Shalva Natelashvili, founder and unchallenged and flamboyant leader of the opposition Labor Party, is Georgia’s veteran oppositionary politician.
While some try to portray Natelashvili as a leader of “unserious” political force, leaders from other opposition parties always show cooperative stance towards him. Some analysts say that the reason is Natelashvili’s stable support among voters, which might be enough to clear 5% threshold to gain seats in the Parliament.
Born in Dusheti, northern mountainous district, Shalva Natelashvili, who will turn 50 in February, graduated law faculty at the Tbilisi State University and continued post-graduated study in the Diplomatic Academy of Foreign Ministry of the Soviet Union.
After working in the General Prosecutor’s Office he became MP in 1992 and remained in the Parliament till 1999. He was among group of MPs who participated in development of Georgia’s Constitution. In 1995 he founded Labor Party, which gradually turned into Eduard Shevardnadze’s major opposition force. Natelashvili claimed that Shevardnadze and “his protégés Mikheil Saakashvili and Zurab Zhvania” barred his party to gain seats in the Parliament through rigging the vote in 1999.
Labor Party’s major success up to now is a victory in 2002 local elections, when Natelashvili’s party gained most of the seats in the Tbilisi City Council – Sakrebulo. But Natelashvili made a surprise move and after a backstage deal he declared that he would not run for the Sakrebulo chairmanship himself and offered Mikheil Saakashvili, then leader of the opposition National Movement party (which was second in polls) to become Chairman of the Tbilisi Sakrebulo. This decision of the Labor Party leader triggered speculations that Natelashvili is a politician who refrains from lot of responsibility.
Garnering 12,5% in November, 2003 parliament elections was yet another success of the Labor Party, but as the these elections were declared as fraudulent and results annulled, the Party failed to gain seats in the Parliament. Currently the Labor Party has one representative in the Parliament – MP from Dusheti single-mandate constituency Temur Dolishvili.
The Labor Party condemned the Rose Revolution following the November, 2003 elections – a decision which became a major blow for the party against the background of popular support towards the Rose Revolution among voters. As a result dozens of party activists withdrew their membership from the party, protesting against Natelashvili’s anti-revolutionary stance and the party failed to clear 7% threshold in the March, 2004 repeat parliamentary elections. But in following years Shalva Natelashvili, like other opposition leaders could regain certain level of support again.
In late September, 2007 Natelashvili’s party jointed nine other political groups and formed a nine-party opposition coalition, which was running anti-governmental demonstrations.
Natelashvili, following the November 7 events, had faced charges of espionage and conspiracy to overthrow the government.
Before stepping down as President, Mikheil Saakashvili, however, said on November 10 that Natelashvili would not be arrested and he could freely run for the presidency. On the same day, the General Prosecutor’s Office, having previously said the Labor leader would be charged, softened its stance, saying investigators only wanted to question Natelashvili as a witness. He was, they said, no longer a suspect. Natelashvili subsequently came out of hiding and announced his intention to run for the presidency, which automatically put him at odds with his political partners from the opposition coalition, which nominated MP Levan Gachechiladze for presidency.
Natelashvili said later when commenting on this controversy: “I can not rely on anyone, except of myself, when the Georgian President’s position matters.”
Natelashvili’s election campaign is based on his party’s strong socialist stance supporting free health care, education and social services. The Labor Party advocates nationalization of, what it, the strategically important facilities. It, however, also says that the party is not against of privatization in general.
Natelashvili has promised free gas and electricity for consumers in the event of winning in the January 5 early polls. He said businesses would pay consumers' gas and electricity bills for the next three years and in exchange they would receive tax breaks. He has also pledged to compensate those who had financially lost out with the collapse of the Soviet-era banking system. Natelashvili said he was in favor of constitutional monarchy.