Stones as an argument
378 votes against 307. That’s the score by which Ahmad Imamquliev, the majoritarian MP candidate from the opposition United National Movement (UNM), beat the ruling party’s candidate in October 22 election re-run, in Kizilajlo village, Marneuli district.
Imamquliev lost the first round of election just by a couple of votes.There is the second round ahead, scheduled for October 30. Though a precedent has been already set.
For the first time ever, the opposition candidate has got the majority of votes in the region, where the authorities or the ruling party candidate were always winning the elections over the past 25 years. So, what has happened?
What has happened? Is it time for changes?
Casting stones instead of election
Kizilajlo village (Marneuli district) is located 45 kilometers away from Tbilisi. It has been in focus of the Georgian media’s attention for more than two weeks already, since it has turned into the hottest spot of the 2016 parliamentary elections.
October 8 parliamentary elections were held there amidst stone-throwing. The situation got tensed to such an extent that it became necessary to deploy SWAT units there. The results of ballot were declared void. Later, the law-enforcers arrested 6 individuals for organizing the disturbance. All 6 arrestees are the UNM activists.
No one expected that the region, which is predominantly populated by ethnic Azerbaijanis and which is traditionally rather passive from the political viewpoint, would offer such a resistance.
Ahmad Imamquliev himself believes, his success could be attributed to the well-planned election campaign, though interviews with Marneuli residents revealed that there were far more profound reasons.
Azerbaijanis want fair representation in politics
Abbas Abasov has been working as a taxi driver in Marneuli for 5 years already. He drives around the district several times a day and has about 10-15 passengers daily.
Alike other taxi drivers, Abbas also talks about politics with great enthusiasm.
In his words, apart from routine problems that have accumulated in the region in the recent years, the locals have been also discontent with the fact that the ruling party nominated in the district the Georgian candidate, rather than the Azerbaijani one. He says, that’s the main reason why the majority supported Imamquliev.
“Over 80% of the population here are ethnic Azerbaijanis. So, don’t we deserve our man as a candidate? Isn’t our demand fair enough? Besides, Imamquliev is a good guy, he enjoys respect in the district. He speaks our language and therefore people like him, said Abbas.
Azerbaijanis want to speak Georgian
Abbas Abasov was talking to me in broken Russian and he seemed to be ashamed that he didn’t know Georgian:
“I wish I knew Georgian. I would have built a better life then. I would have found a good job, would have been able to watch Georgian TV channels. When I go to the public institutions, I speak Russian. Georgian young people don’t know Russian and I often need an interpreter to settle even a minor matter in my own country. If the language problem isn’t timely addressed, the people soon wouldn’t understand each other at all, he said.
Abbas is right. Although Marneuli is not that far from Tbilisi, once you get there, you will feel yourself like a real tourist-you literally don’t understand anyone and neither anyone understands you.
“How could I get to Gamgeoba (local administration), I asked the passer-by, who turned out to be familiar with the word ‘gamdeoba’, and who immediately started explaining it to me, though I couldn’t understand a single thing from what he told me.
According to the 2014 population census, there are 233,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis in Georgia.The majority of them reside in Kvemo Kartli region, the central town of which is Marneuli.
Since they don’t know the Georgian language, they mostly get information from the Azerbaijani and Russian TV channels. Almost everyone here has a satellite dish and an individual antennae.
Language problem is the major barrier that prevents the population from being actively engaged in the country’s public life.
Tbilisi knows nothings about the region’s real life
Elene Abesadze,18, lives in Marneuli. She’s a freshman at Georgian Technical University and so, she has to travel to Tbilisi every day. As she recalls, the first things that came to her group mates’ mind at hearing about Marneuli were potatoes, tomatoes and onions.
“Although, our town is at a small distance from the capital, we don’t know much about each other. Once I mention that I’m from Marneuli, everybody immediately recalls the vegetables. It has never occurred to them just to travel there and see Marneuli themselves. But there are actually a lot of interesting cultural monuments in our region.
The region’s problems have been ignored by the authorities
Apart from this alienation, locals are also discontent with the Georgian Dream’s 4-year work. In their words, the time seems to have frozen in their region and there is no further advancement. Despite the expectations, there are still many problems that need to be addressed.
The locals complain, the authorities pay little attention to the rural population, as well as to the youth, who have neither a cinema, nor any other entertainment.
Valef Mustafayev is a resident of Bailar village, Marneuli district. In his words, the village has been facing the water supply problems for years and no one even tries to help them.
“We don’t have enough drinking and irrigation water. You should see, how people suffer, bringing it from God knows where, says Mustafa. The lack of water destroys our crops, often leaving many families without any income. Besides, there are no garbage bins in the village. How many times should we demand it? Therefore, people are throwing garbage right into the river that flows in Marneuli. There is so much garbage in the river, that the water could be hardly seen there.
Transport is a major problem
It’s already evening. An overcrowded minibus in Marneuli center is waiting for more passengers to come. Those, who are late, will have to take a taxi. There is no public transport after 6 p.m. in Marneuli. The transport runs from the town center to different villages.
Vladimer Chkhitunidze, 18, is a freshman at Ilia State University’s Law Faculty. He lives in Saimerlo village, at 6-km. distance from Marneuli.
Vlad has the lectures almost every day. He finishes studied at 7-8 p.m. and the major problem for him is to get home. In Vladimer’s words, the transport schedule significantly hampers his studies, since he often has to return home by taxi.
“What integration you are talking about, if the elementary transport communication problems cannot be solved in the district. The transport doesn’t run in my village after 6 p.m. and therefore I sometime have to miss the lectures. Regrettably, due to this problem, many students have had to give up on their studies. Do you think it’s normal?
It’s rather lively in Marneuli center in the daytime: