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Dozens of UNM council members leave party in opposition to current chair

6 December 2023
The United National Movement’s headquarters in Batumi. OC Media.

Around 60 United National Movement (UNM) regional councillors and senior members have formally left Georgia’s largest opposition group, with some saying that they would join the party’s former chair, Nika Melia, if he launched his own party.

Several city councillors and members of the UNM in Khobi, Batumi, Zugdidi, and Chiatura have left the party this week as tensions between Melia and Levan Khabeishvili, the current chair of the party, come to a head.

On Wednesday, 10 out of 11 UNM Khobi City Council members left the party along with 30 other members from the region, constituting a majority of the UNM’s members in Khobi.

Ia Jishkariani, one of the councillors who left the party in Khobi, announced that their faction would not give up their mandates, and would work with Nika Melia, the former chair of the UNM.

On 26 November, UNM chair Levan Khabeishvili announced that Melia was ‘no longer’ a member of the party. Melia has not made any formal announcements regarding his departure from the opposition group.

[Read on OC Media: Former UNM chair Nika Melia ‘no longer’ a member of the party]

On Tuesday, the UNM’s Zugdidi branch lost 14 out of 22 sitting councillors, with all five UNM councillors serving in Chiatura’s City Council also leaving on the same day.

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Gogi Chikviladze, the former chair of the UNM faction in the Chiatura City Council, stated after leaving the party that Khabeishvili had failed to ‘unite the party’.

‘If there is no other way, it is better to leave this situation and fight against the existing regime from another platform’, he said.

The former UNM members of both the Zugdidi and Chiatura city councils also announced that they would remain in the council.

A day earlier, Batumelebi reported that seven out of 13 UNM members serving on the Batumi City Council left the party, along with Giorgi Kirtadze, a member of the Adjara Supreme Council.

Kirtadze stressed that the party must remain loyal to the ideals of the Rose Revolution, which thrust the party, then led by Mikheil Saakashvili,  into power.

‘We are going to continue the fight against the oligarchic regime’, said Kirtadze, referring to the ruling Georgian Dream party and its founder, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.

The Adjara Supreme Council member also hailed Melia as the most prominent figure in Georgia’s pro-Western opposition spectrum.

In late November, a number of city councillors from across Georgia called on Khabeishvili to resign as chair.

Darejan Tskhvitaria, the chair of the UNM faction in the Poti City Council, was among those who called for Khabeishvili’s resignation. She was fired from her position by the UNM on 1 December for ‘not participating’ in the council’s activities.

‘The current management of the party is fully responsible for the current crisis situation, deepening of conflicts and numerous accumulated problems’, she wrote on Facebook.

On Tuesday, Ana Tsitlidze, an MP from the UNM, criticised the Zugdidi and Chiatura councillors for not giving up their posts after leaving the party.

‘Now they say that they have left, but they are not leaving their positions and mandates. If you are leaving Saakashvili’s party, then you must also leave the mandate that you received with [his] votes’, she said.

Members of the party have been embroiled in an internal power struggle since Khabeishvili unseated Melia as chair at the beginning of the year.

Speculation has circulated in the months following regarding whether Melia would leave the UNM and launch his own party.

On Tuesday, Mikheil  Saakashvili, the party’s founder and currently imprisoned former president, posted on Facebook saying that he was not ‘interested in internal intrigues’. 

‘Perhaps the United National Movement should have followed this path, and I am sure that it will come out of these processes stronger and better this year’, stated Saakashvili.