Game of Thrones Marks Tbilisi's Mayoral Elections
Georgia's capital city, Tbilisi, finally got itself a mayor this weekend after two rounds of voting and the controversial, pre-election arrest of former Mayor Gigi Ugulava. But what some Tbilisi voters seemed more concerned about in the July 12 mayoral run-off was the politically motivated arrest of the Game of Thrones’ Tyrion Lannister.
Writing on their ballots, they asserted that the dwarf jailed in the HBO series for the murder of another character, King Joffrey, is “no criminal,” Netgazeti.ge reported.
In a vote that managed to attract only about 34.3 percent of 920, 019 registered Tbilisi voters, that sentiment was a rare display of activism. Others used their ballots to express a wish for all the government to go to hell, to use a polite paraphrase.
The low turnout was reflected nationally, as well — only 36 percent of just over 1.7 million registered voters took part in 18 other run-offs for local elections that were, outside of Tbilisi, a first.
But that first apparently was not big enough. Apart from predictable voter fatigue with the protracted voting, the funeral of ex-President Eduard Shevardnadze and soccer's World-Cup finals arguably stole the show.
In Tbilisi and out, the ruling Georgian Dream coalition swept the field, eliminating many remaining pockets of influence for ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement.
In the prize race in Tbilisi, ex-Infrastructure Minister David Narmania prevailed with over 72 percent of the vote after promising to plant a million trees — about 0.8 trees per person — to bolster the city’s dwindling green space.
A counter-promise from rival mayoral candidate Nika Melia to create more parking space for cars (now often living on sidewalks) only secured him 28-percent of the vote.
In a televised debate, Melia, scoffing that Narmania does not even know the names of central streets in the city he plans to run, had implied that his opponent, the native of a village in western Georgia, is an outsider. Such swipes seemed to backfire with part of Tbilisi’s liberal intelligentsia.
Neither man is seen as an independent political figure in his own right. Narmania is believed to be dependent on ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, the Georgian Dream’s billionaire founder, and Melia on Ugulava, Tbilisi’s first directly elected mayor.
Conceding his defeat, Melia blamed his loss on the July 1 arrest of Ugulava, the engine of the UNM’s campaign, on various criminal charges.
Ugulava was detained at the Tbilisi airport en route to Kyiv; prosecutors argued that he had been attempting to escape justice.
As they have for some time now, critics, particularly in the heavily jailed UNM, charge that justice is something that the ruling Georgian Dream coalition’s government applies selectively, mainly targeting its foes.
Local rights groups have expressed doubts about the police observing due-process during Ugulava’s arrest.
The UNM and their supporters have claimed another political vendetta, but, beyond this, few ordinary Georgians have chosen to stand up for Ugulava, who, during his 2005-2013 tenure, was dogged by numerous allegations of kickbacks and overstepping his powers.