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The View from Tbilisi: Political Capital

Public service or vote-buying? Tbilisi residents debate the motives behind Mayor Gigi Ugulava’s pre-election largess. A TOL/Liberali multimedia project.

by Iago Kurashvili and Nino Kakhishvili 5 March 2010

Where does the line fall between a mayor's re-election campaign and a city government's duty to constituents? That's a question on many lips in Tbilisi as the Georgian capital gears up for the 30 May municipal election, the first in which residents will vote directly for the city's chief executive.

 

As the balloting draws near, rarely a week goes by without an announcement of a new benefit or social program. Pensions and teachers' salaries are going up. Vouchers for gas and electricity are going out. City Hall is pledging to cover seniors’ medication costs and give them free public-transit passes. The city’s social-welfare budget has tripled since last year, according to a EurasiaNet report. The initiatives are often personally introduced to voters by Mayor Gigi Ugulava, an ally of President Mikheil Saakashvili, before the cameras of pro-government national TV stations.

 

Nearly every international organization that reported on Georgia’s 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections noted the government's use of administrative resources during the campaign. Much of the public believes Ugulava – who has not yet registered his candidacy but is expected to seek re-election – is doing more of the same. The mayor maintains he and his administration are just doing their jobs, providing for the needs of teachers, pensioners, and other groups.

 

In this last of five video reports on media and democracy issues facing Georgia today, the biweekly Liberali put the question to experts and everyday people: is the government's man in Tbilisi serving his constituents’ needs or just draining city coffers to win votes?

 

Political Capital from Transitions Online on Vimeo.

 

Iago Kurashvili and Nino Kakhishvili are freelance journalists in Tbilisi and Liberali contributors. Funding for this project was provided by the Czech Foreign Ministry as part of the Czech Republic's Transition Promotion Program.


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