Georgian non-parliamentary opposition parties have confirmed political consultations are underway on fielding a joint candidate for presidential elections in October 2018.
The announcement was made shortly after ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili called for “a wider opposition front,” and suggested conducting opposition primaries ahead of the upcoming polls.
“A single-party candidate will not be effective, I am convinced,” Saakashvili, who serves as the honorary chairman of the opposition United National Movement party, told Rustavi 2 TV on February 10.
Zaza Bibilashvili, deputy head of UNM’s political council, reiterated the offer a day later, saying “political fragmentation” was in the interest of ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, while opposition unity “under the principle of all against Ivanishvili” was in the interests of the Georgian society.
Paata Davitaia, chairman of the European Democrats party and executive secretary of the Council of Leaders, an informal cooperation format uniting fourteen non-parliamentary opposition parties, told Civil.ge on February 12 that talks on agreeing a single candidate had been ongoing for about three months, and that the Council of Leaders “was open for all parties,” and “would only welcome UNM’s involvement in the process.”
Davitaia confirmed the Council was also willing to consider holding a primary for identifying a joint candidate, but added that UNM had not reached out to the Council either before, or after Mikheil Saakashvili’s appeal.
He also said the fourteen parties had “intensive exchange of views” on presidential elections, but noted it was “too early” to speak of a potential joint candidate.
“Several candidates have been named, including Shalva Natelashvili of the Labor Party, as well as Nino Burjanadze (of the Democratic Movement), who might also run; we will discuss their candidatures, and possibly of those who are not [political party leaders]; I do not rule out that we might also discuss the candidacy of the incumbent president, but it all depends on his actions,” said Davitaia.
The European Georgia party, which split from UNM in early 2017, was less optimistic about Saakashvili’s proposal. Speaking to Rustavi 2 TV on February 11, Giga Bokeria, one of the leaders of the party, said the ex-President’s statements were “contradictory.” “Pro-western opposition should cooperate, but such cooperation should not be centered on Saakashvili,” he said.
Two opposition party leaders have announced their intentions to run for the October presidential polls, including Shalva Natelashvili of the Labor Party, and Nino Burjanadze of the Democratic Movement-United Georgia.
President Giorgi Margvelashvili, who briefly spoke of his election plans on February 2, said he had not made up his mind yet, and had not held any consultations with the opposition.
“It is understandable that I could be a very interesting partner for the opposition, [but] whether the opposition parties, with all their differences, their positions, and their prior political activities, are [politically] interesting for me, we can discuss in detail a little later,” Margvelashvili said.