In Georgia, Saakashvili’s shadow hangs over local elections



Did Mikhail Saakashvili lose his bet? Returning clandestinely to his country on the eve of the local elections, the former Georgian president failed at the beginning of October to trigger a popular uproar against the power in place. However, he managed to astonish the authorities, who initially denied his return to the country, then, after his arrest, to turn into a thorn in the side of an increasingly contested power.

Figure of the 2003 revolution, president at the helm during the disastrous military defeat against Russia in 2008, angry politician exiled to Ukraine and sentenced in absentia to six years in prison after his departure from power, Mikhail Saakashvili “Is very popular with one part of society, but very controversial with another”, recognizes Elene Khoshtaria, opposition MP.

On hunger strike and at the heart of the debate

In any case, he has managed to place himself at the heart of the political debate, while voters in the capital, Tbilisi, as well as 19 other cities in the country are called to the polls on Saturday, October 30 for the second round of local elections. The politician remains imprisoned today and has started a hunger strike since his arrest which, according to his medical team, has already seriously degraded his health.

His entourage is now demanding the transfer of Mikhail Saakashvili to a private clinic. End of disallowance of the authorities, for whom the president must now serve six years in prison for abuse of power and, undoubtedly, to appear again in front of justice for his clandestine crossing as much as incredible of the border. “Everyone understands that this is political persecution”, assures Elene Khoshtaria, for whom an opposition victory in local elections could accelerate the release of the former president.

Nothing is less certain, as the man has for several years been vilified by the government of Salomé Zourabishvili, elected in 2018. But the local election remains crucial for the opposition “Because this is the first time that the ruling party ‘Georgian Dream’ can lose big cities across the country, and it would be the first time since taking office that they have clearly started losing elections”, explains Olesya Vartanyan, South Caucasus specialist at the International Crisis Group.

An unexpected return

“Even if that does not happen, the conduct of the elections shows that ‘Georgian Dream’ has more and more difficulty in winning the ballots”, she adds. While the UNM, the main opposition party, managed to win 31% of the vote in the local elections on October 2, the ruling party remained in the lead with around 46% of the vote. He could nevertheless, according to a poll published a few days before the second round of October 30, lose 4 major cities and only narrowly win the capital Tbilisi.

→ READ. Saakashvili, scratching hair of Ukrainian power

After nearly a year of political crisis, triggered in October 2020 by legislative elections denounced by the opposition as tainted with fraud, Mikhail Saakashvili’s return has in any case taken the entire political spectrum by surprise. “ His main problem is that with the time he spent abroad, he lost a lot of his contacts with the opposition as well as with the population ”, Judge Olesya Vartanyan. “But what I hear in the political class is that it will be difficult to keep him in prison, he is just too important. “

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