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The UNM head Vashadze leaves the party

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Wednesday, December 16
Grigol Vashadze, Chairman of the United National Movement, Georgia’s largest opposition party, announced on December 15 about leaving the party as well as stepping down from all held positions.

He wrote in his Facebook post that there are aspects to the party that he would categorically not tolerate. Vashadze said he does not agree with tactics chosen by the majority of the UNM leadership without consulting party members, and that the absence of a future strategy is even more unacceptable to him.

Vashadze expressed concerns over ‘the campaign of attacks and insults’ against the chiefs of diplomatic missions of strategic partner countries that were launched ‘unclear by whom and why’. Vashadze considers such moves as damaging to Georgia’s relations with the western partners. According to him, it creates impressions that creators of this campaign have never heard that attacking an ambassador equals attacking a state they represent. "This is the state which has been guarding Georgia state and its territorial integrity since the day it regained independence." Hereby, Vashadze apologized to Georgia's partners.

Before this announcement, Nika Gvaramia, the director of Mtavari Arkhi TV criticized western diplomats, including facilitators of the recent post-election talks between the opposition, that boycott election, and the ruling Georgian Dream party.

On December 15, the night before Vashadze’s decision was known, the UNM leader and former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili criticized German Ambassador Hubert Knirsch over his opposition-critical remarks, questioning his qualification.

Politicians from both the ruling party and the opposition reacted to Vashadze’s decision. UNM members Roman Gotziridze and Salome Samadashvili have praised Vashadze’s chairmanship of the party, stating that he has made the party stronger in the past 3 years. On the other hand, UNM member Khatia Dekanoidze said that Vashadze’s claim on attacks on the diplomatic corps was wrong, as well as his decision to leave the party without consulting with its members first. She criticized the chairman for quitting with a sole statement and disagreed with Vashadze’s concerns. “Generals do not disapprove of the army’s strategy,” she emphasized.

Levan Ioseliani, from the Citizens party, noted that the decision proved that "there are differing opinions in the opposition," including varying views over the current opposition tactics.

MP Irakli Kobakhidze, executive secretary of the ruling Georgian Dream party also commented on the announcement, saying that political processes unfold 'in the right direction.' He noted that the "so-called odious figures" are dissolving [United] National Movement and European Georgia.

Parliament Speaker from the ruling Georgian Dream party Archil Talakvadze stated that the ‘reasons named by Vashadze behind his resignation are a deadly diagnosis for the UNM.’

MP Mamuka Mdinaradze assessed Vashadze’s decision as to the sign for UNM’s dissolution:

"When the chairman of the party leaves the party for specific, declared or hidden reasons, it is one of the preconditions for the party’s dissolution.”

The leader of the Georgian Dream Tea Tsulukiani described Grigol Vashadze as a positive figure after leaving the National Movement and said that he was acting in the interests of the country. According to Tsulukiani, she met Vashadze for the first time during the signing of the March 8 agreement with the opposition. According to the leader of the European Georgia, Giga Bokeria, it is noteworthy that Tsulikiani praised Grigol Vashadze. "It seems that a good opposition for her is an opposition member who leaves politics."

The US Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan commented on Vashadze’s resignation as well, saying he is an outstanding person with a long and impressive career in the service of his country.

The UNM Chairman first confronted his party soon after the elections, when he called for moving street protests to the negotiations table, implying a possible end of boycott that was announced by all major opposition parties following legitimacy concerns of the parliamentary polls. Other members of the UNM said that "the statement is Vashadze’s personal opinion which was not agreed upon with" them. While the members of other opposition parties who took to the street following the October 31 parliamentary elections, said that Vashadze’s statement was ‘unexpected and confusing.’

Grigol Vashadze, a former Soviet diplomat, served as a Foreign Minister under the UNM government. He was the 2018 Presidential candidate and was elected as the party chairman in March of 2019, replacing Saakashvili. In the October 31 parliamentary elections, Vashadze ran as a majoritarian MP candidate for the Kutaisi constituency. The UNM garnered 27,18% of votes and 36 MP mandates which the party intends to reject.