Misha and family watch lelo in Shukhuti

President Saakashvili joins a crowd in the middle of a Shukhuti street where the ancient game of lelo is about to begin; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Crowd gathers in the middle of the street for the start of lelo; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Mikheil Saakashvili, the President of Georgia, watched the start of the lelo game with his wife, younger son, and government members. About 300 people played the ancient game, and hundreds of people watched.

I had been waiting by the stage, for about 45 minutes, in order to photograph Misha, but then the crowd began to gather in the street for the start of lelo, so I gave up on the idea of photographing Georgia’s president. Instead, I climbed a ladder to the roof of the bus stop, where I was confident I could get an overview of the start of the game. To my surprise, Misha did not address the crowd from the stage. He walked into the middle of the crowd in the middle of the street.

Earlier a member of the president’s security team had approached me. Nini Chakvetadze translated and I learned that the plain-clothed guard did not want me to photograph the convoy of vehicles that was going to transport Saakashvili. I said OK and then asked if I could photograph the President. The guard said, yes. So I assured the guard I was far more interested in photographing the President than some cars with heavily tinted windows.

Please send more ties to Misha

I think that Mikheil Saakashvili is getting more nervous every day about the upcoming elections. Then again, maybe it is just coincidence that Georgian police stopped a Cartu Bank vehicle owned by Bidzina Ivanishvili and then seized the cash (http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=24047). If Misha is not concerned about the upcoming elections, then he should be concerned about the negative publicity his party is gaining every time it blocks Ivanishvili’s path to become a candidate. Either way, the president is chewing on his ties, so please help by sending him some replacements. I think that Saakashvili should show the world that he wants Ivanishvili to run for office. Then Misha should campaign hard so that his political party maintains control of Parliament. Then he should refuse an offer to become Prime Minister (if such an offer is made). If he follows my advice, he’ll become a hero and gain acclaim as the “father of Georgian democracy.”

Annnd in this corner . . . the President . . . MIIIIISSSHHHHAAAAAA

Misha Saakashvili cannot run for president again in 2013 because he’ll already have served two terms. But let’s not fool ourselves, Misha is the “heavyweight champion” in the next election.

And . . . he may “win” the next election. He may pull a Putin and become the prime minister.

I’m a journalist, which means that I’ve been trained to suspect people’s motives. The result of such suspicions is that journalists are often cynical. But I’ll let you decide.

Here are the facts. Georgia is in the process of revising its constitution. A draft of the new constitution appears to concentrate power in the office of prime minister rather than with the president. The party that dominates parliament selects the prime minister. In May 2010, Saakashvili’s party, United National Movement, won 63 percent of the votes. Georgia’s parliament will continue discussing the draft constitution this fall. Coincidence? (http://www.rferl.org/content/Georgian_Opposition_Wants_Saakashvili_Barred_From_Becoming_Prime_Minister/2079394.html)

It is also difficult to hide my cynical nature when I think about a particular decree issued on October 12, 2011, a week after Bidzina Ivanishvili (the billionaire) announced he would run in the upcoming elections. In this decree, the Civil Registry stripped Ivanishvili of his citizenship (and, therefore, his chance to participate in the next elections). Did the government have grounds for its actions? Yes. Could it have avoided taking such actions? Yes (in my opinion). Will Ivanishvili regain his citizenship in time? Yes (in my opinion).

By the way, both Saakashvili and Ivanishvili support the United States. For a conspiracy theory on “how the US will replace Mikheil Saakashvili with Bidzina Ivanishvili,” read comments by the leader of the Labor party, Shalva Natelashvili, in The Messenger Online. (http://www.messenger.com.ge/issues/2465_october_18_2011/2465_gvanca.html).

(If you are wondering, the “shvili” part of their names means “child,” and many Georgian names end in “shvili.”)

I wonder if Misha is nervous about the upcoming election. If so, he might begin chewing on his tie again. I was looking for a copyright free photo of Saakashvili and found this image of him chewing nervously on his tie. He had been waiting for a television interview at the height of the August 2008 war with Russia and he was not aware that the camera was already rolling. Bad news for President Saakashvili, but good news for at least one entrepreneur. Oleg Panfilov, a supporter of Saakashvili, created an edible tie made of traditional Georgian dried plum puree. He calls them “Edible Reformist Ties” because they will “whet the appetite for democracy and freedom.” (http://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/14990-edible-tribute-to-georgia-s-tie-chewing-president)