In an online Facebook poll closed on 26 December, members of the United National Movement (UNM), Georgia’s ruling party from 2003 to 2012, have overwhelmingly voted for Nikanor (Nika) Melia as their new Chair.
In his Facebook video address on 24 December, Nika Melia stressed the importance of reaching out to voters beyond their guaranteed base of supporters.
Giving credit to the party founder and third Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, he insisted that the support UNM had so far retained due to Saakashvili’s achievements and his ‘uniqueness’ was not enough anymore.
‘There are people […] who don’t want Georgian Dream anymore […] but are not ready yet to vote for UNM. If we don’t make the right diagnosis […] we won’t achieve a result’, Melia said.
UNM elected Nika Melia as their new Chair as the party’s boycott of Georgia’s new parliament continues — they are demanding snap elections, having called the previous vote ‘rigged’. The Strength in Unity coalition bloc, led by UNM, abolished their entire electoral list and declined all 36 parliamentary mandates they had garnered.
According to official results that came after the parliamentary vote on 31 October, Nika Melia was the only opposition candidate among majoritarian constituencies who defeated a Georgian Dream candidate, though felt short of reaching the 50% threshold to avoid second round voting. Melia, like all other 16 opposition candidates, boycotted the second round of voting in November.
Tbilisi’s Gldani district, in which Melia ran, was among several locations wracked by political violence during the 31 October election, which included attacks on journalists.
In the run-up to the election UNM named Mikheil Saakashvili as their prime-ministerial candidate. The former Georgian President is wanted for several counts of power abuse. He currently has Ukrainian citizenship and chairs Ukraine’s National Reforms Council. Meanwhile, Georgian Dream has been mulling a draft law that threatens any political party with an election ban if their ‘leader’ is not a Georgian citizen.
The Saakashvili factor
Less than two weeks before Nika Melia’s chairmanship, his embattled predecessor Grigol Vashadze announced his resignation and retirement from politics citing disagreements with the party leadership.
After Vashadze’s departure on 15 December, Nika Melia, in line with comments made by Saakashvili, reiterated his criticism of the diplomatic corps in Tbilisi over their suggestion to endorse their parliamentary mandates — criticism which Vashadze had called ‘unacceptable’.
Melia has also had his differences with Saakashvili. This included Melia accusing the former UNM chair, without naming him directly, of making ‘reckless’ statements after Saakashvili called for nation-wide protests following a projected loss of his Dutch-born wife Sandra Roelofs in a mayoral race in the city of Zugdidi in 2019.
The only competitor Nika Melia faced in a race for party Chair position was Levan Varshalomidze, the former leader of Georgia’s Autonomous Republic of Adjara and formerly a part of Saakashvili’s group of reformers in Ukraine.
A source in UNM confirmed to OC Media on condition of anonymity that supporters of Varshalomidze warned UNM members that voting for Nika Melia meant ‘voting against Misha’.
Convicted for abuse of power
Nika Melia became UNM’s mayoral candidate in Tbilisi in 2014 after an investigation was launched the previous year for abuse of power for actions he allegedly undertook while he headed Georgia’s National Bureau of Enforcement in 2012.
Last year, the Georgian Dream-dominated parliament stripped Melia of his parliamentary immunity and gave the green light to an investigation into Melia allegedly ‘leading and participating in group violence’ during protests from 20 - 21 June, 2019.
[Read more: Thousands clash with police as protesters try to storm Georgian Parliament]
Several months later, the Georgian authorities terminated Melia’s parliamentary mandate entirely, citing a recent Tbilisi City Court ruling that had found him guilty of abuse of power, five years after the initial investigation began
On 1 November, in Tbilisi, during an opposition demonstration calling for new elections, Melia removed and threw away his wrist electronic monitoring device in front of the gathered crowd after wearing it for 16 months. Prosecutors were quick to seek remand him on a ₾100,000 bond through court appeal, despite that the fact that Melia was still a parliamentary candidate and that a prosecutorial appeal obliged them to seek permission from electoral authorities.