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Tbilisi's Mayoral Candidates Missing Their Marbles

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On 15 June, Georgia holds local elections. But these are no normal elections. For the first time, 12 city mayors and 59 heads of the local municipalities, known as Gamgebelis, will be directly elected. Previously, only the mayor of Tbilisi was directly elected. But what is on offer for the people of Georgia? The candidates are less underwhelming, more overwhelmingly whacky and weird

Re­gard­less of the air of nov­elty con­jured up by changes to the elec­toral code, the Geor­gian Dream’s can­di­date for Tbil­isi mayor, Davit Nar­ma­nia, has been pegged as the sure fire vic­tor of this year’s may­oral race, leav­ing lit­tle room for mys­tery or sur­prise. But de­spite the po­ten­tially pre­dictable out­come, the di­verse and slightly bizarre group of can­di­dates run­ning for Tbil­isi mayor may pro­vide a sprin­kling of spec­ta­cle to an oth­er­wise un­re­mark­able race.

Nar­ma­nia him­self is per­haps the least ec­cen­tric of the bunch. Serv­ing as the coun­try’s min­is­ter of re­gional de­vel­op­ment since the Oc­to­ber 2012 Par­lia­men­tary elec­tions pro­pelled the Geor­gian Dream back onto the po­lit­i­cal play­ing field; Nar­ma­nia has been called “one of the best min­is­ters in the new gov­ern­ment”. He holds a PhD in eco­nom­ics and is a full pro­fes­sor at the Tbil­isi State Uni­ver­sity. But while Nar­ma­nia has been praised for spend­ing 800 mil­lion GEL (332 mil­lion Euros) on in­fra­struc­ture and de­vel­op­ment in 2013, his plans for Tbil­isi’s fu­ture have been lam­basted for bor­der­ing on the utopian. He re­cently de­clared that he will plant one mil­lion trees in the cap­i­tal dur­ing his may­oral term, a feat crit­ics have deemed spa­tially im­pos­si­ble.

In keep­ing with the United Na­tional Move­ment’s (UNM) propen­sity to pro­tect politi­cians under in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Ni­coloz Melia, the UNM’s can­di­date for Tbil­isi’s mayor, is per­haps best known for his court cases. In Sep­tem­ber 2013, he was charged with abuse of power while serv­ing as head of Geor­gia’s Na­tional En­force­ment Bu­reau, a po­si­tion he held prior to the 2012 par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. The case in ques­tion is re­lated to Cartu Bank, an en­tity that be­longs to for­mer Prime Min­is­ter and leader of the Geor­gian Dream, bil­lion­aire Bidz­ina Ivan­ishvili.

After Ivan­ishvili de­clared his in­ten­tion to go into pol­i­tics in 2011, the bank promptly ran into dif­fi­cul­ties that of­fi­cials claim were caused by a UNM plot to bank­rupt the bank. While Melia de­nies his in­volve­ment in the scheme, he is im­pli­cated by ev­i­dence pre­sented to the court dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Hav­ing been re­leased from de­ten­tion on $15,000 bail, the UNM politi­cian has con­tin­ued in his role as gov­er­nor of the Tbil­isi dis­trict Mts­minda. But if Melia ap­pears un­fazed by his court case, it may be be­cause he is no stranger to the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. In May 2013 he was also charged with hooli­gan­ism after a phys­i­cal con­fronta­tion un­folded be­tween sev­eral UNM lead­ers at the Tbil­isi based restau­rant La Trufe.

Shim­my­ing out of the tra­di­tional UNM/Geor­gian Dream di­chotomy is the in­de­pen­dent can­di­date Dim­itri Lortkipanadze. Led by Nino Bur­janadze -- the for­mer speaker of par­lia­ment and Mar­garet Thatcher look-alike who was a semi-se­ri­ous con­tender in the 2013 Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions -- a coali­tion of sev­eral non-par­lia­men­tary op­po­si­tion par­ties, known as the United Po­si­tion, named Lortkipanadze their can­di­date for Tbil­isi city mayor. Lortkipanadze’s pre­vi­ous po­lit­i­cal ca­reer can hardly be qual­i­fied as a glow­ing suc­cess. An in­con­se­quen­tial mem­ber of par­lia­ment from 2008-2012, he made an un­suc­cess­ful bid for the pub­lic de­fender’s post in 2009 and failed to se­cure the po­si­tion of om­buds­man in late 2012. In fact, al­most all of his sup­port comes from the fam­i­lies of pris­on­ers, whose rights the United Po­si­tion can­di­date has ve­he­mently de­fended. But while his de­fense of those be­hind bars is com­mend­able, Lortkipanadze’s hu­man­ism is un­der­mined by his vit­riol to­wards other mar­gin­al­ized groups. The can­di­date is best known through­out the cap­i­tal for a ho­mo­pho­bic hate speech that was viewed thou­sands of time on You Tube.

But while Lortkipanadze’s ca­reer leaves some­thing to be de­sired, his can­di­dacy is prefer­able to that of Asmat Tk­abladze’s for the sole rea­son that he has a po­lit­i­cal past to speak of. The Labour party’s can­di­date is well known around town, but not for her vot­ing record. A quick Google search will lead you to the ac­tress’s IMDb page, fully equipped with a list of her most pop­u­lar films. Per­haps upon choos­ing a can­di­date the Labour party de­ter­mined it would be more de­sir­able to se­lect some­one whose most pop­u­lar piece isn’t mired in in­tol­er­ance.

And these are just some of the most well-known can­di­dates. This June 15, Tbil­isi will be team­ing with hope­ful of­fice-seek­ers, most of whom don’t stand a chance against the brawler and ho­mo­phobe who could give the Geor­gian Dream’s poster boy a run for his money. Some of these can­di­dates in­clude Teimu­raz Mur­vanidze, a set de­signer nom­i­nated by ex-for­eign min­is­ter Sa­lome Zoura­bichvili’s party Geor­gia’s Way; Mikheil Salu­ashvili, a can­di­date nom­i­nated by the party “In the Name of the Lord- the Lord is Our Truth”, which re­ceived 0.08% of votes in the 2013 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion; and Ina Inashvili, the owner of the media out­let Obieq­tivi, best known for its af­fil­i­a­tion with one of the men fea­tured in a leaked sex video that led to the de­ten­tion of ex-Deputy In­te­rior Min­is­ter Gela Khvedelidze.

With this aus­pi­cious as­sem­ble of con­tenders, can any­one re­ally won­der why Nar­ma­nia would win by a land­slide?