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Free Democrats elect new leader

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, February 21
Georgia’s ex-Minister of Defence, the founder and leader of the Free Democrats opposition party, Irakli Alasania, announced on Saturday that he was leaving for Washington to continue working in the business sector and presented a new leader of the party.

Alasania was replaced by a law expert, Shalva Shavgulidze, who stressed that official posts had never been a target for the Free Democrats.

“Mr Shavgulidze will lead the party for the next elections. I believe the time will come when we will change the election system and our Parliament will be a multi-party legislative body,” said Alasania.

In his first statement as the new chairman of the party, Shavgulidze criticized the current Georgian Dream government and accused it of exercising pressure on the courts and media.

Alasania announced that he quit politics shortly after October’s Parliamentary Elections last year.

The Free Democrats party received 4.61 percent of votes in the race.

The party failed to overcome the five percent threshold to gain the necessary amount of votes to qualify in the next Parliament.

Alasania said a critical eye was needed to determine why the party failed to gain support.

Shortly before and after Alasania’s statement, up to 10 key figures left the party, namely Georgia’s former minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Alex Petriashvili, diplomat Viktor Dolidze, financial expert David Onoprishvili and some others.

Dolidze was later appointed as Georgia’s Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration.

Alasania, 43, is a former military and diplomat who served as Georgia’s Minister of Defence from 2012 to 2014 under the current leadership of the country. He was dismissed by ex-Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili in November 2014 for his statements about Georgia changing its foreign orientation.

Alasania was Georgia’ Ambassador to the United Nations from September 2006 to December 2008 under the previous United National Movement (UNM)-led government. Due to a conflict with ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili’s administration, Alasania withdrew into the opposition and founded the Free Democrats party in July 2009.

The Free Democrats were part of the Georgian Dream coalition founded by ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivansihvili prior to the 2012 Parliamentary Elections to defeat the nine-year rule of the United National Movement.

Alasania was dismissed as Defence Minister in 2014 after the Free Democrats quit the coalition. The organization participated independently in last year’s elections.