UNM Chair’s Remarks Fuel Confusion in Boycotting Opposition

Grigol Vashadze, Chairman of the United National Movement, Georgia’s largest opposition party, had to make clarifications after his statement on immediately moving “street processes” to the negotiating table stirred controversy both, within his party and the wider opposition. 

All of Georgia’s major opposition parties, rejecting the results of the October 31 parliamentary election and refusing to enter the parliament, held several street rallies since the election day, hoping to force the ruling Georgian Dream party to agree on a snap election.

Stressing the need for national consolidation amid “the existing economic, social, political, and demographic challenges” coupled with regional military escalation, Vashadze’s statement suggested political parties to “replace street with the tribune of all levels of legislative bodies.”

While reiterating the opposition’s earlier key demand for the resignation of the Central Election Commission Head Tamar Zhvania, Vashadze called to “recount disputed election precincts together with strategic [international] partners, which will give the opposition the majority in parliament and end the crisis in the country.”

The statement, apparently coming as a surprise even to other UNM leaders, angered both Vashadze’s party colleagues, as well as other opposition politicians.

“It is disappointing that the party chairman is making such statements without prior discussion [within the party],” UNM’s Khatia Dekanoidze noted, adding that she is not against negotiations, but they should only take place on terms shared by the whole opposition spectrum. 

Vashadze Adds Clarifications

In an attempt to address the controversy, Vashadze released another statement on his official Facebook page, underscoring his support for continuing street protests. He stressed that UNM would not participate in runoffs or enter the next parliament unless the negotiations are successfully completed. 

The additional statement seemed to satisfy most of the opposition leaders as well as UNM members. Former president Mikheil Saakashvili, the exiled leader who campaigned heavily for the UNM from Ukraine, endorsed the clarification, saying he is “in complete agreement” with the party Chairman.

Dekanoidze, who came second in Tbilisi’ Isani majoritarian constituency and is set to face GD candidate in the runoff, further clarified that the initial statement left room for various interpretations, including in relation to UNM’s taking up parliamentary mandates, while the later remarks gave it more clarity, particularly regarding continued protests.

European Georgia’s David Bakradze commented that “with the clarifications made, I think that the topic has been exhausted.”

Smaller Opposition Parties React

However,  European Georgia, together with three other opposition parties of Girchi, Lelo, and Strategy Agmashenebeli, – all of which scored around 3% of votes according to preliminary results – still released a separate statement, reiterating earlier pledges not to recognize the legitimacy of elections and to boycott the parliament and runoffs.

The joint statement noted that parties are going to continue peaceful protests, while negotiations need to be based on 3 common demands previously voiced by the opposition: repeat elections, replacement of the CEC administration, and release of “political prisoners.”

Diverging Stances within Opposition

Despite expressing satisfaction with Vashadze’s second statement, agreeing at least over the need for negotiations with the ruling party, along with continued peaceful protests, inconsistencies among the opposition’s stances still persist.

While Vashadze’s later statement introduced some conditionality with regard to UNM’s participation in the runoffs, other UNM members and opposition leaders have been assuring that their demand for repeat elections and refusal to take part in the runoffs are still in place.

The ruling party, on its part, has been unenthusiastically calling for talks with the opposition, with the involvement of foreign diplomats, showing, however, no signs to agree on either of the opposition’s three demands.

As things stand, the opposition has two more large-scale rallies scheduled, including the human chain on the day of runoffs on November 21.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)