Georgia – The Presidential Election: Candidates and the Campaign

On October 28, 2018, the presidential election will be held in Georgia. This is the last time that citizens of Georgia will directly elect the president. After the election, the country will move the country to the parliamentary model.

This election is interesting because the number of presidential candidates is unprecedentedly high. However, acting president Giorgi Margvelashvili refused to participate in the election.[1] In addition, the ruling Georgian Dream party did not nominate a candidate for the election. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the chair of the party, said that “it would be better for the development of democracy in Georgia if Georgian Dream, which has a constitutional majority in the parliament, made way for the opposition forces.”[2] Later, the party announced that it would support an independent presidential candidate.[3] After the official registration of the presidential candidates, they officially announced that they would support Salome Zurabishvili.[4] Zourabishvili himself declared a day before the Dream’s statement that he would run as an independent candidate in the election.[5]

Presidential candidates

A total of 46 candidates expressed an interest in running for president in the 2018 election. Among the candidates are well known politicians as well as new people. Candidates were nominated by political parties, and 26 independent candidates were nominated by initiative groups. In the end, the Central Election Commission registered 25 presidential candidates, 6 of which are independents.

Despite the number of candidates, several well-known figures are running.

Salome Zurabishvili was born and raised in a family of Georgian immigrants in France. He is a diplomat and has worked at different diplomatic posts in France. In 2003-2004 he was the Ambassador of France to Georgia, and was Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia in 2004-2005, being dismissed by President Saakashvili. After leaving office he went into the opposition, founded a political party, but did not have any significant success. Salome Zurabishvili ran in the parliamentary elections of 2016 as an independent candidate and was elected with the help of Georgian Dream.

The candidate of the United Opposition, Grigol Vashadze, heads a coalition of 9 parties. One of the leading political forces in this coalition is the United National Movement. Vashadze is a diplomat. From 1981-1988 he worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union. From 1990 to 2008, he ran a private business in Russia. In 2008 he was appointed as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, then Minister of Culture, Monument Protection and Sports, and until the year of 2012 was Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Davit Bakradze, who is the candidate of European Georgia. This party was formed as a result of the split of the United National Movement. Bakradze worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia from 1998-2002. In January 2008 he was appointed as Foreign Minister of Georgia. From 2008-2012 he was the Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia.

Another presidential candidate is David Usupashvili, a lawyer and chairman of the Republican Party of Georgia from 2005-2013. He was the speaker of parliament from 2012-2016. After the 2016 parliamentary elections, Usupashvili left the Republican Party and formed the “Movement of Movements”.

In addition, there is Zurab Japaridze is a former member of the United National Movement (UNM), leaving to form the “New Political Center – Girchhi” . There is also the chairperson of 2015-2018. Labor Party leader, Shalva Natelashvili, who has participated in the previous three presidential elections.

Pre-election context and election promises of candidates

Some people do not think that the election is important because of the reduced powers of the presidency. In fact, though, it may be considered as a trial run for the 2020 parliamentary elections. It is test for both the government and the opposition. The ruling party officially claimed that it was not standing a candidate in the interests of democratic development , but the decision is actually explained by its low poll rating.

In terms of democratic development, according to the NGO “Fair Elections”, electoral violations have already been identified. Specifically, pressure on political grounds, the possibility of intimidation, the use of administrative resources, attempts to bribe the voters, and the violation of the print material rules.[7]

One of the main problems of the presidential election is the selection of candidates for the district election commissions (DEC) and members of the PEC members. “ISFED” found that 14 out of the temporary members selected in 73 DECs were relatives of the election administration officials, and in 8 cases the DECs were elected by the supporters or activists of Georgian Dream.[8] In reality, the Georgian Dream’s supporters staff the election commissions, which is a big challenge to fairness and democracy. That is why the opposition is protesting, saying that the government is going to falsify the result.

The election slogans and promises of presidential candidates are often at odds with reality. For example, Zourabishvili said that “I am going to take troops from the occupied territories once again”.[9] Bakradze has promises legal services, high salaries, insurance and protection abroad, an increase in the pension of 50 GEL and promises to care for socially vulnerable people before returning home to immigrants.[10]Vashadze has promised to a prohibition of narcotic plants in the constitution. And so on.

These and other promises are empty, because after the presidential elections the president’s powers will be reduced and Georgia will move to the parliamentary system. However, most of the population is still not aware of what the parliamentary system means and what role the president will have. Therefore, candidates have adopted a populist stance to attract voters.

Russian issue in pre-election campaign

The Russian issue is one of the key issues in the presidential election. Voters and candidates are divided into two camps. Currently, 20% of Georgia’s territory is occupied by the Russian Federation after the 2008 Georgia-Russian war and there are continued provocations in the occupied territories. Georgia has no diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation. The relationship between the future president and Russia in this situation is very important.

In this context, there was a scandal. Salome Zourabishvili accused former President Mikheil Saakashvili of starting the war in South Ossetia.[15] This led to social protests, as well as criticism from experts and the opposition. Opposition candidates noted that this was a repetition of Russian propaganda texts and said that Zourabishvili’s presidency would be a threat to the interests of the Georgian state. [16] It is noteworthy that after a meeting held at the Georgian Dream’s headquarters, Zourabishvili changed his position. In a public speech where he read a text from the podium, he said that Russia is an occupying force and an aggressor.[17]

What are the chances of the presidential candidates?

Opinion polls suggest that no one ill be elected on the first ballot. The poll conducted by “Edison Research” for”Rustavi 2″ gave the following result: Grigol Vashadze, the candidate of the united opposition 22%; Davit Bakradze of European Georgia 18%; Zourabishvili 15 percent; Labor Party candidate Shalva Natalashvili 8%; and Davit Usupashvili, the candidate of Movement for Motion, 3%. Other candidates totalled 9% and 25% were undecided. [18] At the same time, the ruling party declared that their internal polls suggested that Zourabishvili would win at the first round.

Overall, we can say that no candidate has a special advantage in the election. Given the downturn of the ruling Dream party, the opposition has a chance to win, although there is still a lot of time and we will see what results are finally announced. Once again, we can assert that it will be important for Georgian democracy if an opposition candidate wins this presidential election.

Notes

[1] Giorgi Margvelashvili will not take part in the presidential elections, https://www.radiotavisupleba.ge/a/29463535.html

[2] Ivanishvili: My position is not to nominate a presidential candidate, http://liberali.ge/news/view/38640/ivanishvili-chemi-pozitsiaa-rom-ar-davasakhelot-prezidentobis-kandidati

[3] The ruling party says it will support an independent presidential candidate, https://www.radiotavisupleba.ge/a/29454222.html

[4] Georgian Dream will support Salome Zourabichvili during the presidential elections, https://on.ge/story/27412-ქართული-ოცნება-საპრეზიდენტო-არჩევნებზე-სალომე-ზურაბიშვილს-დაუჭერს-მხარს

[5] Salome Zourabichvili is running for president, https://imedinews.ge/ge/saqartvelo/71192/salome-zurabishvili-prezidentad-kenchs-ikris

[6] Nino Burjanadze boycotts presidential election http://www.interpressnews.ge/en/politicss/97818-nino-burjanadze-boycotts-presidential-election.html?rund=1536518542&ar=A

[7] 2018 presidential elections – first interim report of pre-election monitoring, http://www.isfed.ge/main/1409/geo/

[8] 2018 presidential elections – first interim report of pre-election monitoring, http://www.isfed.ge/main/1409/geo/

[9] What are the presidential candidates deceiving us – the presidential election 2018? https://commersant.ge/ge/post/ras-gvatyueben-saprezidento-kandidatebi-saprezidento-archevnebi-2018?>

[10] David Bakradze is a presidential candidate of “European Georgia, 22 July 2018, https://reginfo.ge/politics/item/8537-davit-baqrawe-„evropuli-saqartvelos“-prezidentobis-kandidati-iqneba

[11] Presidential candidate Grigol Vashadze met with supporters in Akhaltsikhe, 18.09.2018,  http://sknews.ge/index.php?newsid=19317

[12] https://www.facebook.com/DavidUsupashviliOfficial/videos/303878537079557/?t=14

[13] “Primetime” on Electoral Candidates – How will Zurab Japaridze use presidential duties, 07-02-2018, https://www.primetime.ge/news/1530512785-პრაიევის-შემთხვევაში

[14] “Here is the parliament, I will fly!” – Shalva Natelashvili promises the voters, 29 August 2018, free space, http://www.iberiatv.ge/ka/gadacemebi/tavisufali-sivrce/article/17932–ai-mag-parlaments-ise-davifren-ras-pirdeba-shalva-nathelashvili-amomrchevels

[15] Salome Zourabichvili about the August war: Georgia started this part of this war situation, http://netgazeti.ge/news/297043/

[16] Election of Salome Zourabichvili as president is a threat to the interests of the Georgian state – Davit Bakradzehttp://fortuna.ge/salome-zurabishvilis-prezidentad-archeva-qartuli-sakhelmwifos-interesistvis-safrtkhes-sheicavs-davit-baqradze/

[17] Zurabishvili will change his position, 2018-09-18 09:30:54http://for.ge/view.php?for_id=54886&cat=2

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