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New UNM leader vows party will leave parliament if Saakashvili is freed

1 February 2023
Screenshot from Rustavi 2

The new chair of the United National Movement (UNM), Georgia’s largest opposition party, announced on Tuesday that his party was ready to leave parliament and city councils in exchange for the release of imprisoned former president Mikheil Saakashvili. 

Levan Khabeishvili became party chair on 30 January, having campaigned on the promise to free the party’s founder and former Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili. He defeated Nika Melia, the party’s previous chair, who was seen as having made insufficient effort to free Saakashvili. 

[Read more on OC Media: UNM elects new leader following criticism for failing to free Saakashvili]

In addition to leaving Georgia’s legislative bodies, Khabeishvili offered to transfer ownership of the UNM’s headquarters to former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who, despite having formally retired from politics, is widely referred to as Georgia’s ‘informal ruler’. He said that the UNM would then ‘start fighting for Georgia from scratch’.

Earlier on Tuesday, the former chair of the UNM’s political council, Koba Nakopia, stated that the UNM should leave parliament in any case. 

Speaking to TV Mtavari, Nakopia said that he had always been in favour of not entering parliament, suggesting that party members ‘exit after entering’. 

‘I don’t see the function of the party in the parliament today, what is the National Movement doing in the parliament today? It would be much more effective for the [party’s] struggle and future too if the UNM were to leave parliament’, said Nakopia. 

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He suggested that a decision should be taken by the UNM’s political council at their meeting in March. 

But, speaking to journalists, Khabeishvili noted that unless Saakashvili was released, he was not interested in people’s opinions regarding the party’s presence in parliament.

Members of both the UNM and the ruling Georgian Dream party have mostly kept silent regarding Khabeishvili’s proposition. 

Khatia Dekanoidze, the leader of the UNM-led Power in Unity faction in parliament, stepped down shortly after Khabeishvili’s statement, saying she had not been informed about it in advance and that it should have been discussed within the party beforehand.

Dekanoidze also called for ‘everyone to stop speculating about Mikheil Saakashvili’s health’. 

Mikheil Sarjveladze, a member of the ruling Georgian Dream party and the chair of the parliament’s human rights committee, described Khabeishvili’s proposal as ‘comical’ and ‘frivolous’.

‘Maybe he doesn’t understand that release from prison is a strictly legal issue and can’t be a subject of political agreement. When Khabeishvili makes such an offer, he must be well aware of what he’s offering’, Sarjveladze said.

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