Ongoing power struggles involving town councils across Georgia are painting a troubling picture for the country's democratization process.
Local governments have never been strong players in Georgian politics, but, in the wake of the October 1 elections, they have become the focus of a powerful wave of protests that are determining which party – Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream or President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement – will be the dominant party in the regions.
Before the parliamentary poll, the United National Movement (UNM) controlled “an estimated 1,200-1,250” of the country’s 1,263 elected local councils, according to the National Association of Local Authorities of Georgia. Today, the party dominates less than half.
But the change has nothing to do with voter preferences.
With their offices often blockaded by protesters, and sometimes seized, elected town council members and executive representatives appointed by the council chairs (called “gamgeblebi”) are simply changing political sides, or stepping down from office.
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Molly Corso is a freelance journalist who also works as editor of Investor.ge, a monthly publication by the American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia.