Georgia’s largest opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), has formed an election alliance with Giorgi Vashadze’s Strategy Aghmashenebeli party.
On Thursday, the two parties held a joint event at which they announced the launch of the ‘Platform of Victory’.
The UNM is Georgia’s largest opposition party, and was in power between 2003 and 2012. Strategy Aghmashenebeli was founded in 2016 by Giorgi Vashadze, a former UNM MP who headed public services reform under President Mikheil Saakashvili.
The alliance is part of a broader effort by the UNM, so far unsuccessful, to rally the opposition around a joint movement.
In his speech at the event, UNM chair Levan Khabeishvili accused the Georgian government of putting Georgia on a course of ‘Putinisation’.
‘Against the backdrop of this Russian government, economic hardship, and social problems, the popular demand is for unity. This is the only thing people say: “We will defeat the Russian party only through unity!” ’, said Khabeishvili, referring to the ruling Georgian Dream party.
The announcement came 15 months ahead of parliamentary elections in Georgia, the country’s first under a fully proportional system. The ruling party are aiming to secure their fourth consecutive victory since coming to power in 2012.
The alliance was announced after months of speculation from the ruling party that London-based former defence minister Davit Kezerashvili, currently wanted in Georgia on charges of embezzlement, sought to consolidate liberal opposition parties after backing the new UNM chair Levan Khabeishvili.
However, other opposition parties, including Girchi — More Freedom and Droa, both of which recently issued joint statements and held joint events with Strategy Aghmashenebeli, indicated they had no plans to join the alliance.
After ousting Nika Melia as UNM chair, Levan Khabeishvili has been under pressure both within his party and more widely for not delivering on his promise to free imprisoned ex-president and party founder Mikheil Saakashvili through street protests and external pressure on the government.
Saakashvili has been undergoing treatment in a Tbilisi hospital since May 2022, while unsuccessfully campaigning to be transferred abroad for treatment. In the past month, Khabeishvili has focused on lowering the retirement age for men to 60, and finding parties to ally with in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Following the event, Saakashvili welcomed the union. While he had previously stated that he was abstaining from involvement in Georgian politics, the former president recently announced that he was returning to the field.
Vying for position
Centre-right pro-Western parties founded in Georgia in recent years have struggled to shape their political brands and win the hearts of voters amidst accusations from the government that they lacked independence from the UNM.
Strategy Aghmashenebeli could benefit from allying with the larger party as, like other smaller parties, it faces the issue of overcoming the 5% electoral threshold for entering parliament. In 2020, the ruling party promised to lower the threshold to 2%, but later backtracked on the promise.
In the last parliamentary elections, Vashadze’s Strategy Aghmashenebeli ran independently, securing 3% of votes, while the UNM-led alliance Strength in Unity received 27%.
In an NDI poll conducted in March, 61% of respondents stated that no Georgian parties represented their interests.
Georgia’s current electoral system also bars political parties from forming pre-election coalitions, effectively pushing Platform of Victory or any other future alliances to come up with a joint electoral list as one political entity.
With Strategy Aghmashenebeli announcing closer ties to the UNM, other opposition groups are expected to enter more intense rivalry to position themselves as leaders of an alternative to the two main parties, in an intensely polarised political field.
These may include Lelo, founded by banker Mamuka Khazaradze in 2019, and For Georgia, a party launched by former Georgian PM Giorgi Gakharia two years later.