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The Pro-Western Opposition: Between Crisis and Effort

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Tuesday, February 7, 2023
The opposition part of the political spectrum in Georgia, which acts as a defender of the western direction of the country, is in a difficult situation. There is a deep internal conflict in the main opposition party, the National Movement, and it is doubtful that it will maintain its integrity. Three small opposition parties have announced to hold the first large-scale rally on February 24, although others do not join it and remain skeptical.

The opposition political parties in Georgia move in different orbits in terms of distancing themselves from the government and, accordingly, the degree of their opposition is also different. The closest to the Georgian Dream are 9 MPs separated from the party, who created a new force People's Power.

These MPs formally separated from the GD in order to have more freedom in criticizing the West. But these MPs together with the Georgian Dream are in the majority.

Before the 2021 local self-government elections, Georgian Dream was challenged by the team of retired Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia's party For Georgia, which at that time supported a certain part of the Dream electorate. At that time, Giorgi Gakharia could not say anything against Bidzina Ivanishvili, which made the commentators think that Ivanishvili, who had gone into the shadows from active politics, was creating a backup political force.

After the elections, Gakharia's activity decreased sharply, but recently he appeared and actively criticized Bidzina Ivanishvili. Gakharia's party, unlike People's Power, cannot stand the Georgian Dream in power. However, it is difficult to say in what orbit Gakharia's party will move and what rating it will have for the upcoming elections.

After the parliamentary elections of 2020, when no opposition members entered the parliament, it was difficult for the Georgian Dream which was left alone and, apparently, due to their efforts, a new party under the name of European Socialists, which had not participated in the elections, appeared in the parliament. It included sponsors of the pro-Russian Alliance of Patriots participating in the elections, who were included in the electoral list of this party. This party, as well as several other small opposition parties, are officially in the government orbit and represent the 'constructive opposition'.

The main opponent of the Georgian Dream after the 2012 elections is the United National Movement, which, according to the representatives of the government, represents a 'destructive opposition' and scares voters with the prospect of this force's return to power.

The UNM is the main opposition force and is the only opposition force that manages to overcome the 5% electoral threshold. Today the party is in a difficult situation. Mikheil Saakashvili, who is considered the leader of this party, has been in prison for more than a year and is seriously ill. Within the party itself, there is a struggle for leadership.

In itself, the holding of party chairman elections is a manifestation of intra-party democracy, which is so rare in Georgia. This would only be an indication of competitiveness and democracy if it were not for the nature of the confrontation between the candidates, during which compromising materials and insults were used.

After such an election campaign, it is doubtful that the said party will maintain its unity. Some suggest splitting the party into two parts, others - into three. At least with this, the main opposition party will be able to overcome its internal problems.

A simple explanation was also found for the intra-party conflict in the United National Movement. Today's leader, Nika Melia, is relatively new to the party, and no one can relate him to the problems of the United National Movement administration. Nika Melia is associated with bringing new faces to the mentioned party and trying to renew it. His main rival was Levan Khabeishvili, who won the elections. Behind him are famous faces of the old UNM, including former Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili and Former Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili.

Meanwhile, three small political parties (Droa, Girchi - More Freedom and Strategy Agmashenebeli) announced the pro-Ukraine rally on February 24 and stated that this is the beginning of a new national liberation movement. Both the government and the opposition were critical of the planned rally. The small number of people gathered will become an excuse for mocking its organizers, but a large-scale rally will not be welcomed by authorities either.

The fact is that rallies do not affect the government to a large extent.