The United National Movement, Georgia’s former ruling party, held its eighth party congress in Tbilisi on March 24, and approved Grigol Vashadze as new chairman, replacing ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Over 350 delegates attended the party conference, along with leaders of UNM’s partner political parties and representatives of international organizations and diplomatic corps based in Tbilisi.
The congress also endorsed ten new members of the Political Council, the main governing body, and renewed the mandate of 102 serving members. The delegates also reelected MP Nika Melia as chair of the Political Council, and MP Koba Nakopia as executive secretary. The voting was held through electronic ballot.
Nika Melia, one of the party leaders, spoke first at the congress, saying the occasion marked the beginning of “crucial changes” for the United National Movement and the country.
He also touched upon the party’s past achievements. “I would not hesitate to say that UNM is a political party that has created a new Georgian state under Mikheil Saakashvili’s leadership.”
“UNM transformed Georgia into an ambitious, exemplary and reform-oriented state, ended crime and corruption, led to unprecedented economic growth, and started large-scale infrastructure and educational projects,” he said.
“UNM is a party that has assumed its responsibility for mistakes, including for hampered judiciary reform, and for the first time in Georgia’s history, peacefully handed over power to the election winner,” Melia also noted.
Ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili addressed the party conference through a phone-in from the United States.
“Georgia is going through difficult times; each day Ivanishvili continues robbing Georgia, brings us closer to final downfall; so we need to ask ourselves, what did we do today to free Georgia from Ivanishvili’s claws,” he noted.
Saakashvili said the UNM is filled with “new and interesting” politicians. “Around 400,000 persons took part in our campaign activities [last year]; this is an enormous force and the future of Georgia rests on these people.”
“Today, we are voting for Vashadze’s chairmanship, and this is necessary as UNM needs to have a flexible structure; Ivanishvili is not allowing me inside the country, some of our leaders are in prison, others are persecuted and pressured… and we need to be very flexible in these circumstances,” Saakashvili noted.
“Vashadze is a symbol of honesty, patriotism and unification; we managed to assemble a wide [opposition] coalition around him, and I would like to welcome all representatives of the United Opposition,” he added.
Grigol Vashadze took the floor next, outlining his policy priorities and his vision for party reform.
“[The Georgian Dream government] has turned a successful and exemplary state into a place of desperation and nihilism, a domain of corrupt officials and criminals,” Vashadze said.
“We cannot step aside when economy is paralyzed, when families cannot make their ends meet, when parents are working abroad in inhuman conditions while their kids are growing up without parents, when medicine has become a luxury, when employment is a privilege of Georgian Dream members and supporters, when crime has become an integral part of our life… when they are turning the country into a drug plantation… when state institutions are replaced with basements of Subeliani and Partskhaladze, when Chinchaladze-Murusidze clan is running the courts while parents of the deceased boys are searching for justice in streets, when there is an open attack against the Orthodox Church… when elections are openly rigged,” he went on.
“The United National Movement, as a political organization based on ideals and values, cannot step aside and its primary objective should be to defeat the oligarch and free the country from the hands of the criminal regime… our main slogan should be to return the state back to the people,” Vashadze also noted.
Vashadze also touched upon UNM’s electoral program, pledging to reduce loan rates through “demonopolizing” the banking sector, as well as to reschedule “unfair” bank loans, establish a capital guarantee for funding the economy, decriminalize commercial offenses, establish business arbitration court, and reduce bureaucracy.
He also stressed UNM will allocate 6% of the GDP to education, and ease tax burden for families with three or more children to address Georgia’s “catastrophic demographic situation.”
Vashadze spoke on foreign policy as well, saying the country has to have “a firm, peaceful, principled, informed and civilized” policy for restoring its territorial integrity. He also said preserving the Abkhaz nation, language and culture is “Georgia’s historical, political and moral obligation.”