One month ago, the people of Georgia went to the polls to elect the country’s president. Since none of the candidates managed to garner over 50 percent of the vote, Georgia is left with two options in the presidential run-offs of this Wednesday: Salome Zurabishvili and Grigol Vashadze.
At first glance, the situation is not so grim.
Zurabishvili is an independent candidate, which rarely lead successful campaigns, refreshing the strong party dynamic present in Georgia. As a woman, she would be the first to hold the highest post.
Vashadze, on the other hand, is a candidate of the united opposition, further providing a chance of electing an individual representing multiple parties. As the ruling Georgian Dream party dominates all of the major institutions, he would diversify representation among the most sought for positions.
At a second glance, however, the situation is pretty grim.
Zurabishvili and Georgian Dream
Salome Zurabishvili, though an independent candidate, is a nominee backed by the Georgian Dream. The party did not even select a candidate of their own and campaigned for Zurabishvili from start to end. The votes she managed to gather are due to her flashy campaign, courtesy of the Georgian Dream, and the electorate of the party. Without such pampering, Zurabishvili is highly unlikely to have been a front-runner in this election.
The Georgian Dream itself is the creation of the now widely-known Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. He claimed power in the 2012 parliamentary elections and has controlled every executive branch of the country since.
Despite multiple prime ministers, heads of parliament, and the current president, the Georgia Dream is, first and foremost, associated with Ivanishvili. The party is his personal project – sponsored, organized, and led by him. It is like a Woody Allen movie, him being the director, writer, actor, and producer all at the same time.
Hence, would electing Zurabishvili really lead to any diversity in representation or opinion? Probably not: call her an independent candidate if you will, but the Georgian Dream will still stay in power, and Ivanishvili will still be the Woody Allen of Georgia.
Vashadze and United National Movement
Grigol Vashadze’s candidacy is facing a similar issue. Though a united opposition candidate, he is the primary candidate of the United National Movement, who came to power in 2003 and stayed put until Ivanishvili took charge in 2012.
His election would lead to the transfer of power (though to a minimal degree since the president does not hold much leverage), back to Mikheil Saakashvili, the leader of the 2003 Rose Revolution. Saakashvili is a brand in Georgia: he led a revolution and began a pro-European, pro-Western integration of the country.
However, the end of his political career in Georgia was charged with heavy corruption and severe violation of human rights. After losing the 2012 election, he became a politician in Ukraine, but following a disagreement with Ukraine’s president, he got deprived of Ukrainian citizenship and deported from the country.
As of now, Saakashvili is stateless and in refuge in the Netherlands, after many attempts of returning to Ukraine. The latest of these being the now infamous chase by the Ukrainian police while Saakashvili runs across a rooftop, gets caught, and is later dragged out of the hands of these policemen by the Ukrainian people. If Ivanishvili is Woody Allen, this rooftop scene is the Titanic, winning every academy award of the year.
So, the question is: while Ivanishvili and Saakashvili compete for screen time, how can the Georgian people win? Will electing Zurabishvili or Vashadze really bring about a new reality not previously seen before? Perhaps not. Perhaps the hype is unnecessary. Perhaps the Georgian people are going to lose regardless, while we watch Ivanishvili versus Saakashvili duel in a match of failure.
While the nation rests divided, believing to be selecting between two extremes, it resembles the reality of the United States, where Democrats battle versus Republicans. Except in Georgia’s case, it seems to be Republicans versus Republicans, as neither of the two or their respective parties believes in liberal values.
Vashadze has famously compared the individuals in support of the legalization of marijuana to pedophiles (though I still have to find a connection between the two), and Georgian Dream has amended the constitution to define marriage as a union specifically between a man and a woman.
So, is there a choice to be made? Is the Georgian society torn between extremes?
Perhaps, these two extremes – without the people, parties, or leaders realizing it – are not two opposing ends, but the same extreme after all.