Key figures from the Alliance for Georgia said they were ready to engage in talks with “all the real opposition parties” to reach an agreement on a single Tbilisi mayoral candidate in the May local elections.
Irakli Alasania, leader of Our Georgia-Free Democrats and chairman of the Alliance for Georgia, was named as the group’s candidate for the Tbilisi mayoral office in September, 2009. Ex-public defender, Sozar Subari, was named as Alasania’s running mate for Tbilisi City Council chairmanship.
On February 15, Irakli Alasania announced that opposition’s unity and nominating a single candidate was a key for making the opposition’s victory in the local elections “inevitable.”
In a response, two co-chairs of the Alliance, Davit Gamkrelidze and Davit Usupashvili, leaders of New Rights and Republican parties, respectively made a joint statement saying that they share Alasania’s approach.
They even hinted on possibility of supporting candidate other than Alasania – an apparent back-off from their stance of firmly insisting on Alasania’s candidacy as the sole contender capable of challenging the incumbent Tbilisi mayor, Gigi Ugulava, who is likely to be nominated by the ruling National Movement Party.
“We nominated Irakli Alasania and Sozar Subari as our candidates for the mayoral and city council chairmanship posts [respectively]. Of course these candidates remain to be our candidates. But at the same time, consultations mean that we are engaging in this process without any obstinacy. If anyone convinces us that there are some better options or possible configurations, we are ready to listen,” Davit Usupashvili said at a joint news conference with Davit Gamkrelidze.
Usupashvili said it would be “not correct on our part to go into consultations with insisting that Alasania should definitely be a single opposition candidate.”
The joint statement by Gamkrelidze and Usupashvili was made only on behalf of their respective parties, although it was “pre-agreed” with Alasania, according to the New Rights Party.
Alliance for Georgia was the first political group to announce its candidates for the local elections in Tbilisi back in September, triggering protest of some other opposition parties – some publicly and others privately were criticizing the Alliance for Georgia for rushing to name their candidates without prior consulting with other opposition parties.
Since then several candidates willing to run for the Tbilisi mayor’s office have emerged, including Giorgi Chanturia, a former head of Georgia’s state oil corporation, who was nominated by Christian-Democratic Movement.
The ruling party is likely to benefit from presence of many candidates in the mayoral race as it would split an overall opposition votes, increasing ruling party nominee’s chances to garner most of the votes and winning the election without runoff. A candidate, who receives most of the votes, but not less than 30%, will be declared an outright winner.
Levan Gachechiladze, a founder of public movement Protect Georgia, who was a presidential candidate nominated by large group of key opposition parties in the January, 2008 elections, can play an important role in final opposition configuration ahead of the local elections.
Gachechiladze has yet to decide whether to run or not in the Tbilisi mayoral race; some media sources already speculate that Alasania’s withdrawal from the race in favor of Gachechiladze might be a possible scenario.
“Consultations have been ongoing throughout this period with Levan Gachechiladze, like with others. It was always our desire to see Levan engaged in these consultations to select a single mayoral candidate,” Davit Gamkrelidze said on February 17.
Talks Based on ‘All Minus One Formula’
Gamkrelidze and Usupashvili said in a joint statement that talks on a single mayoral candidate should be launched “without pre-conditions”.
They, however, themselves put forth one pre-condition saying that consultations should be held with all the opposition parties, except of ex-PM Zurab Nogaideli’s Movement for Fair Georgia. They said Nogaideli had “unclear function in the Georgian politics” and a record of “criminal” actions while serving as PM under Saakashvili’s presidency for more than two year till November, 2007.
“We are ready to actively engage in this process of unification under the formula ‘all minus one’ – we are ready to talk and form unity with all the real opposition parties, except of one – ex-PM Zurab Nogaideli’s party,” Davit Gamkrelidze said.
This call directly refers to Party of People and Conservative Party – two opposition groups cooperating with Nogaideli’s Movement for Fair Georgia for organizing preliminary elections, or so called primaries to select a single opposition candidate – an idea which was largely ignored by most of the parties. Although February 17 statement by Gamkrelidze and Usupashvili indicates that hodling of primaries might be discussed as one of the options for selecting a single opposition candidate, but on the condition that Nogaideli is not part of this process. Republicans and New Rights were among the most vocal opponents of holding the primaries and eventually Alasania also said that he was against.
“This kind of statement is regretful,” Kakha Kukava, co-leader of the Conservative Party, told Civil.Ge. “I believe that we should unite based on the formula ‘all minus one’ – but this ‘one’ should be Saakashvili’s ruling party.”
Asked what would be his party’s position in case Alliance for Georgia agrees on holding of primaries, but on condition of Nogaideli’s absence, Kukava responded: “We are ready to cooperate with the Alliance on holding of the primaries; but as far as Nogaideli is concerned, we will still continue cooperating with him on this issue of primaries.”
Koba Davitashvili, leader of Party of People, also criticized and rejected “all minus one formula” of consultations, proposed by New Rights and Republican parties.