The Republican Party will run independently in the parliamentary elections this May to, as it explained, maximize the overall opposition vote by targeting mainly moderate and undecided voters.
"With the proportional election system, the opposition will secure more votes with a broad front, rather than running on a joint ticket," Davit Usupashvili, the Republican Party leader, said at a news conference on February 29. "An independently running Republican Party will significantly contribute to our common goal and we are ready to perform this role worthily."
He also said that the Republican Party would continue to maintain close links with what is now an eight-party opposition coalition and other opposition groups to ensure genuinely free and fair elections.
The opposition coalition, meanwhile, said a few hours after the Republicans' announcement that they would run on a joint ticket with MP Levan Gachechiladze to lead the bloc.
“The National Council [the governing body of the coalition] will run in the parliamentary elections on a joint ticket with our [former] presidential candidate Levan Gachechiladze heading the bloc’s list [of MP candidates],” Koba Davitashvili, the leader of Party of People, said at a news conference also attended by other bloc leaders. “We believe that victory against illegality, violence and fraud is possible only through unity. We will soon set up our election campaign office and launch the election campaign. The slogan and goal of the United Public Movement remains unchanged: Georgia First and Foremost and Georgia without Saakashvili.”
The newly reconfigured coalition now includes: Conservative; Georgia’s Way; Freedom; On Our Own; the Georgian Troupe (Kartuli Dasi); Party of People; National Forum and the Movement for United Georgia (ex-Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili’s party). Two individual opposition politicians - MP Levan Gachechiladze and Giorgi Khaindrava, a former state minister for conflict resolution issues - are also members.
Leaders from the coalition were reluctant to comment on the Republican Party’s decision. MP Zviad Dzidziguri of the Conservative Party, however, did say that the Republican’s decision was “a serious mistake.”
“I think they made a mistake, a serious mistake. It was a mistake because the public wants to see a united opposition,” he told Civil.Ge.
The Republican Party, however, explained that what some saw as a split within the coalition was in fact an election tactic aimed at maximizing opposition votes.
“It is not a split, it is broadening of the opposition front against the authorities,” MP Levan Berdzenishvili of the Republican Party told Civil.Ge. “By doing so we are leaving limited room for the authorities to maneuver to attract various voter segments.”
He said that the party expected to attract not only its “traditional, devoted” voters, but also undecided voters and even some of those who voted for Mikheil Saakashvili in the January 5 presidential election. It is believed that some who voted for Saakashvili did so because the united opposition had failed to provide a convincing alternative.
The Republican Party, with moderate credentials and popular among intellectuals and many middle-class voters, is hoping to attract those voters scared off by perceived opposition radicalism and intransigence.
MP Berdzenishvili denied that the Republicans had quit the coalition because of disagreemen on the drafting of the bloc’s joint proportional list of MP candidates.
The Labor Party, led by Shalva Natelashvili, is also expected to run independently in the upcoming elections.
The New Rights Party has yet to decide. MP Mamuka Katsitadze of the New Rights Party said there were three options for the party: to run independently, to run with, as he put it, “old partners” – the Industrialist Party - or to join the opposition alliance.