TBILISI, Oct. 21 (The Conway Bulletin) — Former AC Milan football star Kakha Kaladze, who ran as the candidate of the governing Georgian Dream coalition, won a mayoral election in Tbilisi, easily defeating rivals in what had been expected to be a close contest.
The outright win in Tbilisi and other major cities in Georgia — Poti, Rustavi and Batumi — confirmed the Georgian Dream’s dominance over Georgian politics and the weaknesses of its opposition, especially the once all-powerful United National Movement party of former president Mikheil Saakashvili.
Last year the Georgian Dream won 115 seats in the 150-seat parliamentary elections and the only one of the five mayoral races that it failed to win outright on Saturday was in Kutaisi, where its candidate won 48.7% of the vote. The election in Kutaisi will go to a second round.
Celebrating his victory for a position that many analysts consider to be the second most powerful elected post in Georgia after the PM, Mr Kaladze, a former energy minister, said: “We all see the problems that concerns the city and understand full well the steps we should take in the future to address these problems. I am ready to work. I am ready to serve my city, Tbilisi, and Tbilisites.”
Mr Kaladze won 51% of the vote. The United National Movement party’s Zaal Udumashvili, a former newsreader, polled 16.5% of the vote and was beaten into third place by Aleko Elisashvili, who scored 17.5%. Voter turnout was 43%.
This had, typically for Georgia, been an acrimonious campaign.
Despite his success as a tough and rugged central defender, he won 83 caps for Georgia and the Champions League twice with AC Milan, Mr Kaladze cuts a divisive political figure.
As energy minister, Mr Kaladze was blamed for cutting a secretive deal with Russia in January to ensure gas supplies. His mayoral campaign focused on controversial plans to pull down Khrushchev-era apartment blocks and build more roads.
Sauve, ambitious and a favourite of the Georgian Dream’s billionaire backer Bidzina Ivanishvili, most analysts suspect that the 39-year-old Mr Kakhadze has his eye on either the PM position or the presidency.
>>This story was first published in issue 348 of the weekly Conway Bulletin