Elections 2021: Blood And Hate Campaign

27 September, 2021

October 2, 2021, local elections in Georgia will likely lead to further polarization and violence before and after the October 2 local elections.

On September 21, Georgian Dream (GD) local politician’s son stabbed opposition United National Movement’s (UNM) two supporters in Dmanisi and is now detained awaiting trial. Rhetorically though, Georgian Dream leadership blamed the fight on the UNM activists and the victims.

A few days earlier several billboards appeared throughout the country depicting opposition politicians and critical media representatives with a transcript - “no to Natsis [short derogatory form for the opposition UNM], no to Evil, no to Treason.” This last epithet applies to a new face on the hate billboard - former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, who left GD in February and is now poised to take third place in the Tbilisi mayor’s race. Gakharia is attacked in a dirty campaign by GD, blaming him for being a cocaine addict, traitor, and a stooge of UNM.

On September 23, UNM mayoral candidate Nika Melia verbally confronted the chairman of the Georgian Dream Irakli Kobakhidze as they were crossing paths on the way out and into the office of the EU Ambassador to Georgia. In a few minutes after Melia entered the EU Ambassador’s premises, Georgian Dream goons and muscles promptly mobilized in front of the EU office to pay tit for tat for insulting Kobakhidze. Later they disassembled as the EU Ambassador allegedly demanded from GD to put their activists back on the leash.

The US Embassy to Georgia was spot on when assessing the pre-election environment. “The violent, seemingly politically motivated attacks” and “numerous reports of pressure and intimidation against the opposition candidates and their supporters throughout the country, raises serious doubts about the government’s commitment to a safe, fair pre-election environment and a democratic election process.” Georgian Dream leaders, while in English language tweets call for a calm electoral environment, in reality, mobilize thugs and muscled bouncers for the demonization of opposition candidates. It recently emerged that the participants of the 2016 massive brawl in Kortskheli, in which opposition MPs and leaders were beaten up by GD affiliated wrestlers, are still on the payroll at the Tbilisi Mayor’s office. Kakha Kaladze, the current mayor and GD’s candidate in these elections, declined to comment on the report.

OSCE/ODIHR also reported that the pre-election environment is "characterized by a deep polarization between the ruling and opposition parties". The report notes that the observation mission received several reports alleging pressure on candidates across the country to withdraw their candidacy. Almost all opposition parties have violations during the pre-election campaign. On September 13 and 21, UNM supporters were beaten up in Ozurgeti and Rustavi. Throughout August and September, opposition parties (European Georgia, Droa, For Georgia, Lelo, Third Force - Strategy the Builder) reported that over 100 opposition local council candidates withdrew from the race, allegedly as a result of intimidation from the Government.

The pre-election campaign is taking place against the backdrop of the worsening Covid-19 situation. The vaccination rates have been declining. The government has been widely criticized for not implementing an effective pro-vaccination campaign. The hate billboard mentioned above was caught on camera as replacing a pro-vaccination billboard, which said: “Vaccines Protect Us”. Quite an illustration of where the GD priorities lie.