Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia resigned citing disagreement with his party colleagues over the detention of Nika Melia, leader of the UNM. This follows the Tbilisi City Court’s decision to send United National Movement’s Nika Melia, Chairperson of the largest opposition party, to pretrial detention.
“Unfortunately, I could not reach a common understanding on this matter with my team and decided to resign. I want to hope, that this step would contribute to reduced polarisation in our political space, since I believe that polarization and confrontation pose the greatest risks to our country’s future and economic development,” Gakharia stated.
Gakharia’s statement said that while Melia had “never respected the law” and called “for the storming of the Parliament” on June 20, 2019, the decision to detain him poses unacceptable risks, and unduly complicates the task of economic recovery and the management of pandemic.
The resignation comes as the post-election crisis after October polls continues to plague Georgian politics. Most of the opposition, including the UNM, is rejecting the official results and refusing to enter the new Parliament. Foreign facilitated talks to overcome the crisis have been stalled since December.
The Parliament now has two weeks to endorse the new Prime Minister’s candidacy, put forward by the Georgian Dream, and the new candidate’s cabinet of choice. The confirmation requires the support of 76 lawmakers of the 150-member legislature, where the Georgian Dream has 90 MPs. If the Parliament fails to confirm the new cabinet within four weeks, President Zurabishvili shall appoint new Parliamentary elections within a week.
Maia Tskitishvili, Vice Premier will perform the duties of the Prime Minister in the meantime.
Nika Melia welcomed the Prime Minister’s resignation, noting that by resignation Gakharia admitted “bloodshed and violence was planned” in the UNM headquarters where opposition leaders and supporters gathered to resist police from detaining the UNM chair.
Nika Melia then called on the ruling party to return to the negotiating table and discuss holding snap elections.
His appointment to the post was preceded by the controversial police crackdown on Tbilisi protests of June 20-21, as thousands rallied against the Russian delegation’s visit at the inter-parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, held in the Georgian Parliament. The crackdown triggered three-month-long protests with demands for Gakharia’s resignation as the Interior Minister.
Earlier on May 12, 2018, the Interior Ministry, under Gakharia, raided two clubs – Bassiani and Cafe Gallery – allegedly following leads on the dealing and use of club drugs, triggering a rally of several hundred protesters. The demonstration ended after then-Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia pledged to investigate the case and renew the work on drug policy reform.
According to the IRI poll from August 2020, Gakharia was the most favored politician in the wake of the first COVID wave, with his favorability rating standing at 63%. In the same poll, GD’s Kakha Kaladze’s favorability was at 57%, and Bidzina Ivanishvili’s at 41%.
Noteworthy, that the NDI’s public opinion poll showed Gakharia’s approval significantly improve throughout his PM tenure, with his performance being regarded as “good” by 46% in December 2020 (up from 21% in November 2019) and as “bad” by only 17% (down from 35% in November 2019).