It was a surprise when nine-party opposition coalition nominated a 43-year-old independent lawmaker, Levan Gachechiladze, as its presidential candidate. He was a compromise candidate selected through ballot within the coalition.
Gachechiladze, one of the founders of the Georgian Wines and Spirits company, has been a lawmaker since 1999, when he was elected to Parliament on the then ruling party Citizen’s Union of Georgia’s party-list. At that time Gachechiladze was coordinating an election campaign of Mikheil Saakashvili, who now runs for re-election in the January 5 polls. Back in 1999 Saakashvili, who also was the member of then ruling party, was running in one of Tbilisi’s single-mandate constituency, Vake, and Gachechiladze was head of his election campaign.
In 2001 along with some other lawmakers, he split with ex-President Shevardnadze’s party and formed the opposition New Rights Party, led by Gachechelidze’s old-time friend, Davit Gamkrelidze. Like Saakashvili, Gamkrelidze is also Gachechelidze’s rival in the upcoming elections.
In late 2003 Gachechiladze, however, quit the New Rights Party because of a refusal by other party leaders to support the Rose Revolution, led by Mikheil Saakashvili.
In 2004 parliamentary elections he was elected lawmaker after running in the Tbilisi’s Vake single-mandate constituency.
Gachechiladze had kept a low profile since then. He only became an active political figure in late September when the opposition coalition launched anti-governmental demonstrations. He joined the bloc as an independent lawmaker.
Gachechiladze was the one who on November 3 announced at a protest rally that the coalition was demanding President Saakashvili’s resignation. “We have added a historic demand to already existing ones,” he told thousands of protesters. “We should say goodbye to Mikheil Saakashvili.” When he finished his speech he was about to leave the podium when uttered swearing, using words which are traditionally extremely insulting for a man in Georgia, in address of Saakashvili.
Gachechiladze also was the first who announced a hunger strike on November 5 and in early hours of November 7 he was briefly hospitalized after being beaten up when the police broke up a small group of protesters outside the Parliament.
On December 7 he said that he would sell shares in the GWS to fund his election campaign. He sold his 10% shares into the company for for undisclosed sum on December 19.
Gachechiladze is running an election campaign under the banner of scrapping the presidency and creating a parliamentary system, with a constitutional monarchy as a possible option.
He outlined major principles of his program on December 3. The document, however, is not a detailed one. Gachechiladze said he planned to present a comprehensive program – 200 steps, or 200 days – outlining his plan in detail soon. “[Program will outline] what I intend to do as the last president of this country,” he said.
During his campaign he makes major focus the November 7 events trying to capitalize on the authorities’ highly unpopular step to break up demonstrations and to shut down Imedi TV in a police raid. About ten-second TV ads of Levan Gachechiladze, the presidential candidate backed by the nine-party opposition coalition, features photos showing police breaking up anti-governmental demonstration on November 7.