Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Georgian Dream Fades in Local Elections

Governing coalition positive about early results, but cannot claim resounding win.
By Tinatin Jvania
  • Central Election Commission chair Tamar Jvania announcing the preliminary results of the June 15 polls. (Photo: Central Election Commission website)
    Central Election Commission chair Tamar Jvania announcing the preliminary results of the June 15 polls. (Photo: Central Election Commission website)

The Georgian Dream bloc’s failure to win outright victory in key municipal elections has led some analysts to argue that the honeymoon period is over for the ruling coalition.

Georgia held local elections on June 15 to pick mayors for 12 cities, 59 other municipal heads and members for 71 councils across the country. Georgian Dream, which won a parliamentary majority in October 2012, had expected to sweep the board, but early returns indicate that the results were decidedly mixed.

The most intense interest was focused on the race to become mayor of the capital Tbilisi, which Georgian Dream failed to win in the first round. Its candidate David Narmania won 46 per cent of the vote, and now faces a run-off against Nikanor Melia of the United National Movement (UNM), which lost control of the national government in 2012. Melia won 28 per cent.

With similar results for both parties in the city council ballot, Georgian Dream won a majority.

Nationwide turnout was lacklustre at 43.5 per cent of the electorate, about five percentage points lower than in the last local polls held four years ago.

Georgian Dream candidates won outright in just four of the 12 mayoral elections, but that did not stop the coalition celebrating victory as soon as the first exit polls came out.

“Our coalition’s victory today shows there is truly no alternative to us,” Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili told reporters. “Despite the high electoral threshold and the fair competition, we won fair and square. This means that the democratic changes we began in 2012 are the only correct path.”

President Giorgi Margvelashvili, also from Georgian Dream, was similarly upbeat, saying that with the 2012 parliamentary election, last year’s presidential ballot and now the local elections, “we have completed the electoral cycle and created an irreversible democratic tradition”.

The UNM came away with a very different conclusion.

“The government’s candidates will face very serious problems in the second round in all the major cities, so it’s too early for them to celebrate,” said David Bakradze, a senior UNM politicians who was defeated by Marvelashvili in the 2012 presidential election.

“These elections have taught us two lessons. The first is that despite repression, abuses, a very difficult electoral environment, and the government predicting our end, this country continues to have a strong opposition. The second and more important lesson is that our nation has shown very clearly that it does not like politics built on unfulfilled promises and perpetual confrontation.”

In the 2012 parliamentary campaign, Georgian Dream said it would raise pensions, build 100 new factories, invest a billion laris in agriculture and more. Most of these promises remain unfulfilled. Many analysts say the coalition’s pledge to deliver justice has largely amounted to settling scores with former UNM officials.

Political commentators agree that Georgian Dream has lost some support recently, but they note that this has not translated into increased backing for the UNM.

“None of the candidates for Tbilisi mayor had a stance worthy of attracting solid support from the majority of residents,” Kakha Gogolashvili of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies told IWPR. “Overall, we saw a fall in support for Georgian Dream across Georgia, but we haven’t see an increase in support for other political parties. The fact that turnout was low shows that the public is apathetic about politics and has low expectations. We can’t even see the embryonic form of a fresh, energetic political force that might exploit this advantageous situation.”

Kakha Kakhishvili, head of the Centre for the Study of Political and Electoral Technologies, said that just as large numbers of voters came to the parliamentary polls in 2012 to show their disaffection with the UNM, the low turnout in the local elections was also a kind of protest.

“After a year and eight months of [Georgian Dream] being in government, people have protested again, this time by not going to the polls,” he said in a statement. “If the government keeps on ignoring the task of restoring rule of law, nominating unpopular candidates, awarding its [members] insanely large bonuses, buying new cars and so on, the results will be even worse in the 2016 parliamentary election.”

Kakhishvili was referring to the resentment caused by revelations of pay bonuses awarded to top officials including ministers, deputy ministers and the heads of state-owned companies, as well as purchases of luxury cars. (See also Red Faces as Georgian Officials' Lavish Spending Revealed.)

Kakhishvili summed up the elections by saying, “Georgian Dream has basically resuscitated the UNM.”

Tinatin Jvania is a freelance journalist in Georgia.