The legal defence team of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has announced that he plans to retire from Georgian politics in order to prioritise his health.
Following the statements, Nika Melia, Chair of the United National Movement (UNM), the country’s largest opposition party which was founded by Saakashvili, said that the message was ‘already damaging for [the party] and the entire opposition spectrum’.
Despite having left Georgia in 2013 and renounced his Georgian citizenship to become a Ukrainian official in 2015, Saakashvili has remained perhaps the most influential opposition figure in Georgia, including in the UNM .
Saakashvili was imprisoned in October 2021, after he snuck into Georgia aboard a cargo ship. Since then, his health has been the subject of speculation among his supporters and critics, and in May, he was moved to a civilian hospital to recover from a hunger strike.
He is currently serving a 6-year sentence for abuse of office and faces several other charges relating to his time in power.
[Read more on OC Media: The 2007 crackdown — Saakashvili’s greatest mistake?]
‘He quit Georgian politics’
In a 31 July interview with RFE/RL, one of Saakashvili’s lawyers, Valeri Gelbakhiani, cited Saakashvili saying that he had lost interest in both the UNM and Georgian politics, as he was ‘fully focused on recovering his health’.
‘He said that only in the event his health is recovered, something that needs a long period of time, and if he returns to politics, [he will return] only and exclusively in Ukraine, and absolutely not in Georgia’.
Gelbakhiani also claimed Saakashvili had not consulted with his party about his decision and did not plan to do so.
Another lawyer from his team, Shalva Khachapuridze, alleged the same later that day.
‘He insists that he has quit Georgian politics and also left his party and that he doesn't want anything to do with Georgian politics’, Kachapuridze told TV channel Pirveli on Sunday.
Nika Melia and other UNM leaders dismissed the possibility of Saakashvili’s ‘departure’. Melia openly described it as a legal or political ‘strategy’ employed by his lawyers.
Melia referred to a possible line of defence for Saakashvili that would signal his willingness to leave Georgia due to his health condition in exchange for his freedom or postponement of sentencing.
Members of the ruling Georgian Dream party, who largely agreed that it was a ploy, quickly ruled out this possibility.
Claims of his retirement were also echoed by his son, Eduard Saakashvili, who on 27 July described his father’s future in Georgian politics as ‘unclear’.
‘I feel like there's a widespread public interest in my father’s health, but I [also] note […] that for many, my father is not a leader of the future’, he said.
‘I think he himself acknowledges that his active political career can have a future there [in Ukraine].’