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Saakashvili’s party today: United National Movement almost about to decay

Georgia’s United National Movement (UNM) opposition party is on the verge of big changes. Suffering a crushing defeat at the parliamentary elections of 2012, UNM had looked like a strong, monolith political force for a while. Yet not so long ago, they explained loss of rank-and-file members and functionaries of the party with filtration of political groupies, social climbers, careerists. What is happening inside the party now is almost a decay. The committed core of the party is splitting. Perhaps, UNM’s failures started after its founder and leader, ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili ran away from Georgia to avoid a series of criminal cases the country’s leadership initiated against him. After being granted Ukrainian citizenship, Saakashvili has been deprived of his right to participate in the political life in Georgia.

In this light, someone was needed to replace that charismatic, through criminal, politician in Georgia. Former secretary of Georgia’s Security Council, a grey figure Giga Bokeria and ex-speaker of the parliament, one of the party leaders David Bakradze have undertaken that role. Meantime, Saakashvili appears to be unhappy with that undertaking, since he sought to manage the United National Movement Party while on the chair of Odessa governor.

Nevertheless, Saakashvili has actually underestimated his teammates or overestimated their loyalty. Besides, the runaway ex-president recommended the party having no chance to victory not to run for parliament for a second term to accuse his rivals, the ruling Party Georgian Dream, of election rigging and “stolen” victory.

The new leaders, in turn, acted on the principle “out of sight, out of mind.” Implementing Saakashvili’s instructions would result in a loss of seats in the parliament. Only the Akhalaia family clan has remained loyal to Mikheil Saakashvili. Meantime, many “Mishists” (Saakhshvili’s supporters) considered them criminals. With the split of the former ruling party of Georgia, Saakashvili blamed the ex-prime minister and informal leader of the ruling Party Georgian Dream of regaining all his former friends.

Passions ran high again with the plans of Bokeria-Bakradze group to dismiss Nika Melia, the head of the opposition parliamentary faction United National Movement, who remained loyal to the ex-president. All TV channels broadcasted a video footage of how leading UNM party insiders, Akakiy Bobokhidze, Yelena Khoshtaria and Sergo Ratiani, were driving Nika Melia out of his office and the latter was publicly slamming them for blindly obeying Giga Bokeria.

They planned to replace Nika Melia by January 20, when the UNM Congress shall convene for its regular session. A fresh topic emerged in that red-hot political campaign when Gigi Ugulava, the former mayor of Tbilisi, was released from prison. He was not granted amnesty. The Court of Appeals re-qualified the misappropriation charges and found him guilty of exceeding official powers. This shortened his sentence from 4.5 years to about 1.5 year, which has had already served. As a result, the former mayor is at large now and has entered the political campaign with a clear conscience.

It is at the request of Ugulava that the session that would dismiss Nika Melia has been postponed for a few days. However, Nika Melia cherishes no illusions. “Gigi Ugulava is not an honest broker. He is a member of Gigi Bokeria’s team,” he says.

Gigi Ugulava, in turn, made a series of ridiculous statements. “Unfortunately, here in Georgia we have political prisoners, and our task is their release from prison. If my release was the beginning of that process, it is very good. Yet, there is still much to do, and I would like everyone to understand that as long as there are political prisoners in our country our policy will be radical and there will be severe confrontation. And the government will be responsible for all this,” the former mayor of Tbilisi said.

Actually, evil tongues link Ugulava’s sudden release with the recent visit by U.S. Senator McCain and his delegation to Georgia, but these are just personal opinions.

Meantime, it is quite strange to hear calls for release of political prisoners from a person who together with his political party has ensured the highest number of prisoners for Georgia when he was in power. Furthermore, he openly threatens with radical and strong confrontation blaming the government of Georgia for everything. Ugulava’s political amnesty suggests that it is necessary “to turn over a new leaf,” to forget that someone was a criminal and had victims. Yet, his victims will hardly like that idea.

Gigi Ugulava is sure that the president must grant amnesty to political prisoners if the parliament fails to do it. “It is time to put forgiveness above the law. The president should do it. This is not a time for judging who are guilty,” he said.

When in power, Ugulava and his team put everything, their interests, wishes and ideas, above the law. They cannot even imagine that the law can be above everything. Ugulava is a kind of crisis manager, who is ready to meet with Mikheil Saakashvili, to talk to him and others to align positions and get out of the crisis.

“I see that the old platforms of relations cannot be restored, but we must try to find a common platform for relations for the future. We need a political will to overcome estrangement, to speak about our problems and do it frankly,” Ugulava said.

In short, criminals need to improve their methods of work, regroup, and the functionaries need to change their positions, to talk to each other and come to an arrangement again.

"And you, my friends, no matter your positions, Will never be musicians!" - The quote is from Ivan Krylov's fable “The Quartet.”

Irakli Chkheidze (Tbilisi) for EADaily

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