If we look at the continuum of Georgia’s political development since its independence in 1991, we can see one clear pattern: the party that loses power – whether by coup d'état, color revolution or parliamentary election – inevitably disappears. Currently, we are witnessing the disappearance of the United National Movement (UNM), a party that governed the country from 2004 -2012. However, the slow and nonviolent pace of the UNM demise sets it apart from the aforementioned trend.
In 1992, when Edouard Shevardnadze took control of the country, brutal and violent means were used against his political opponents, peaceful demonstrators even found themselves squarely in the crosshairs of Kalashnikovs held by his supporters. After Shevardnadze lost power to his protégé Mikhail Saakashvili, many of his allies were arrested, including several cabinet members. The Saakashvili era ended with well over 190 political prisoners – some of which were even tortured. Of course, such brutal means have not been employed against the UNM. However, the outcome of the recent municipal elections are a clear manifestation of their story’s unhappy end.
Nevertheless, empty spaces do not exist long in politics; when one does present itself, someone fills it quickly. This is what is happening now within the country’s political landscape, where some remnants of the UNM have created their own political parties – two of which have enjoyed a certain level of success. Other political parties that were associated with or are still on the UNM payroll (both figuratively and literally) have little to no chance in their bids to challenge the ruling party the Georgian Dream (GD) – even if they were to unite. As such, there remains a need of the third player in the country, and Georgia could potentially have it with Aleko Elisashvili, an independent candidate who finished second with 17.5% of the votes in the recent municipal election for mayor of Tbilisi.
On behalf of Imedi TV, GORBI conducted an exit poll in Tbilisi covering 100 voting precincts and interviewing over 5,000 voters. The exit poll results were very accurate compared to the official data. Aside from candidate and party preferences, we asked respondents several other questions with the aim of assessing: (1) the loyalty of party supporters (2) the effects the dismantled parties (2016) had on today’s current party preferences (3) the strength of party candidates and (4) the phenomenon of an independent candidate and his electorate.
To start with shifts in party support, Table 1 demonstrates that out of all people who reported support for the Georgian Dream in the 2016 Parliamentary Elections, 74% voted for Mr. Kaladze in the 2017 mayoral vote. 2016 UNM supporters were split by several groups, and the largest segment of voters supported Mr. Udumashvili (58%) now a member of the UNM. Elene Khoshtaria attracted another 12% of what were once supporters of Saakashvili. Interestingly, GD’s Kaladze managed to attract 6% of UNM defectors from 2016. Since the 2016 parliamentary elections, several parties on this table have been dismantled and have not presented their mayoral candidate in 2017. These include Paata Burchuladze’s Government for the People and Irakli Alasania’s Free Democrats. The dismantlement of the Free Democrats benefitted Kaladze and Elisashvili most, since they received 28% and 27% of Free Democrats voters respectively. This offered the least benefit to Mr. Zaal of the UNM, since he only managed to pirate 5% of Free Democrat supporters.
Shifts between party preferences in 2016 and mayoral candidate vote in 2017 also suggests something about the strength of the candidates themselves. The biggest loser was Mr. Gugava who failed to attract 86% of those who voted for his party last year.
2017’s election dynamics were interesting due to the fact that there was a wild card, Aleko Elisashvili, who was not representative of any particular party, and who came second in the mayoral race. Proportionally, most of his support base came from people who supported the Republican party in the 2016 elections. Nevertheless, Elisashvili was able to shift at least 9% of support towards him from all parties that people voted for in the 2016 parliamentary elections.
This exit poll also explored voter attitudes towards the second round vote in case there was a runoff between Kaladze and Elisashvili or Kaladze and Udumashvili, since these were the most likely runoffs if a second round was held at all.
As shown in Table 2, out of Udumashvili’s supporters, a majority (56%) would have supported Elisashvili if a second round of voting was held between Elisashvili and Kaladze. Additionally, Elisashvili’s supporters are more likely to vote for Kaladze than Udumashvili if a second round of mayoral elections were held between the two.
Based on these responses, Kaladze has the most loyal supporters. Of those who voted for him, more than nine out of ten (92%) say they would have voted for him again in the second round if a run-off was held between him and Udumashvili. Whereas out of the people who voted for Udumashvili, 88% percent say that they would have voted for him again if a second round were held between him and Kaladze.
The bottom line is that we are seeing the rapid degradation of the oppositional spectrum – the end of the UNM and the rise of independent candidate Elisashvili. Will he be able to establish a sound political party, employee some kind of triangulation strategy and move above both the GD and scrap remnants of the UNM and remain stable until the 2020 parliamentary elections in time to challenge the GD?
It is possible, but highly unlikely.
Note: I would like to extend a special thank you to Ani Lortkipanidze who assisted with the analysis and the tables featured in this article
GORBI is an exclusive member of the Gallup International research network and has more than two decades of experience in survey research (gorbi.com) .