After defeat in 2012 parliamentary elections, the United National Movement (UNM) managed to survive and become a “competent opposition force”, but failed to “renew” itself to win back public’s confidence, MP Zurab Japaridze, a former senior UNM lawmaker, said in a statement explaining reasons behind his and three other colleagues’ decision to quit the opposition party.
MP Japaridze, who went into politics ahead of the 2012 parliamentary elections, became one of the leading members of the UNM and was promoted as party’s executive secretary in September 2014, replacing old-time UNM member Mikheil Machavariani.
Three other MPs who announced about quitting UNM on May 25 are: Pavle Kublashvili, who was chairman of parliamentary committee on legal affairs in the previous parliament when UNM was in power; Goga Khachidze, who held various government posts during Mikheil Saakashvili’s presidency and who wrote a song ‘Misha is Cool’ for Saakashvili’s 2008 presidential campaign, and Giorgi Meladze.
More than a dozen MPs have left the former ruling UNM party since the 2012 parliamentary elections, but this is the first time when its high-profile members quit.
In a written statement on May 27, MP Japaridze said they plan “to establish a new, open political center, to attract and engage in political process professionals”. According to Japaridze they now have consultations with unspecified individuals, but no talks are currently underway with any of the political groups on future cooperation.
“We see a real threat of openly or actually pro-Russian forces winning majority in the next parliamentary elections,” MP Japaridze said in a written statement. “Only the United National Movement, the opposition party which withstood unimaginable pressure from oligarch’s [referring to ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili] puppet government and which survived and continues struggle, had a chance to change this reality.”
“UNM has passed two important tests: 1. Peacefully transferred power to a political force [Georgian Dream coalition], which has won in democratic elections, and 2. UNM has not been disintegrated, it survived and became a strong, competent opposition force,” reads the statement.
“Survival of a political force is important, but not sufficient for achieving a goal,” it says.
“Complete renewal and openness of a political force is required for achieving a victory. That’s the only precondition for winning back public confidence.”
“Taking responsibility for a defeat and renewal of a political movement is an established practice in developed democratic countries,” reads the statement. Mikheil Saakashvili was re-elected as chairman of UNM in October, 2013.
“UNM has failed to pass the third test - although that’s precisely the demand of large part of the society,” MP Japaridze said.
“Winning parliamentary seats in 2016 elections has never been a motivation for us (that would have been probably guaranteed for me as an executive secretary of the party). Moreover, none of my colleagues, who have quit UNM together with me, are going to fight for parliamentary seats, because they believe that the society demands renewal,” reads the statement.
MP Japaridze said that they decided to quit the party now and not earlier because after 2012 parliamentary elections the priority was survival of the opposition force to confront “rule of oligarch.”
“In recent years… we have been actually on the forefront of struggle. None of us have even thought about abandoning struggle in exchange of wellbeing,” he said.
“We are not leaving battlefield now either. We remain on the same positions and we still have the same rival – oligarch, who came into power with lies and who led the country to the crisis,” reads the statement.
“But today there is a different reality – there are parliamentary elections in a year and a half and we deem reshape of political spectrum anew necessary in order to defeat this rival.”
“We are going to struggle; to fight for united European Georgian, for democratic future; to fight for removing the oligarch from the power, who has stalled economy, brought poverty upon people, and collapsed state institutions.”
“We are not going to waste time and energy on confrontation with our former party mates,” MP Japaridze said.
“We understand that people are concerned about economic problems. Therefore, our goal is to establish a new, open political center, to attract and engage in political process professionals,” he said. “By 2016 elections we will offer the public a plan, which will be non-populist and bolder than those of competitors. We see it as the only way to put an end to informal rule and getting the country back on track of democratic development.”
UNM, which has criticized the decision of its four former members as “irresponsible”, said that the party continues to “stand firmly.”
“This really was not a statement of a political leader,” Zurab Tchiaberashvili of the UNM said, commenting on MP Japaridze’s statement. “It triggered more question marks, but there have been no answers, which we and the society were waiting for. The result of this step by now already former UNM members is delighted faces of [PM Irakli] Garibashvili and government members, as if with it they can escape from responsibility for country’s backsliding.”
“I want to tell the public that the UNM stands firmly. This is the main opposition force… We are convinced that we will take the country forward,” he added.
Commenting on the withdrawal of the four lawmakers from UNM, PM Garibashvili told journalists on May 27 that “It was surprising that they had not disintegrated up until now. Until the last moment they managed to demonstrate themselves as one team, but I know that the United National Movement is being separated into three more groups. So, this process is not yet over.”