Voters in Georgia will elect 64 new municipal councils in May 30 local elections, but the major focus will be on contest in Tbilisi, which will directly elect its mayor for the first time.
Outcome of mayoral contest in the capital city, where one-third of the country’s voters are concentrated, is believed to largely determine the country’s political landscape in run up to presidential elections in 2013, when Mikheil Saakashvili’s second and final term in office expires.
The ruling party has formally launched campaigning this week from provinces by nominating its candidates for local councils’ membership in some of the regional municipalities, including in Samegrelo, Svaneti, and Mtskheta-Mtianeti regions, as well as in the town of Gori.
Ruling party’s outdoor campaign rallies, led by various senior ruling party officials - in case of Poti in Samegrelo region Davit Bakradze, the parliamentary chairman, was involved – were held under the banner reading: "A Lot Remains to Be Done".
No formal campaign has been launched by the ruling party in Tbilisi as it has yet to officially nominate its mayoral candidate, as well as candidates for Tbilisi City Council membership; deadline is April 30.
Incumbent mayor, Gigi Ugulava, is expected to stand for re-election. Ugulava, one of those few senior officials who are regarded to be part of so called Saakashvili's inner circle, has kept low political profile in recent months - shunning away from making public political statements, but instead has been active in creating an image of an effective executive dealing with daily needs of the Tbilisites.
His opponents complain that Ugulava’s activities in recent months are part of his undeclared election campaign with use of administrative resources; similar allegations were also voiced in a report by Transparency International-Georgia; the report was rejected by Ugulava himself and in addition the government’s inter-agency task force for free and fair elections released a detailed rebuttal of the report.
Ugulava in his formal campaign is expected to focus on social issues and unemployment; he has pointed out these issues as priorities for the municipality for number of times in his recent public remarks.
Opposition mayoral candidates, which have already launched formal campaign, are also focusing on social issues in their electoral programs.
Irakli Alasania, leader of Alliance for Georgia, presented last week his “employment program”, pledging to create at least 50,000 new jobs through setting up of a municipal fund to help with start-up and expansion of small and medium businesses. According to the scheme, presented by Alasania, the municipal fund with worth of total GEL 120 million will provide loans of up to GEL 20,000 with annual interest rate of 8% and with repayment period of 18 months.
According to the proposal, finances for the GEL 120 million fund will come from direct municipal funding – GEL 50 million, plus GEL 50 million through issuing long-term treasury bills and GEL 20 million from donor funding.
In healthcare program, Alasania has pledged to increase funding of the sector in Tbilisi from GEL 33 million to GEL 117 million in case of his election. He has promised medicines for children up to 3 years old and for Tbilisi residents over 65 years old free of charge with limit of GEL 100. He claims it’s possible through creation of chain of municipal drug stores, which will provide medicines with discount price.
A mayoral candidate, nominated by Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM), a leading party in the parliamentary minority, Giorgi Chanturia runs the campaign with a message: “low tariffs and employment”; he has pledged to significantly cut gas and electricity tariffs and to make water consumption free of charge.
Chanturia tells voters, that in case of election he would cut gas tariff from current GEL 0.51 tetri for households per cubic meter to GEL 0.1 and would reduce electricity tariff, which now varies from GEL 0.135 to GEL 0.177 (depending on amount of consumed electricity) to GEL 0.05.
Chanturia says that reduction of gas tariff is possible thanks to Georgia’s role in Shah Deniz gas project from which the country, as a transit route, annually should receive 5% of transited gas free of charge and in addition 500 million cubic meter from transited gas with reduced price of USD 55 per 1,000 cubic meter.
Gogi Topadze, owner of beer producing company and a founder of Industry Will Save Georgia (Industrialists), also runs the campaign focusing on resolving unemployment and social problems.
Zviad Dzidziguri, leader of Conservative Party, part of National Council alliance (also including ex-PM Zurab Nogaideli’s party Movement for Fair Georgia and Party of People) presented his healthcare program on April 23 pledging basic health insurance for Tbilisi residents and full package of health insurance for pensioners.
Three remaining candidates are Davit Iakobidze, Georgia’s finance minister in mid-90s, who was nominated by MP Gia Tortladze’s Democratic Party of Georgia; Nika Ivanishvili, who was head of traffic police in late 90s, was nominated by his party, which was established in March and Tamaz Vashadze, who briefly was Tbilisi mayor, 19 years ago.
The Georgian Public Broadcaster is expected to host live TV debates between the candidates in May, but arrangements have yet to be agreed.
A candidate winning most of the votes, but not less than 30% will be declared an outright winner, but a runoff will be required if none of them garners 30%.
Parties are also contesting for 50 seats in the Tbilisi City Council. 25 seats will be distributed among the parties, which will clear 4% threshold in the party-list, proportional contest and remaining 25 will be contested in Tbilisi’s 25 single-mandate majoritarian constituencies.