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Navigating the Opposition's Course: Assessing the Path for the 2024 Parliamentary Elections

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Tuesday, June 20, 2023
Levan Khabeishvili's appeal for opposition parties to join forces in the upcoming 2024 parliamentary elections, aiming to overcome the Georgian Dream, has sparked extensive debates within the UNM party. Although the elections are still distant, and various factors are likely to evolve in the interim, the primary patterns have already begun to manifest. Yet, the pivotal question remains unanswered: will the formation of a "third political center" come to fruition or not?

The appeal to rally behind the "National Movement" was met with skepticism from a significant segment of the pro-Western opposition, who responded with the sentiment that this approach is not a recipe for success. Furthermore, there is historical precedence, as a similar attempt to forge such a coalition in 2020 did not yield the desired outcomes. The consolidation of the opposition under the banner of the "National Movement" maintains a bipolar political landscape, wherein the "Georgian Dream" succeeds in overcoming the "National Movement".

The upcoming 2024 parliamentary elections will take place with a 5% threshold, necessitating each individual opposition political entity participating in the electoral race to assess their prospects carefully. While the "United National Movement" is expected to surpass the 5% threshold, making an alliance with them appealing, it is worth noting that the party currently faces greater internal challenges compared to the 2020 elections. There has been ongoing speculation about Nika Melia, who was defeated by Khabeishvili in the intra-party elections, potentially establishing a separate political party alongside his supporters.

Some assert that Nika Melia could potentially engage in negotiations with various opposition parties, forming a separate faction that aspires to surpass the 5% threshold. There are even speculations suggesting that Khabeishvili's appeal for opposition party unity may have stemmed from concerns over the possibility of Melia establishing a distinct party.

The collaboration between Khabeishvili and Melia within the confines of a single party did not prove to be highly successful. Therefore, if Melia genuinely intends to establish a separate party, it would be advisable for him to undertake this endeavor no later than the autumn of this year. This would allow sufficient time for thorough preparation leading up to the 2024 elections.

The recent ruling by the Strasbourg court, which denied the transfer of the former president abroad for medical treatment, somewhat shifted the attention surrounding Saakashvili within Georgian politics. Nevertheless, Saakashvili maintains a dedicated following in Georgia, and if he reenters the political arena, a political force supported by him is likely to surpass the 5% threshold with relative certainty.

The question remains regarding whom Mikheil Saakashvili will endorse between Khabeishvili and Melia if the latter departs from the UNM and establishes a distinct party. Saakashvili would likely support those who retain the name of the "United National Movement," which is presently led by Levan Khabeishvili.

It is important to note that Khabeishvili's rise to party leadership was largely based on his pledge to secure the prompt release of Saakashvili. However, this promise has proven to be unfulfilled.

The attempt of uniting those pro-Western opposition parties, which excludes the connection with the "National Movement" is interesting. The initiative is spearheaded by "Lelo," which extends invitations to factions that have distanced themselves from the "National Movement" or other smaller pro-Western political parties to engage in cooperation. In this union, together with "Lelo", "Strategy Aghmashenebeli", "Droa" and "Girchi" by Zurab Japaridze are considered.

So far, the idea of unification is only at the level of statements. The matter should not only come to the creation of a common platform, on which there will not be a big difference of opinion, but they should also form a common electoral list, which will be much more problematic. The general electoral landscape today looks like this. The "Georgian Dream" openly declares that it will be the winner again in the 2024 elections, already for the 4th term. "Georgian Dream" will try to maintain the status of the main opposition force, despite all its current internal problems. Another pro-Western political union will probably be formed, which will fight to overcome the 5% threshold.

There are other political forces involved in the process, such as the "pro-Russian bloc" with "People's Power", who distanced from the Georgian dream, Irma Inashvili's "Patriot Alliance", and the "Conservative Party" founded by "Alt-Info".

Their anti-Western statements are slightly different from the anti-Western messages of the "Georgian Dream". So the planners of the election strategy of the "Georgian Dream" will have to think about losing the pro-Russian-anti-Western electorate, if they use the support of such an electorate themselves. All the more so if Bidzina Ivanishvili's former lawyer Viktor Kifiani creates a political force whose members, unlike Georgian Dream, will not make anti-Western statements.

The outcome of the 2024 elections can be envisioned through three potential scenarios:

1. The elections are held fairly and the opposition political parties, which will have a majority in the parliament, win.
2. The elections are held fairly and "Georgian Dream" wins.
3. "Georgian Dream" wins the elections, but the elections are not evaluated fairly.

However, we can imagine another scenario, when an entirely new political force wins elections, as happened in 2012. There is little time left for this scenario, however. A new charismatic leader should appear already in the autumn with a statement to mobilize political power.