Not me, declared Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava on March 28, thereby making even smaller the potential cast of characters for this October's Georgian presidential election.
Thirty-seven-year-old Ugulava has long been rumored as likely to take the torch from his mentor, President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is now using his lame-duck year to keep his United National Movement afloat in its revived role as opposition force.
“I don’t plan to run. Nor is the party considering my candidacy,” said Ugulava, whose mayoral term expires in 2014. “It is a privilege and a challenge to hold this position and, therefore, I have no intention of leaving [the office of mayor], tempting as the other opportunities out there may be.”
The highfalutin' aside, Mr. Mayor may be making a pragmatic move here. Ugulava is currently awaiting trial on criminal charges of alleged embezzlement/misappropriation of budgetary funds and money laundering -- a tricky detail to explain to voters, despite his denials of guilt.
Even without that, though, the chances for a UNM candidate’s success are not a given these days. Though the coalition may have lost some of its initial, crowd-pleasing luster, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream juggernaut is still seen as sitting in the catbird seat.
Plus, as Georgia slowly metamorphoses into a parliamentary republic, the presidential position is just not as enticing as it used to be.
But the fast-approaching election may prove a make-or-break moment for the UNM. With the government and broadcast media regularly recounting various alleged UNM misdeeds of the past, the party has seen its popular support drop off dramatically, according to one poll by the Caucasus Resource Research Centers.
But if Georgia does not like losers, it does not like winners, either. Recent history suggests that there is a short step between love and hate for Georgian voters. A creeping disenchantment with the Georgian Dream may be the UNM’s best bet for a comeback, if they have a viable candidate in hand.
Some heads have turned toward 40-year-old parliamentary minority leader Davit Bakradze, a former foreign minister who has remained calm and scandal-free throughout Georgia’s bare-knuckle political battles.
With voters wearying of larger-than-life political leaders, Bakradze might well foot the bill, but the talk of his nomination has not gone beyond corridor whispers yet.
The plans of former Prime Minister and Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, the UNM's secretary-general, and a man once touted as the toast of Georgia, remain unknown.
In the Georgian Dream camp, Ivanishvili, on the other hand, is in no hurry to pick a candidate from his entourage. Defense Minister Irakli Alasania allegedly recently stepped forward with a raised hand, but the prime minister quickly ordered him back into the waiting line.
The only man who has openly announced his presidential ambitions is Shalva Natelashvili, the outspoken Labor Party leader, who's had quite a career losing elections.
But forecasting further is a bit of a mug’s game. Just like nearly anything else in Georgia, national elections tend to be prediction-defying, overnight affairs -- events which some Georgians would just as soon leave to a psychic to foresee.