Any public opinion survey can easily show the top ten things that need to be changed in Tbilisi to improve the quality of life. These will most likely consist of basic things, and no one should think that those in charge have not had enough time to address them.
According to legend, King Gorgasali discovered what would become Tbilisi in the year of 479. While hunting, his prey, a falcon fell into a pool of warm water. “Tbili” in Georgian means warm and this served as the foundation of the future settlement’s name. Soon after, Tbilisi became the capital of Georgia because of its strategic location. However, archeologists have found evidence that the area was already inhabited by the 4th millennium BC.
Regardless of its long history, the city only started direct mayoral elections a decade ago. The last were held in 2017 and were won by Kakha Kaladze from the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party. He became the boss of a city that hosts 30% of the country’s entire population. In terms of GDP, the share is even bigger. Kakhi, as most of us call the famous, former FC Millan soccer player, joined GD when Georgian democracy was lagging Western standards, and he contributed greatly to peaceful regime change in 2012. With that we saw the rapid transformation of our country’s most successful sportsman to a politician, who is now ranked among the top three most trusted Georgian politicians.
Kakhi is super active on social media and has established the new trend with his “selfy” interviews that can start at 5 am in the morning from anywhere in Tbilisi. Recently he has introduced the “Night Economy” project, which is a new concept that is only now emerging even in advanced democracies. He appointed prominent Georgian artists and producer Sergi Gvarjaladze to head up the project.
Despite presenting this project among a large group of stakeholders and the public, it was met with cynicism and hateful language by some opposition leaders and self-recognized experts. Kakhi has launched several other innovative projects, such as replacing aging public buses, drastically reducing the number of yellow “Marshrutkas,” installing public toilets (yes, public toilets!), improving the ecological situation, reducing traffic, civilizing construction, and others. All this sounds great, but some seem to be impossible, especially considering he only has three years left in office. I don’t think this is enough time to achieve a city free of “Stayanshiki,” parking guardians; beggars on principal streets, paid elevators and tens of thousands of street dogs and cats.
Kakhi, missed to have a standard political approach that is reporting to people about his achievement after 100 days in office and very little about how people perceive him as mayor has been published in media. To bridge this gap, in this column I will briefly present the findings from GORBI’s May 2018 nationwide survey where we asked respondents how they thought Mr. Kaladze was doing as the mayor of Tbilisi.
The survey revealed that three out of five (61%) Georgians approve the job Kakhi is doing, while 28% is not happy with his performance. His job approval rating is 5 percentage points higher in Tbilisi – 66%.
He enjoys very strong support among loyal GD supporters – 86% is satisfied with the mayor’s job. But he has even stronger support among those loyal to Mr. Kobakhidze, the head of parliament and Ms. Tea Tsulukiani, Minister of Justice, 90% and 88% respectively. In addition, a large majority of President Margvelashvili’s supporters (78%) approve of Kakhi’s performance. This may seem contradictory since Mr. Magvelashvili will most likely run for president in the fall elections and he is no longer part of GD., the party thanks to which he had the only chance to became ever president of Georgia.
There were also some interesting findings, though most are not surprising. Social media users compared to other segments of society have higher trust towards Kakhi, especially those who are using Instagram at least once a week. Young, rich, Tbilisi dwellers, non-Georgians and non-Orthodox also strongly support him.
Overall and in all groups, the Tbilisi mayor has a job approval rating of way over 50%. The only exception is the United National Movement. However, even among UNM’s loyal supporters, attitudes towards Kakhi are almost identically split – 47% disapproves and 46% approves of his job performance.
Bottom line is this high level of support, if its continues, will certainly not hurt the Mayor’s efforts to carry out reforms and deliver on his pre-election promises. However, the city needs massive changes and I don’t think three years are enough to make Tbilisi “full of life.” Still, it should not require another 1,500 years to make the city green again and a pleasant place for us and our guests.
Note: I would like to extend special appreciation to Ani Lortkipanidze who assisted with the analysis and charts 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)