The car of Georgia’s only opposition mayor was set on fire early on Wednesday morning. The mayor believes that the incident was a threat intended to intimidate him, and related to his work and political independence.
At around 03:30 on Wednesday, the car of Gia Kharchilava, the mayor of Tsalenjikha municipality in the Samegrelo Zemo-Svaneti Region of western Georgia, was set on fire. It was parked in front of his house, and, according to Kharchilava, had no technical faults.
Speaking to TV Formula, the opposition mayor said that traces of liquid were visible at the scene of the incident, which he said raises the suspicion that the car was burnt deliberately, as it suggested that petrol had been poured on the car.
'This is an act that directly […] contains threats. Tsalenjikha is the only municipality whose mayor is not under the ruling party’s thumb’, claimed Kharchilava. ‘This is an act directed against the self-government of [Tsalenjikha] town hall.’
‘It is a fact that they are very annoyed by my activities, reforms, approaches,' he said, but stated that ‘the mayor's office will not change its policy due to this incident’.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs told OC Media that an investigation had been launched for damage or destruction of property.
Holding Georgian Dream responsible
While the opposition has demanded an explanation, Georgian Dream has played down the incident.
Georgian Dream MP Rati Ionatamishvili said that ‘political speculation on this topic, from a political party that is famous for speculation, is not surprising to anyone’.
Kharchilava is a member of the United National Movement (UNM), Georgia’s largest opposition party.
‘If anyone is politically uninteresting, it is this person [Gia Kharchilava]. Therefore, it is very embarrassing to suggest any kind of political interest or revenge’, said Ionatamishvili.
Several opposition figures suggested the ruling party was responsible for or complicit in the case, and demanded that it be investigated immediately.
Mamuka Khazaradze, leader of the opposition party Lelo, wrote on Facebook that ‘the goal is to intimidate him, [but] nothing will come of it! Reforms will continue!’
Speaking to journalists, Giorgi Vashadze, chair of opposition party Strategy Aghmashenebeli, said that ‘we are dealing with an alleged terrorist attack’.
‘If the culprit is not arrested today, it means that the pro-Russian Georgian Dream is behind it’, added Vashadze.
UNM MP Ana Tsitlidze said at a briefing held in parliament that ‘if this is not investigated in the near future, we will assume that the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the government are involved in this incident.’
In the municipal elections on 2 October 2021, neither Kharchilava nor his rival from the ruling party received a clear majority of votes. A second round of elections was held on 30 October, in which Kharchilava received 51% of the vote, while Georgian Dream’s Goga Gulordava received 49%.