Cacophony of Elections And Music in Georgia

Election time in Georgia is often accompanied by the cheery sound of music, with singers acclaiming their favored candidate in lyrics designed to persuade potential voters that he’s the right person for the job. An all-star cast of Georgian crooners started the fad more than a decade ago with a song called “Rejoice,” which was aimed at getting then-President Eduard Shevardnadze re-elected. President Mikheil Saakashvili continued the trend a couple of years back with his jaunty re-election campaign theme, “Misha is Cool.”

Now with local elections approaching and a vigorous contest under way for the influential position of mayor of Tbilisi, supporters of ruling party stalwart Gigi Ugulava have released their own battle hymn. Unambiguously titled “Our Vote for Whom? Gigi!” this adoring pop tribute is reported to have been produced by members of Ugulava’s Facebook fan club. “We must remind Tbilisi what its child has done for it,” the first verse declares.

The mayoral election, which takes place in a month, is seen as important because it’s believed that the winner could potentially become a strong challenger to succeed Saakashvili as president in 2013. But the opposition failed to unite around a single candidate and further damaged its chances with an unsightly display of internal bickering. According to opinion polls, Ugulava’s main competitor, Irakli Alasania, a former ambassador to the United Nations, will have to work hard to make up ground on the ruling party’s front-runner.

Ugulava, who has the advantage of being the incumbent mayor, was accused by campaign group Transparency International of deploying administrative resources to woo the electorate. Certainly, there have been increases in social welfare benefits that were conveniently timed for the elections, and the makeover of central Tbilisi is continuing at remarkable speed, as buildings are renovated and roads rebuilt. But Ugulava denies that there’s anything suspicious about all this. He says he is simply doing his job properly.

Some radical opposition parties are boycotting the elections entirely, claiming that the race is rigged. They’re probably hoping to bring protesters back onto the streets after the polls in yet another attempt to overthrow the Saakashvili government. Opinion polls, however, suggest that the ruling party remains the country’s most popular political force. And as the latest election campaign song indicates, it still hasn’t lost its appetite for victory.

Matthew Collin is a journalist based in Tbilisi.

See also:

Coming to Terms With My Tbilisi Homecoming

Tbilisi Zoo Announces Post-Flood Comeback

Reflecting on the Tragedy in Tbilisi