Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 213

On November 15 Georgia held its first local elections since independence. These were also the country’s first electoral exercise since 1995. Internal political forces and international observers braced for a major test of the respective strengths of President Eduard Shevardnadze’s governing Union of Citizens of Georgia (UCG) and the various strands of opposition to it. Thirteen parties and blocs competed in the elections to fill 10,700 seats on 1,030 municipal, district and village councils. In Tbilisi alone, some 1,200 candidates competed for the fifty-five city council seats.

Contrary to some predictions, preliminary results indicate that UCG held its own, thanks to Shevardnadze’s prestige and to a high voter turnout which ultimately worked to the disadvantage of radical opposition parties. Nevertheless, the left-wing Labor Party, the Socialist Party and the All-Georgia Revival Union each scored gains which catapulted them into the role of main opposition. They have practically supplanted “right-wing” nationalist parties as the main opposition to Shevardnadze personally and to the UCG ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections. Resistant to market reforms and to Shevardnadze’s Western orientation, those parties are tilting toward the CIS and Russia. They managed to some extent in these elections to capitalize on the social costs of market reforms, the issue of official corruption and the unresolved regional conflicts within Georgia.

The All-Georgia Revival Union is based in Ajaria and led by that autonomous republic’s Supreme Soviet Chairman Aslan Abashidze, who aspires to unite the Russia-oriented and left-wing parties into a bloc under his leadership well in advance of the next parliamentary and presidential elections. On that side of the spectrum, the United Communist Party, led by Panteleimon Giorgadze, was excluded from the local elections by dint of a legal ban on parties that advocate the restoration of the USSR.

The elections also marked the continuing decline of nationalist “right-wing” parties, a steady trend since the rule of Zviad Gamsakhurdia and its turbulent aftermath. The Zviadist bloc–Round Table/Free Georgia Union–boycotted the election, announcing beforehand that Shevardnadze’s supporters will falsify the results. The United Republican Party and its leader Nodar Natadze offered the same explanation post-factum for the party’s poor showing (Prime-News, Radio Tbilisi, November 15 and 16).

Overall, the outcome shows that the governing party retains the political base of support for its reformist and pro-Western policies, while the opposition’s center of gravity has markedly shifted from the nationalist right to the pro-socialist and pro-Moscow segment of the political spectrum.