‘See you in Tbilisi!’:  Saakashvili sets the stage for election night confrontation

28 September 2021
Mikheil Saakashvili in front of the Georgian Parliament in April 2013. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

Nearly 8 years after fleeing the country, former President Mikheil Saakashvili has vowed to fly back on the night of local elections, claiming that ‘Georgia’s fate is at stake’. 

Saakashvili made the promise in a video address on Facebook on Monday evening, accompanied with an image of a flight ticket from Kyiv to Tbilisi.

Government figures including Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili vowed to apprehend Saakashvili if he arrives in Georgia. Saakashvili has been convicted in absentia on several counts of abuse of power in Georgia, including ordering an attack on political opponent Valeri Gelashvili and illegally promising a pardon law enforcement officers implicated in a 2006 murder of Sandro Girgvliani.

Gharibashvili, as well as Georgian Dream General Secretary Kakha Kaladze, also indicated that he should expect to be met by many people unhappy with his rule if he were to come.

The ticket Saakashvili published on Facebook.

Government leaders mostly met Saakashvili’s announcement ironically. Saakashvili has repeatedly promised to return to Georgia since leaving the country, but has never done so.

Saakashvili’s ticket indicates he is due to arrive at 23:05 on 2 October, hours after polls close in Georgia’s local elections.

The vote has been seen as a referendum on Georgian Dream’s rule after the party promised to call early parliamentary elections if they win less than 43% of votes. 

While the party later backtracked on the promise, most opposition groups still refer to the 2 October vote as a referendum on the issue.

Like his allies and critics in the opposition, Saakashvili also referred to 2 October as a ‘historic referendum’ and made clear that he intended to be at the centre of anti-government protests over any election fraud. 

‘After the polling precincts close, we all have to come out in the centres of our villages and towns and defend our victory together’, Saakashvili said, calling on everyone to vote. 

‘See you in Tbilisi’, Saakashvili said to conclude his address.

Since Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) lost power in 2012 parliamentary elections, Georgian Dream have actively portrayed Saakashvili as their main rival and a ‘danger to the country’. 

This included an ongoing campaign in Tbilisi against Nika Melia, the new chair of the UNM, who is seeking to prevent Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze’s reelection. 

[Read more on OC Media: Bloodstain election billboards replace pro-vaccination ads in Georgia]

Saakashvili currently holds Ukrainian citizenship, his Georgian citizenship having been stripped of him, and chairs Ukraine’s National Reforms Council.

After being appointed Governor of Odesa in 2015, Saakashvili has had a tumultuous political career in Ukraine. In September 2017, after being left stateless following the cancellation of his Ukrainian citizenship, Saakashvili forcefully entered Ukraine aided by supporters — despite border guards attempting to prevent him.

Saakashvili arrived by train from Poland despite Ukrainian authorities attempting to prevent him. Photo: UNIAN.

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