Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 39

Georgia’s presidential election campaign is gathering steam for the April 9 balloting day. Apart from President Eduard Shevardnadze–who is seeking reelection to a five-year term of office–no fewer than sixteen hopefuls applied for registration by the February 19 deadline. Most of them seem likely to be registered by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), the official roster of which lists their names in the order in which their applications were received. The spectrum of candidates both reflects, in a nutshell, Georgia’s turbulent political history of recent years and illustrates the magnitude of Shevardnadze’s nation-building mission.

Number 5 on the roster is Guram Absandze, 48, who was minister of finance in the government of the late president Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Absandze is now in pretrial detention, charged with involvement in the February 1998 assassination attempt against Shevardnadze. A Zviadist group, based in Russia since 1994, was implicated in that assault. Russian authorities afterward extradited Absandze and a few small fry to Georgia, but allowed other members of the same group to stay safely in Russia. According to his legal counsel, Absandze hopes through his candidacy to rouse a latent Zviadist electorate.

Number 7 is Gia Chikhvadze, 43, acting chairman of the St. Ilia the Righteous Society and an ally of the late president Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Chikhvadze was jailed for some time after Gamsakhurdia’s fall from power. Zviadist and like-minded nationalist groups have since dwindled into insignificance on Georgia’s political scene. Some members of those groups hope against hope to mobilize support in the western province of Mingrelia.

Number 8 is Tengiz Asanidze, 56, an engineer and former mayor of Batumi, the main city in the Autonomous Republic of Ajaria. Loyal to the central government, Asanidze ran afoul of the Ajar authorities and is being held in Batumi’s investigation ward on charges of financial fraud. The Prosecutor General’s Office in Tbilisi disputes those charges and has repeatedly demanded Asanidze’s release, and Shevardnadze issued a special pardon for Asanidze some months ago. Yet Ajaria defies the central government on this and other matters. While Asanidze hopes through his candidacy to gain his freedom, the Ajar authorities have announced that they will allow him to campaign only from his prison cell. According to the Georgian parliament’s Human Rights Committee chairman, Yelena Tevdoradze, Asanidze is jailed to prevent him from publicizing evidence on official corruption in Ajaria.

Number 9 is Gaioz (Gia) Mamaladze, 36, a philologist and leader of the Union of Georgian Nationalists. That group, too, had its heyday during the nationalist upheaval of the Gamsakhurdia period.

Number 13 is Aslan Abashidze, 62, chairman of Ajaria’s Supreme Soviet and leader of the Democratic Revival Union. Generally treated as a standard bearer of the main anti-Shevardnadze coalition, Abashidze has no realistic chance of prevailing in this contest. He is, however, well placed to spoil it by declaring a boycott of the election in Ajaria, and he can, alternatively, deliver the Ajar vote to another candidate–presumably Jumber Patiashvili (see below)–who can perform more credibly than Abashidze can against Shevardnadze.

Number 12 is Ivane Tsiklauri, 47, first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia, who is billed as an economist and listed as unemployed. The communist vote is likely to divide among at two or three candidates in this election.

Number 15 is Stalin’s grandson, Yevgeny Jugashvili, 64, an engineer, retired colonel and leader of the People’s Patriotic Union of Georgia. He is the nominee of a Red coalition named the Democratic Union of Georgia (which includes the United Communist Party) and a Russian citizen who ran unsuccessfully in the December 1999 elections for the Duma as a candidate of the Stalinist bloc.

Number 16 is Jumber Patiashvili, 60, an agronomist by profession, who was the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia during the final years of Soviet rule. In the consensus of local observers, Patiashvili retains a measure of personal popularity and can perform respectably as a countercandidate to Shevardnadze. He figures last on the roster because he submitted his application only hours before the deadline.

Not on the official roster, despite his efforts to be there, is Igor Giorgadze, former chief of the State Security Committee, the suspected organizer of the August 1995 assassination attempt against Shevardnadze (after which he hid on a Russian air base, was flown to Russia and has since enjoyed a safe heaven there). His application as a presidential candidate was rejected by the CEC on the grounds that he does not meet the qualification of having resided in Georgia for at least two years prior to applying. His father, who handles Igor’s affairs in Georgia, is the retired General Panteleimon Giorgadze, leader of the United Communist Party of Georgia. According to the general, Igor’s aim is to gain legal access to Georgia and immunity from prosecution and so to be free to campaign against the “antipeople” president (Prime News, February 10, 12-13, 17, 21-22; Kavkasia-Press, February 8-9, 13; Tbilisi Radio, February 14; Georgian Television, February 9, 18-19).