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Intra-Party Crisis Widens as UNM Approaches Party Convention
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 24 Dec.'16 / 15:06

The United National Movement (UNM), the largest opposition party that governed Georgia in 2003-2012, is on the verge of splitting, as sides trade accusations ahead of the upcoming party congress, scheduled for January 20, 2017.

UNM’s Givi Targamadze, Chairman of the Parliamentary Defense and Security Committee from 2004 to 2012 criticized Mikheil Saakashvili of making unilateral decisions on the party congress in his December 23 statement. Targamadze accused the former president and the party founder of hijacking the congress organization in circumvention of the political council, the party’s 60-member governing body.

“In response to [our remarks], that … [the other side] has not defined any organizational rules of the congress, and that one more political council meeting was necessary [for that], we were told that the political council, in their (or his) view, no longer exists and everything, from now on, will be handled by the organizational committee of the convention. The reference to the previous [political council] decision, that the composition of the organizational committee should also be decided by the political council, is not of interest to them,” Targamadze’s statement reads.

“[Saakashvili] wants a convention … where none of the issues will matter and … everything, that he wants, will be adopted without reconciling [different] positions and without vote count,” Targamadze added.

“UNM will no longer exist, in the shape and the composition, which was associated with the most significant effort of [Georgia’s] modernization. It is a drama, but not a tragedy,” UNM MP Davit Darchiashvili said, when commenting on Targamadze’s statement.

“The seventh [party] convention will be held on January 20, in the very spirit that each of our supporters have across the country and not as one small group desires,” Davit Kirkitadze, one of the nominees to the organizational committee, wrote in his Facebook post in response to Targamadze’s statements.

Earlier, on December 20, Saakashvili accused the opposing side of making a deal with Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of ruling Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia party and the Prime Minister of Georgia in 2012-2013. “I waited long enough, I know a lot of things. I know what kind of deals are being negotiated, what promises are made,” Saakashvili told supporters during his video conference with party activists in Zugdidi district of Samegrelo, where he has a loyal following.

UNM MP Gigi Tsereteli, did not rule out the possibility of using the “European Georgia” party as an alternative political platform for the disgruntled party leadership, in conversation with Interpressnews agency on December 23.

The “European Georgia”, a nominal political party, which formally ran in coalition with the United National Movement in October 8 Parliamentary Elections, is chaired by Tsereteli’s father. It is not unusual for political parties in Georgia to run with nominal parties in elections, since it allows for procedural and financial privileges.

Intra-party crisis emerged in the aftermath of October 8 Parliamentary Elections, with Georgia’s former president and the founder of UNM, Mikheil Saakashvili, who at that time was also the governor of Odessa region in Ukraine, questioning the overall legitimacy of elections and calling for boycotting the results and with most political council members and future MPs under the leadership of Davit Bakradze and Giga Bokeria preferring to enter the parliament and the majoritarian runoffs.

Disagreement resurfaced after the majoritarian runoffs over the decision of the political council to elect a new chairperson. Majority of UNM’s lawmakers were in favor of electing a new chairperson, while some backbenchers, linked to Mikheil Saakashvili and commanding strong loyalty of the party’s mobilized grassroots, demanded to leave the post vacant – after losing Georgian citizenship, Saakashvili was deprived of the right to be a chairperson of a political party in Georgia, but the party decided not to elect a new chairperson.

The political council’s November 30 decision to hold the congress with participation of 7 000 delegates, as ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili desired, did not end the dispute. The confrontation has been particularly acute in social networks, where Saakashvili’s supporters confronted those members of the party, who spoke in favor of electing a new chairperson and backed a more modest party congress with participation of 2158 delegates, accusing them of severing the party from Mikheil Saakashvili and its grassroots.

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