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Crisis Within United National Movement Prior to 2024 Elections

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Monday, December 18, 2023
Before the upcoming 2024 parliamentary elections, the main opposition party the United National Movement is in a deep crisis. The party is divided between supporters of the old and new leadership, represented by Nika Melia and Levan Khabeishvili. Some believe that the crisis in the main opposition party will increase the chances of victory of the ruling Georgian Dream, while others believe that the emergence of a third political force is becoming more realistic, the idea of which was once again put forward by the Lelo party.

The opposition has been looking for a "victory formula" in Georgia for several elections. During the parliamentary elections of 2016 and 2020, the condition of victory for many was the unification around the largest opposition party "National Movement".

Others argued that the Georgian Dream would always defeat the UNM due to the fact that the number of people in the country who do not like the current government but even more so do not want the National Movement to return to power, is very large. Therefore, part of the opposition believed that it was necessary to form such an opposition political force, which would be neither associated with the National Movement nor with the Georgian Dream. Before the parliamentary elections of 2024, this topic is relevant again, but unlike before, the National Movement faces the upcoming elections as being in a deep crisis and less attractive to other parties.

The UNM is the party founded by Mikheil Saakashvili, and the party's supporters vote for it precisely because of Saakashvili. Today, he is a prisoner and cannot run the party anymore. One of the main tasks of the National Movement was to achieve the release of Saakashvili. It was for this reason that some of the party members, under the leadership of Levan Khabeishvili, opposed the party chairman Nika Melia and managed to depose him, and his supporters were also removed from the ruling team of the party. Nika Melia and his supporters claimed that Kezerashvili and Merabishvili are "in the shadows" behind Khabeishvili. As they say, Kezerashvili's strength is his finances, which play a major role in politics. Publicising this fact was damaging for the National Movement, since the question arises on how should the opposition party fight against Ivanishvili's shadow rule, if it is itself under shadow rule. Many expected that Nika Melia would leave the "National Movement" and create a separate party after his dismissal. They tried to determine if it would be another party with 1% support or if the party created by him would manage to overcome the 5% barrier. Melia did not take this step, and as it turned out, he did the right thing and created a serious problem for Khabeishvili and his team.

Saakashvili considered the 11-point unity manifesto on November 23, the 20th anniversary of the Rose Revolution as a way to overcome the crisis in the party. All party members had to sign this document. This would prove not only the readiness to fight against Georgian Dream, but also to get used to the existing leadership team of the party. In fact, the manifesto did not overcome, but deepened the crisis.

Nika Melia and some of his supporters did not sign the manifesto. On November 26, Levan Khabeishvili also announced live on Formula TV station that Nika Melia was no longer a member of the National Movement. This action of his caused indignation among the members of the party and Khabeishvili was actually forced to announce the expansion of the governing body of the party - the political council.

However, many people are not satisfied with such a change, and the way out is his resignation from the leadership of the party and the creation of a "consent committee" to manage the party.

There was also a version that the head of the "National Movement" would be Nika Gvaramia, the former manager of the TV company "Mtavari Aharki", who plans to enter politics after his release from prison. It might indeed be a good solution for the party in crisis, but Gvaramia categorically denied it.

The crisis in the National Movement continues and, naturally, this affects its rating as well. Obviously, the party will not weaken so much that it cannot cross the 5% threshold, but if the UNM cannot overcome the crisis, it is clear that it will not be able to conduct a successful election campaign, and the question is whether it will retain the name of the main opposition party.

The crisis in the National Movement reduces the attractiveness of this party to other smaller parties and increases the possibility of creating an alternative opposition coalition. It was at this time that the Lelo party came out with a call to unify the opposition and "gather in the middle."

This is the reversal of Bidzina Ivanishvili's famous formula. Back in 2011, when Ivanishvili entered politics, he came out with the slogan that claimed that the middle should be removed, that is, the political spectrum in the country should become polarised, leaving the National Movement on one side and the Georgian Dream on the other.

Ivanishvili succeeded in this. After three elections, the Georgian Dream declares all opposition forces as "nationals," implying their associations with the UNM party. The initiative of uniting the opposition parties was announced once again, but these parties are not rushing to take steps in this direction yet. Some still hope to lower the 5% electoral threshold. According to them, if the opposition starts mass protests demanding the reduction of the threshold, it will be able to achieve success and the Georgian Dream will reduce the threshold to 2%. If this happens, according to public opinion polls, the opposition will collect more votes than the Georgian Dream and from 2024 the government will be in the hands of a coalition government of pro-Western opposition forces.

However, lowering the barrier should be ruled out since the Georgian Dream will not go for it, and it is better for the opposition to think about unification. Given the complex relationships between them, creating a union or unions will not be an easy task.