The opposition For Georgia party, led by former Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, has submitted a complaint to Georgia’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office demanding an investigation into repeated claims that Gakharia, who is the party chair, is a drug addict.
According to For Georgia, ruling Georgian Dream party chair Irakli Kobakhidze, who has repeatedly accused Gakharia of being addicted to cocaine, either failed to report a crime to the authorities or has been falsely reporting a crime — both contraventions of Georgia’s criminal code.
The controversy began after Kakha Kaladze, General Secretary of Georgian Dream and Mayor of Tbilisi running for reelection, announced on 6 September that he successfully passed a drug test and called on all candidates to do the same.
Neither mayoral contenders nor those running for municipal council seats are mandated to pass a drug test.
Candidates challenging each other in a voluntary drug screening has also been relatively rare in electoral races, including during the 2016 mayoral run when Kaladze did not get tested for drug use nor called on rivals to do the same.
Giorgi Gakharia has accused Kakha Kaladze of seeking a distraction after challenging the Georgian Dream mayoral incumbent to a one-on-one debate earlier in September, a format that Kaladze has rejected.
‘No one accused Gakharia’
After being confronted by Gakharia during the televised multi-candidate debate on 21 September, Kakha Kaladze denied that allegations of Gakharia’s drug use were coming from him.
‘No one said that Giorgi Gakharia was a drug addict’, Kaladze quipped.
Two days previously, Georgian Dream chair and Kaladze’s campaign manager Irakli Kobakhidze repeated the claim that Gakharia had a ‘cocaine problem’. He had previously called Gakharia a ‘cokehead’.
Gakharia announced on 18 September that he had paused campaigning for a day to receive a drug test at the Rudolfinerhaus private clinic in Vienna. He said the test came back negative, and he posted an image of the scanned test result dated to 16 September.
Georgian Dream and pro-government media, however, did not back down. On 24 September, Kobakhidze claimed he knew the identity of the ‘woman’ who allegedly supplied Gakharia with cocaine, and that she was running for Tbilisi City Council as a For Georgia candidate.
The same day, women members of For Georgia started using the hashtag ‘I am that woman’ (#ისქალიმევარ) on Facebook as an ironic response to Kobakhidze’s claim.
Georgian TV channel Imedi went as far as going to Vienna and unsuccessfully attempting an impromptu interview with a medical worker who supposedly carried out the drug test on Gakharia.
Once a friend, now an enemy
Giorgi Gakharia and Kakha Kaladze once belonged to the top echelon of Georgian Dream, serving as Prime Minister and Mayor of Tbilisi, respectively, until Gakharia abruptly resigned in February as Prime Minister.
Gakharia caught up with Kakha Kaladze last year as one of the most popular public figures in Georgia, and both have retained these top positions in the polls since.
In recent municipal election polls, however, Gakharia appears to be trailing behind both Kakha Kaladze and a potential runner-up, the United National Movement’s Nika Melia.
Unlike his three predecessors, including incumbent Irakli Gharibashvili (2013-2015; 2021-), Giorgi Gakharia was the only prime minister under Georgian Dream to immediately criticise his party after his resignation.
After Gakharia announced that he planned to start his own party, Georgian Dream leaders have poured scorn on him, accusing him of seeking to overthrow the government, of secretly allying with the former ruling United National Movement party, and suggesting he was behind the recent massive leak of state security files.