Dispatch – November 4/5: Unpopular Decisions

Vague Direction of Protests Scares Those at the Top – Fate of Hungering Saakashvili: New Options in Sight? – Villains or Victims? Women’s Rights Activists on Misery of Party Coordinators – Tsalenjikha Hype Continues – Green Passes on the Table?

The post-election crisis continues in Georgia, and the situation is nothing close to the peaceful bliss the rulers promised. But some of the unpopular things happening in the country may actually stem from fears of those in power to take unpopular decisions. Here is Nini with usual updates from Georgia.

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FEARS The opposition continues to rally in the regions after the contested municipal runoffs, and a larger gathering is planned in Tbilisi on November 6. The demands – so far – remain vague: unlike the last year’s elections, the recount, however accurate, may not address all the alleged violations that may have affected the final outcome in the ruling party’s favor in municipalities where it has won by a narrow margin. So the demands for a re-vote or of snap parliamentary elections are heard. Meanwhile, the State Security Service of Georgia issued a stern warning – mentioning “revolution” on social networks and in the media constitutes a criminal offense and jail time. Public reaction?! Word “revolution” trending online. So far the joke is on the SSG. But for how much longer?

CARE & CARELESSNESS Mikheil Saakashvili’s doctors speak about further deterioration of the ex-President’s health due to his over a month-long hunger strike. The government is unmoved: Saakashvili either goes to the prison health facility or stays wherever he is – no private hospitals for him. Exasperated, Elene Khoshtaria, leader of the opposition Droa party, now started her own hunger strike in the parliament building demanding Saakashvili’s transfer to a civilian hospital. After another inspection, the Public Defender’s Office listed numerous improvements in the medical equipment of the prison hospital but noted that it still falls short of guaranteeing proper care as recommended by the medical council that examined Saakashvili. Echoing the fears of Saakashvili and his lawyers, the Ombudsperson also reiterated safety concerns when transferring the ex-President there, saying that while physical risks in case of encountering other inmates there have been minimized, there are still threats of him being subjected to verbal and psychological aggression.

Earlier on November 4, Saakashvili’s official page posted a video address of Giuli Alasania, ex-president’s mother, pleading with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for help to arrange her son’s transfer to Ukraine for proper treatment. It is unclear whether this was solely a wish of a desperate mother or Saakashvili himself wishes to go to Ukraine should his condition get critical.

HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIDE At the end of the day, you’d be surprised how much comes down to the economy, gender, and labor rights:  Women’s Movement, uniting Georgian activists and CSOs, has spoken up about the misery of so-called party coordinators – individuals, mostly female, with a long tradition of working for the dominant political forces who corral the voters during elections. The coordinators are often vilified in the public eye, for their work, sometimes illegal and often unethical, skews election outcomes by pressuring voters.

But the activists look beyond that and see the potential victims behind the mask of villains. In their November 4 statement, the Women’s Movement said that female coordinators often have to agree to such jobs out of poverty, and they are eventually forced to take part in illicit activities such as vote-buying or voter intimidation. The statement says the political parties which engage women in such activities are liable for “a specific form of gender-based violence against women and human right violation, which has become particularly widespread over the last few elections.” The statement says some of these women are pressured by the fear of losing their stable jobs. They add that since their employment is not formalized, the labor conditions can’t be considered safe either.

GO WEST Georgians never miss an opportunity to stage a show, and the hype around Tsalenjikha, the only municipality where the opposition candidate won, is too good of a chance to miss. Suddenly, Athens is out, Tsalendjikha is in as the cradle of democracy. Everyone who knows anyone in the capital city rushes with the fruits of progress to this promised land: Mtavari Arkhi, the government bashing media juggernaut took up an official address in Tsalendjikha; UNM’s unsuccessful Zugdidi mayoral candidate Anzor Melia – a prominent cardiologist – wants to open a hospital there; Mamuka Khazaradze, formerly a banker, wants to live and invest in the municipality, and Temur Chkhonia – Georgia’s McDonalds and Coca-Cola tycoon – wants to tag along. Some netizens are wondering whether this menagerie would arrive in the provincial town riding those iconic shiny Coca-Cola trucks from Christmas ads… At least, Tbilisites remembering that Tsalendjikha exists is one positive conclusion one can draw from the past messy round of voting. But the locals are already somewhat irritated by being patronized by one of the political poles, and – most likely – vilified by the other.

IMPULSES, AGAIN MPs who have rushed to tear up their mandates are having second thoughts. The reason? A letter from jail where Saakashvili (who was the one asking them to ditch mandates in the first place) is now asking them to keep their MP credentials: if only to visit him, Saakashvili, in prison without impediment. GD Chair Irakli Kobakhidze implied that it won’t be so bad if some MPs left their mandates, which may eventually prevent vital constitutional amendments from passing (such as the one lowering parliamentary election threshold from 5% to 2%). This may not be a bad thing, after all, Kobakhidze says, since “even if nothing is changed in the constitution, it will not harm [Georgia’s] democratic development.”

AGAINST THE FLOW President Salome Zurabishvili has no elections to lose, thus she made a number of unpopular statements on November 3, each of which – without aiming to resolve the post-election conundrum – still outraged some. Vaccine-skeptical Georgians were especially triggered by Zurabishvili’s calls for introducing vaccine mandates and COVID passports, even as the COVID-19 continues to ravage Georgia. Authorities, who refrained from taking on the anti-vaxxers amid elections, could be reconsidering now: the November 3 government interagency council, attended by Prime Minister and President herself, addressed the proposals of so-called “green passes,” pledging to continue discussions. Was Zurabishvili used as a lightning rod for the potentially divisive issue? Possibly. The time would show if she’d be able to benefit from the limelight.

That’s the full lid for today. Join us every Tuesday and Friday for the tongue-in-cheek coverage of Georgia’s political life.