In an extended interview with Mtavari Arkhi TV, a channel critical to the Georgian Dream government, ruling party chair Irakli Kobakhidze discussed controversies surrounding Giorgi Gakharia’s tenure in the government and the upcoming local elections.
MP Kobakhidze was interviewed at a new show by the opposition-leaning channel, in which the host will invite government and ruling party representatives.
Kicking off the talk with Gakharia’s resignation as the Prime Minister in February, the GD chair reiterated his suspicions that the former leader had acted in line with an alleged coup plot by the United National Movement. There may have been “some mercantile” motives behind Gakharia’s actions, MP Kobakhidze speculated.
The GD chair continued, arguing that Gakharia did not substantiate his push to put off the forthcoming police operation on the UNM headquarters to detain the party’s chair, Nika Melia. Instead, postponing the detention for two or three days would “change a lot of things for the worse,” MP Kobakhidze noted.
Besides the issue, the ruling party leader said “all the problems that piled up for the Georgian Dream during the roughly one-year period [of Gakharia’s tenure at the Interior Ministry] came from police operations organized by Gakharia.” MP Kobakhidze cited several controversies – a March 2018 police operation in mountainous Mestia town of the Svaneti region, May 2018 drug raid in two of Tbilisi’s most prominent clubs that sparked massive protests in the capital, April 2019 clash between police and locals in Pankisi gorge over an HPP, and the June 2019 police dispersal of anti-occupation protests in front of the Parliament building in Tbilisi.
The latter could have been handled “more easily,” the ruling party leader argued, noting that “softer” methods could also have been used by the police during the dispersal, including “water cannons.” MP Kobakhidze also cast doubts as to why police officers were stationed outside the Parliament gates during the unrest instead of inside.
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Before Gakharia’s resignation as PM, we thought “all of these were mistakes,” the ruling party leader stated, hinting that the former Georgian PM instead could have been attempting to undermine the GD.
Continuing on Gakharia, MP Kobakhidze also questioned the sources of funding for his newly-established For Georgia party, voicing doubts that the new entrant to the opposition spectrum could be funded by a UNM-affiliate. Noteworthy that Gakharia himself has said he and his party colleagues have used their personal savings as funds, and plan to set up an “innovative” crowdfunding mechanism in the future.
2021 local elections
The ruling party chair also responded to Gakharia’s remarks that the GD suffers from issues with “legitimacy,” which cannot be “solved” even if the party manages to avoid snap elections by receiving 43% in the local elections. MP Kobakhidze pointed out that the threshold, envisaged in the April 19 EU-brokered deal, specifically serves to “verify legitimacy” in the eyes of the public.
Besides the developments related to the former PM, the GD Chair also discussed the party’s plans for the local elections, noting they plan to begin preparations for the polls “in the near future.” “We have faith that we will have good results in these elections, including in the context of the 43% barrier,” he highlighted. MP Kobakhidze did not confirm whether incumbent Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze will run for re-election, noting that naming a candidate at the early stage would give their opponents an advantage, while it is an approved approach to name a candidate before the polls.
MP Kobakhidze also discussed former PM and GD’s founder Bidzina Ivanishvili’s possible involvement in the processes, stating it was “his principled position” to distance himself from politics. MP Kobakhidze denied having any communication with him, arguing that former PM Ivanishvili will not participate in the pre-election preparations.
As for GD’s founder Ivanishvili’s first letter after leaving politics, in which he called Gakharia ‘traitor’ due to his resignation over opposition leader Nika Melia’s detention, MP Kobakhidze asserted that Bidzina Ivanishvili’s name had been used for political speculations, therefore he felt “obliged” to provide the public with a clarification.
The ruling party chair also touched upon the May 2021 disturbances in the ethnically mixed town of Dmanisi, noting that as the “severe incidents” took place between people of different ethnic backgrounds, it was important for the state to aim for “complete reconciliation“ between the sides instead of punishing those involved in the confrontations.