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UNM refuses to elect new leader

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, January 23
Georgia’s main opposition party refused to elect a new leader until Georgia’s ex-President, the currently-wanted Mikheil Saakashvili (who also has no Georgian citizenship), returned to Georgia.

The solution came after the January 20 UNM congress, with more than 7,000 delegates from different regions of the country in attendance.

The congress, which became one of the reasons of the turmoil within the UNM before its split several days ago, elected the party’s 60-member political council and appointed Nika Melia as the head of the Council.

Saakashvili, a Ukrainian citizen, made a few live address to the audience, saying “a new era” was starting in the party life.

A major part of Saakashvili’s address included the condemnation of the country’s “illegal rule” by ex-Prime Minister and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose Georgian Dream coalition defeated the nine-year UNM leadership through the 2012 Parliamentary Elections.

Saakashvili did not avoid using insulting words while speaking about Ivanishvili, who had been actively financed UNM-initiated reforms before opposing Saakashvili and launching the Georgian Dream coalition.

The congress, where no one from more the 7,000 delegates was against the nominated leaders or the Council members, also left the currently jailed ex-Interior Minister, Vano Merabishvili, as the UNM Secretary General.

However, Merabishvili wrote on his Facebook page shortly after the congress that he “didn’t give consent” for his occupation of the role.

Commenting on the Facebook statement, Melia said they had not removed the imprisoned leader from the post, but if Merabishvili had something against continuing in his capacity as Secretary General then situation might be changed.

Melia also announced that he would soon meet with Merabishvili in prison to discuss the issue.

Melia stated Merabishvili did not yet revealed his position over the controversy within the UNM; roughly 60 members left the party soon after the ex-Mayor and one of the former leaders of the UNM, Gigi Ugulava, left prison about two weeks ago.

The UNM party also announced after the congress they planned to create a faction in Parliament with the leadership of ex-head of the National Bank of Georgia, Roman Gotsiridze.

The infighting within the UNM became obvious after the 2016 October Parliamentary Elections, where the UNM managed to gain only 27 seats in the 150-member legislative body, while the ruling Georgian Dream party took 116 seats.

Immediately after the elections, Saakashvili called upon the UNM to boycott the “fabricated elections” and not to enter Parliament.

However, the party majority went against the appeal and took their seats in the legislative body.

Several old and young faces of the UNM also stated the party required the new leadership, as the existing leaders were either imprisoned or abroad.

The party also announced a congress to address the core issues. The UNM wing which supported the idea of the new leadership wished for a smaller congress, while Saakashvili stated the congress have to be large-scaled.

Saakashvli’s supporters won the vote, and the large-scale congress was scheduled.

Just prior to the congress, the ex-Mayor , who supported the notion of a the renewed UNM, left prison, and his release hastened the splitting process, with 59 members leaving the UNM and moving to the European Georgia party, an organisation which was re-registered in the election administration two months before the most recent elections.The European Georgia party had also created an election bloc with the UNM for the October elections prior to the UNM split.