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Georgian Political Landscape After Saakashvili's Trial

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Thursday, February 16, 2023
The former president remains in prison as a result of the recent trial. The Georgian Dream, which is in power, feels strong and mockingly looks at the United National Movement, which was recently embroiled in internal conflict, and which has set as its primary task the transfer of Mikheil Saakashvili for treatment. The official rhetoric also underwent a change.

On February 6, Tbilisi City Court Judge Giorgi Arevadze left former President Mikheil Saakashvili in custody. Mikheil Saakashvili's lawyers applied to the court on December 1, 2022, for his release or postponement of his sentence due to the deterioration of his health.

Since then, court sessions have been in the spotlight, local and foreign experts have been questioned. The trial could have been prolonged, but the judge did not go to the deliberation room and announced his decision there.

In principle, the decision had been expected. The ruling party has repeatedly warned President Zurabishvili to not pardon Saakashvili, saying it would lead to undesirable and dangerous processes for the state. People's Power also held a protest near the presidential palace - with the same warning. Judge Giorgi Arevadze also knew the government's position.

Although the Georgian Dream claims that the court is independent, not many believe it. The opposition has repeatedly stated that the issue of Saakashvili's imprisonment is up to Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is behind the government, adding that Ivanishvili is following Putin's instructions. This is the point of view of the opposition, and if this is true, then cannot expect much from the court. The court's decision put the political party associated with Saakashvili's name and the main opposition force, the United National Movement, in an even more difficult situation, which has internal conflicts and whose leadership recently changed, in principle, it found itself in a difficult situation. The main argument of the new head of the party Levan Khabeishvili against Nika Melia was about Saakashvili - nothing much is being done to free him. After the court's refusal to transfer Saakashvili for treatment, the party had to do something, he believes.

According to the decision of the new leadership of the party, the parliamentary faction of the National Movement suspended its work in the parliament, although it did not leave the parliament. Permanent protests were also announced at various locations in Tbilisi and in regions. According to Khabeishvili, Ivanishvili and the Georgian Dream should no longer have the opportunity to live in peace.

The first protests were held, but they were not attended by many. This was followed by mocking comments from the government representatives and official spokespersons, - "For any protest to bring results, people's support is necessary, which, fortunately for us, the opposition does not have," said Thea Tsulukiani. According to others, Saakashvili's party is disappearing from the political scene and this will be good for Georgian democracy and many others. The Georgian Dream, which is in power, has greater resources and effective means of propaganda. A certain part of society believes that Saakashvili does not eat food and is "in a self-harm mode".

Saakashvili's lawyers will appeal the city court's decision in the Tbilisi Court of Appeal, and at the same time, they are going to appeal to the Strasbourg court about the use of a temporary measure.

Non-governmental organizations and part of the opposition once again appealed to President Zurabishvili to pardon Saakashvili. The acting president also explained his position in detail. He blamed the government and saw both the opposition and the solution: "Once and for all, Saakashvili should confess his crime and free the country and the opposition on the condition of leaving politics," Zurabishvili said.

The government has also changed its rhetoric to some extent - if until now there was talk of polarization and the European Union demanded its reduction in its famous 12 points, now Irakli Kobakhidze said that "the problem in Georgia is radicalization, not polarization", polarization is not more in Georgia than in other countries and "today the degree of radicalism is qualitatively is reduced" because "the radical opposition is severely weakened".

The Chairman of the Parliament Shalva Papuashvili noted the same. He also pointed to the solution - "recognition of democratic institutions by radical groups" and the only way to achieve this is "to take a firm and unambiguous position towards the groups that have left the democratic framework, both inside and outside the country."

It should be assumed that this provision will be followed by an attack on the "radical opposition" in the name of democracy and will be even more harshly criticized by the 'UNM lobbyists' in the West, who want to drag Georgia into the war.

The Chairman of the Parliament made another statement on the day of commemoration of Davit Aghmashenebeli and noted that the Georgian Dream today is the political force that embodies Davit Aghmashenebeli's values. According to him, Davit Agmashenebeli made history because he had a "cold and rational mind" and made "necessary decisions at the right moment".