead Wood

Mikhael Saakashvili – Clearly political Alpha male, leading the troop, AKA super predator (supper predators are predators that have virtually no predators feeding on their own; they reside at the top of the food chain), and at this moment, the only knife in the back could come from his own team, and one with an extra Y chromosome to compete for the top slot and all the reaping. As from where this up-and-coming “possible competitor” is something left to the political elites to know, and whoever that may be is staying in the shadows, and the enemy is lurking for the just the right opportunity to catch the grand prize. It will not be from the opposition or pseudo-opposition. As for the current line up, members of the government and inner circle, it is hardly likely that the movers and shakers in Georgia could make such a muck of things that the opposition would be taken seriously on Election Day.

Interestingly, based on research findings, and not only the views of pundits, Saakashvili’s popularity rating came too close to Ugulava’s rating. However, at this moment this could only be attributed to heavy media coverage of Ugulava’s pre-election campaign or his access to purse strings to support pet projects in the pre-election period. The final commentary is held in abeyance for now – and things will be clearer in coming months.

Irakli Alasania – technically best-suited for political debates, experienced, soft spoken, also supposedly well-educated, and that he also can lay claim to western oriented, ‘tie-of-respectability’. However, perhaps a tad bit too young and street fighting in the political arena is not his forte. Irakli is not the communicative type, and has had a quite difficult time when he joined oppositional rallies a year ago. Some even think that it is naïve to consider that Georgian problems can be resolved in more civilized manner – not in an arena of street fighting. His tactical political bag of tricks is either concealed, or perhaps there is some hidden agenda lurking in the shadows. His cards are either blank or held too closely that we may never know. He is perhaps best described as a candidate who would prefer to ride with the fox and run with the hounds

Most probably, he is going to get caught in the dust, loose this fight for mayor’s office and will have another label to overcome, should he have the fortitude to make a go for the post of president-elect. He will be considered as a perpetual loser – and that is perhaps his claim to fame is how to slit the vote. .

Shalva Natelashvili –

Lots of name recognition here, telling it like it is – no-holds barred approach to Georgian politics, and can be considered as perhaps the best suited politician for the existing reality. He has entrepreneurial skills and is a straight shooter – and he learned early that to be in the game that you must play the game and that running a political party was on the level of a Georgian NGO, and politics is a growth industry with little accountability. He has his staunch voters-and can lay claim that at least once in the last 10 years, he honestly overcame the infamous 7% threshold (in 2003 October elections) but because of the untimely withdrawal of the Shevardnadze’s era parliament, Shalva had to run again for elected office, and was sidelined from the halls of the highest legislative institution.

However, still quite active and dramatically critical, knows what to say to his audience with heated words for the incumbent president and his team. In spite of the rhetoric, albeit true in most instances, his following remains the same. Ironically, based on Gallup nationwide polls, in summer of 2003, he was leading the pack by only a small percentage in terms of Labour party ratings, and Saakashvili’s party close behind. However, in spite of what might have proved a brilliant political move, out of expediency and being able to get closer to political pork, he did not join Saakashvili and other oppositional parties against Shevardnadze. Shalva basically ran out of steam, lost momentum, and since then, nobody has been willing to toss him any scraps of patronage (economic wealth) or political bones to gnaw on.

Gia Chanturia – truly most experienced manager among all candidates, and comes highly recommended by BP, special assignments in Azerbaijan, and even serves as a special advisor capacity to boss hogs in the oil and gas sector; really the only candidate whose vocabulary contains no insulting words towards the pack of less learned competitors (wolves). However, fighting words are appreciated in Georgia, and especially by those who loathe Saakshvili’s regime, and especially what they consider to be his dodgy minions with a passion. However, his well-documented promises of substantially reduced prices for gas and electricity plays well with the masses, and he knows only too well the pricing mechanism and can hobnob with some of the real players the in world of energy politics. He has done his own market research, and in response, with a bit of due diligence, digging up a few skeletons – it is not hard to understand that his agenda may be one that will have the winning ticket in elections to come.

Who knows why energy prices are sky high, where the money went – and how it was divvied up. To add icing to the cornucopia of election promises, he promises free water for Tbilisi residents. This is eye opening, as who actually owns the water system is a question that many are asking.
Such a promise not the activists of the Labor party (Mr. Natelashvili’s) could add to their list of promises. Look to the future here, as this is a bet to place and not win, and likely will be among the top three politicians when the dust settles after the election.

Gigi Ugulava – definitely front runner among Mayor’s candidates. His previous life was with an NGO that is much acclaimed, and at last his experience has caught up with coming highly recommended. It was after the 2003 Rose Revolution he blossomed – and grew in fame and standing, and since gained tremendous experience, even calling the shots back in 2008, while serving on very high state posts and more importantly he is one of few who truly has to say something when it come to grand reforms and can take credit for the respected position that Georgia now holds in the world.

Gigi is ready now to play his the own game, and by his own rules, and this may be fresh snow in the sphere of Georgian politics. However, this is a take no winners game, and no a mock war, and there will be “no pardon” if his footing is not secure on the slippery slope of Georgian politics.

Gogi Topadze – Quite well known businessman and politician in Georgia, the “King of Beers” and knows how to treat his former JV partners with due respect. Based on his own track record and understanding of the workings of western financial institutions, and how to make the most of technology transfer for his own bottom line. Operates two entities, his own party and beer brewery. Perhaps it is for the sake of diversity, and being a big fan of beer myself, I can not understand why his brewery makes two kinds of the same beer brand – one for bosses and those close to them and another for the common folk. Perhaps this too will be his political approach, and based on long established customs – as during Soviet when all were equal but some were more equal.

There are other candidates, but not really worth mentioning here since they chances to compete truly with Ugulava are long shorts at best.

Nino Burjanadze – the only person among Georgian active politicians who served 3 times as a head of the parliament, and twice as the acting interim president; she always played the role of a poorly Western minded politician but ended up on Red Square in Moscow with no Red Carpet welcoming mat, at least as of yet!. Despite numerous accusations against her family in corruption, bread jokes, (father’s business) after jumping from Mishas political boat, she has not faired so badly, only lost some property that she didn’t have to pay for in the first place, given to her as a token of appreciation by Saakashvili for the price of just one Georgian Lari, (70 cents at the time)

Zurab Nogaideli

Like Ms. Burjanadze, he served for several years and under two presidents as top leader of government. He had only a one year gap in working for the government, but used this time so effectively, making a few cool millions and then returning back to public life as a self-made millionaire. Much of his wealth comes from the American People, and his time as the overseer of a large grant program, and this is well documented, and aside from the official declaration, and there is no need to document substantiated rumors. His deals are well noted among the embassies and foreign missions. Nonetheless, he was always dedicated to making the best under difficult circumstances, whatever he understood that was his job description. However, more recently he has become a big allay of Mr. Putin and the rhetoric changed, becoming much harsher. It makes you wonder if he knows something that the rest of us don’t know, and that these two are carbon copies of one another – and that is why Nogaideli has became so brave lately.

Gorgi Gamkrelidze – the person who truly lost momentum two times, when thousands of Georgians came to attend the meeting but received only promises of tight finish. He most supporters are residents of the capital city, however, quantitatively they are melting and at present he does not pose a big threat to Saakashvili. NB. Although, if we are speaking about the changes of government via faded colored revolution, one should bear in mind that for that purpose then there is no need to gather hundreds of thousand citizens, one just need a maximum of 25,000 of angry and motivated people with big gonads, like back in November 2003.

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