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3rd President's Hunger Strike: Saakashvili’s Factor in Georgian Politics

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Thursday, October 21
The arrival of Mikheil Saakashvili in Georgia and the start of his hunger strike in custody brought significant changes in Georgian politics, which again became bipolar. On the one hand, there is the ruling Georgian Dream, which says Saakashvili should spend many years in prison.

On the other hand, there is the main opposition party, the National Movement, which is demanding Saakashvili's release from prison. The immediate task of other political parties is to find their place between these two poles.

One of the main questions that has been discussed since Mikheil Saakashvili arrived in Georgia concerns the impact of his appearance on the election process. According to UNM leaders, Saakashvili's arrival has boosted the motivation of the opposition-minded electorate to come to the polls and raised hopes for a change of government.

However, pro-government experts point to the fact that Saakashvili's appearance was used by the Georgian Dream to mobilize its electorate, which it has feared for the past nine years after Saakashvili returned to power.

By returning to Georgia, Saakashvili shattered the long-held propaganda myth used by the authorities that Saakashvili would not dare to come to Georgia for fear of arrest. Not only did Saakashvili arrive, but for several days the authorities could not even hear about his stay in Georgia and were seriously proving to the public that Saakashvili was lying and was still in Ukraine.

Mikheil Saakashvili, of course, was well aware that there was a great risk of his arrest and was ready for it. However, in his opinion, the ‘best scenario’ would be to go to a crowded rally after the October 2 elections to protect the votes. Saakashvili's sudden appearance at the protest would be a nightmare for the Georgian Dream. This did not happen; Thanks to Saakashvili’s videos, the government followed him and managed to arrest him.

Prisoner Saakashvili had no choice but to start a hunger strike. His trial is set for November 10, after the election. The Prime Minister was tempted to add new accusations. This experience provoked an extremely negative reaction both in Georgia and in the West, as a confirmation of the political nature of Saakashvili's imprisonment.

Saakashvili expresses the position of the part of Georgian society that believes that we should not expect fair elections by the "Georgian Dream" and no matter how many elections the current government uses, using various machinations, will always declare itself victorious. The solution, in their view, is crowded street rallies that will protect the will of the people and will not allow the government to falsify the election results.

According to opponents, such rallies are already a call for revolution, an attempt to repeat the ‘Rose Revolution’. Even some opposition parties are afraid of the revolution. They support the change of government through elections, but also acknowledge that election falsification is highly rampant.

Saakashvili's arrival in Georgia has put in a difficult position those opposition parties that have claimed to be a "third political force." They must either show solidarity with the National Movement and the path it has chosen, or try to find its position. This is quite difficult in the created reality.

The release of Saakashvili, who went on a hunger strike before the second round of elections, became the main demand for anti-government protests.

The Georgian Dream, which came to power through elections in 2012, is afraid of stepping down through elections, but the 2020 parliamentary elections and the October 2, 2021 local elections have shown that maintaining power is becoming increasingly problematic for it. Opposition parties, non-governmental organizations and friends from the West are increasingly talking about total falsification of election results.

October 30 is the second round of elections. The Georgian Dream will have to fight hard to maintain control of Georgia's urban centers. There is no doubt that the second round will end with an even more heated confrontation compared to the first round. However, the ‘Saakashvili issue’ has to be resolved before that.

Saakashvili, who has carried out radical reforms and made many mistakes, has acquired many enemies. A torrent of disgust towards the third president of Georgia is flowing from the current government and state media. At the same time, however, there is a growing number of people who consider Saakashvili's detention to be unfair and support his release.

In a country whose judiciary does not have much authority among its citizens, many do not even believe in a guilty verdict against Saakashvili.

The government is in a difficult situation. Any option related to Saakashvili is unprofitable for them: it would be catastrophic to let deteriorate Saakashvili’s health in prison, it would be fruitless to extradite him by force to Ukraine as a Ukrainian citizen, and Saakashvili's release as a result of protests will be the beginning of the end of this government.