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Unifying the Opposition: Navigating Challenges and Opportunities in Georgia's Political Landscape

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Tuesday, May 16, 2023
Public opinion surveys published one after another by IRI and NDI showed approximately the same picture in terms of political ratings of the parties - the decrease in the rating of the ruling Georgian Dream does not mean an increase in the rating of the opposition parties. In parallel with the low rating of the ruling party, approximately half of the respondents state that they do not support any political party.

Party ratings recorded as a result of public opinion research are always controversial. Let's leave aside the specific numbers and talk only about the clear trends, which cannot be questioned. First of all, it should be noted that over the last few years, the same result has been recorded - in the case of elections, only two political forces will cross the 5% threshold - the Georgian Dream in power and the National Movement in opposition. The rating of other parties is from 1 to 3%. Moreover, their mentioned indicator does not actually change after the 2016-2020 elections, and it seems unlikely that small opposition parties will cross the 5% threshold.

For the opposition political spectrum and for the country, it would certainly be good for the 5% threshold to be reduced even to 3%, the relevant bill has already been passed by the Parliament in two readings, but it is doubtful that the Georgian Dream will agree to reduce the electoral threshold. Of course, lowering the threshold allows the party in power to facilitate the creation of satellite political parties, dummy opposition forces, and their entry into the parliament. This creates an image of multiple parties and 'neutralizes' the boycott announced by the opposition due to election fraud. Let's recall the parliamentary elections of 2020 when no opposition party entered the parliament and the Georgian Dream with a guaranteed majority was alone in the legislative body.

But lowering the barrier has a bigger disadvantage - along with the official satellite parties, the real opposition, which has been given the name of 'radical' and 'destructive' by the government, will enter the parliament. Therefore, according to experts, the Georgian Dream will not risk and will maintain the existing barrier, which many opposition parties will find difficult to overcome.

Today we have the following situation - the next parliamentary elections should be held in the autumn of 2024, with a purely proportional system and a 5% threshold, and the participation of party blocs in the elections is prohibited.

All parties should go to the election marathon separately. In such conditions, there has been talk of unification of parties for a long time. If earlier this was facilitated by the possibility of creating a block, now it is a matter of direct merging of parties. It is difficult to say what the parties themselves think, but it is a subject of wide discussion by experts and the media.

One option is the unification of opposition parties around the main and strongest opposition party the National Movement, a similar thing was already tried by some parties in the 2020 parliamentary elections, but it did not lead to victory. Many also say that if the National Movement remains the main opposition force against the Georgian Dream, the 'Dream' will win again, because people who are disappointed with the current government do not want the UNM to return to power.

Mikheil Saakashvili, who is in the hospital, is no longer the 'main threat', but behind the 'National Movement' Kezerashvili, who was involved in a scandal, and the former Minister of Internal Affairs, Merabishvili, appeared instead. It is doubtful that the mentioned persons will increase the rating of the National Movement. In addition, there is a split in the National Movement itself.

The current leader of the UNM party Levan Khabeishvili and his supporters, behind whom Kezerashvili-Merabishvili is thought to be, are opposed by the old leader Nika Melia and his supporters. It is probably impossible to reconcile them, and the object of the struggle is the name of the party and the ownership of the structures. In such a situation, it would probably be more reasonable for Nika Melia and his supporters to create a separate party and manage to form it in the remaining period before the elections and attract part of the UNM electorate.

Several political groups separated from the National Movement, which today are represented as separate political parties ('European Georgia', 'Droa', 'Girchi' by Zurab Japaridze, 'Strategy Agmashenebeli'). Those parties whose history does not include the 'National Movement' can unite separately. 'Lelo' and former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia's 'For Georgia', which separated from 'Georgian Dream' and took part in its electorate, are considered such relatively influential opposition forces. But the relationship between the leaders of these two parties is strained and there are serious problems stemming from the past.

When they talk about the possible unification of the opposition, they also mention one existing danger. With its current total rating, the opposition exceeds the rating of the Georgian Dream, but their unification does not mean an automatic unification of separate ratings. On the contrary, in the case of such a merger, some parties may lose their electorate. For example, it is unimaginable to unite any party that came out of the National Movement with that of Gakharia's. Therefore, we should not rule out that a number of opposition parties will think of increasing their 2-3% rating to 5% and will pay the main attention to that large segment of voters, which no political party likes today.