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UNM Leaders Divided over Post-Election Strategy

Post-election remarks of Sandra Roelofs, the wife of ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, announcing countrywide protests, has sparked intense debate within the United National Movement, with MP Nika Melia openly questioning effectiveness of this strategy.

Roelofs, mayoral candidate of the United Opposition, a coalition of twelve opposition led by the United National Movement, made the announcement mid-night on May 19, after preliminary results gave lead to the ruling party candidate, Giorgi Shengelia.

Speaking in village Ganmukhuri of Zugdidi, Sandra Roelofs said “if the authorities declare their victory in the first round, we will not accept the results because this does not conform to reality; if they still announce victory… I will travel throughout the country, village-by-village… If they announce victory, they will get mass protests.”

Roelofs’ announcement came just hours after ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili published a video address, appealing to his supporters to free themselves from GD-imposed “constraints” and “be on the offensive” in defending their votes.

Saakashvili voiced support to Roelofs’ plan in a video address released shortly after her appeal. “We are not going to stop… now is the time to mobilize, move forward and organize wide-scale protest movement, which will depose Bidzina Ivanishvili.”

The statements were criticized by MP Nika Melia, one of the UNM leaders.

In an interview with Rustavi 2 TV shortly after her appeal, Melia said: “we, the opposition leaders need to understand that when we announce something we have to bring it to the end; we should not be playing with words and making imprudent statements; nothing frustrates our voters more than making bold statements and doing nothing.”

He also stressed such decisions have to be made through discussion and consensus – both in the United National Movement and the United Opposition. “No one has the right to make unilateral statement on behalf of the United Opposition, including Saakashvili.”

Melia slammed Saakashvili in his interview with TV Pirveli, saying “he thinks UNM is his own party, and I believe UNM is a political movement where decisions are made together and in consensus.”

Roelofs spoke on the matter again in her late-night address in front of the campaign headquarters in Zugdidi, saying UNM’s post-election plans will be decided after official results are published, and in consultation with other partner political parties. “The important thing is that we do not recognize the results; this was not an election, this was a special operation carried out under terror and pressure.”

Roelofs echoed her initial statement in her remarks on May 20. Speaking from Zugdidi, the former first lady said she is ready to lead “the protest wave” for “freeing the country from Bidzina Ivanishvili.” Asked if all United Opposition members are on board with the decision, Roelofs said: “I am not alone in this – there are many parties, organizations and partners who want to join and they will join us.”

This is not the first time MP Nika Melia has shown open dissent to ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili. Last year, when Saakashvili questioned the legitimacy of Presidential runoffs and called for mass protests, Melia said the opposition would stay within the confines of the law and decide its strategy through consensus.

This post is also available in: Georgian Russian

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