On September 7, the United National Movement (UNM) chairman Grigol Vashadze named former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili as the Prime Ministerial hopeful of the UNM and its satellite parties of Strength in Unity opposition coalition for the upcoming October parliamentary polls. The announcement triggered mixed reactions among the ruling Georgian Dream and the opposition parties.
The Georgian Dream Reacts
Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia slammed Saakashvili as a menace to a peaceful electoral process, yet, asserted that “nobody and nothing can put the stability of the country under question and nobody and nothing can put an electoral process conducted in normal and calm conditions under question.”
Other members of the governing party concurred with PM Gakharia’s sentiment, with Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani describing Saakashvili as “a person that escapes justice, who said no to his home country, said no to (Georgian) citizenship.” Tsulukiani said that ultimately Saakashvili “is harmful to the opposition.”
MP Anri Okhanashvili of the Georgian Dream declared that Saakashvili, should he return to Georgia, would be treated “in line with the crimes he has committed.”
Another Georgian Dream MP Rati Ionatamishvili condemned those supporting Saakashvili as Prime Minister, asserting that the former president “himself admitted to committing horrendous crimes.” Like Okhanashvili’s statement, Ionatamishvili also agreed that after Saakashvili’s return to Georgia “justice will be restored and he will end up in the penitentiary.”
The Opposition Reacts
Reactions from the opposition concerning Saakashvili’s nomination for PM were also critical. Giga Bokeria, leader of the European Georgia party, which split off from UNM in January 2017, blamed Saakashvili for seeking unchecked power and claimed that the UNM is “interested in returning to the pre-2012 situation.”
Giorgi Vashadze from the Strategy Aghmashenebli party demonstrated support for political parties nominating their own candidates for Prime Minister. Nevertheless, the former UNM member reasserted support for his own candidacy, stating he plans to become Prime Minister to “defeat crime and poverty in the country.”
Ex-speaker Nino Burjanadze of the Kremlin-friendly Democratic Movement-United Georgia party said that she does not see Saakashvili as the prime ministerial candidate, adding that “he will certainly not have support from our side.” Saba Buadze from the Lelo for Georgia party claimed that his party cannot consider collaboration or a coalition government with Mikheil Saakashvili or Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Iago Khvichia of the right-libertarian Girchi party expressed his doubts about supporting Saakashvili’s bid for PM. “Still a long time is ahead of us, Saakashvili also has a lot of time, and in the end, this topic will be determined based on who will garner what amount of support during the elections”, Khvichia added.
Former Georgian Dream member, MP Eka Beselia expressed her pessimism about Saakashvili’s ability to create a political consensus within the opposition.
“The elections are very close and the people will decide who has a mandate of trust, in fact, whoever gets the most mandates will determine the political parties which can have the ambition that their candidate should be the future Prime Minister. I still think that the coming elections is one that should bring change, instead of returning us back to an already seen, old, and perilous political reality”, Beselia said.