Irakli Alasania’s decision to try to reach an agreement with some other opposition groups on a single mayoral candidacy separately from Alliance for Georgia, left his two partners from the three-party alliance - New Rights and Republican parties – in limbo, at least for now.
After Alasania’s surprise announcement that his party, Our Georgia-Free Democrats, would engage in talks with other opposition groups to define forms on how to select a single candidate without his partners because of differences with them, New Rights and Republicans tried to assure supporters that the move did not yet amount to the collapse of the Alliance for Georgia, which was established exactly a year ago.
“It is unfortunate, that the society sees some cracks in the Alliance on its one year anniversary,” Davit Gamkrelidze, the leader of New Rights Party, said. He, however, added it was still too early to speak about disintegration of the Alliance.
Davit Usupashvili, leader of Republican Party, said in remarks to Kavkasia TV on February 22, that members of the Alliance for Georgia enjoyed with certain degree of authority to act independently. But there are limits as well, he said.
“Irakli Alasania is aware that if he decides to take part in the primaries - that is already beyond the limit and it amounts to withdrawal from the Alliance, but we are not there yet and I am sure that Irakli himself will ascertain that this option [of going into primaries] is unacceptable and not right,” Usupashvili said.
So called primaries or preliminary election to select a single mayoral contender, to which Usupashvili was referring, is pushed by three parties – Conservative; Party of People and ex-PM Zurab Nogaideli’s Movement for Fair Georgia.
In remarks to Maestro TV, Davit Berdzenishvili, a senior member of the Republican Party, clearly indicated that the New Rights and Republicans had to wait for Alasania’s final decision. He suggested that Alasania would fail to convince other opposition groups on his terms of selecting a single candidate, which would make him to again align himself with the Alliance for Georgia.
The Alliance for Georgia also includes, as an individual member, ex-public defender Sozar Subari, who was named by the Alliance as Alasania’s running mate for the Tbilisi City Council chairmanship. Although not “yet focusing” on Subari’s possible mayoral candidacy, Berdzenishvili hinted that the option was not ruled out in case Alasania eventually decides to distance himself with the Alliance.
Another condition set by New Rights and Republicans is rejection of any type of cooperation with Nogaideli’s party.
In his remarks made on February 22, Alasania although indicated that he preferred options, other than primaries, to select a single candidate, he also did not speak strongly against holding of primaries. He, however, strongly ruled out to take part in any form of selecting a single candidate that would be financed by ex-PM Nogaideli. The plan of holding primary, pushed by Conservatives and Party of People is believed to be sponsored by Nogaideli.
Alasania said his proposal was to give the authority to select a single candidate to a large group of civil society representatives – apparently referring not only to NGO community, but to well-known public figures from various fields, which are known to be opposition-minded.
There have always been differences on the issue of primaries within the Alliance for Georgia. While initially New Rights were in favor, the Republican Party was strongly against from the very beginning and Alasania and his party seemed to be undecided. But eventually in late December, the three-party alliance released a joint statement saying no to the proposal.
Davit Gamkrelidze acknowledged on February 22 that it took some time for the New Rights Party to realize “threats posed by the primaries.” He said it was “a trap set by the authorities against the opposition.” New Rights and Republicans say that with opposition party having no registered supporters it was easily possible for the authorities to manipulate with the results of primaries through encouraging its supporters to take part and vote for the weakest opposition candidate.
Levan Gachechiladze, leader of public movement Defend Georgia, is believed to be an important player capable to influence on shaping final opposition configuration ahead of the local elections. Gachechiladze was opposition presidential candidate in 2008 election winning most of the votes in Tbilisi, but losing to President Saakashvili nationwide. Although since then his popularity suffered, especially after the last year’s street protest rallies, Gachechiladze is still regarded as a potential mayoral candidate.
On February 22, Gachechiladze, like the Conservative, Party of People and Movement for Fair Georgia, welcomed Alasania’s decision to seek broad opposition consensus on selecting a single candidate and said that he himself would also engage in this process. He, however, again refused to shed light whether or not he would run for mayoral office, saying that it would only become clear in the course of consultations.
There have been speculations in the press that Alasania’s withdrawal from the race in favor of Gachechiladze was a possible scenario, but Alasania denied that. “If Gachechiladze decides to run, we will be competitors,” Alasania said on February 22.
Both the New Rights and Republican parties said the best possible scenario would be if Gachechiladze supports Alasania’s candidacy. Davit Usupashvili, leader of Republican Party, even recalled in this context Sozar Subari’s remarks saying that he was ready to say no to his ambition to run for Tbilisi City Council chairmanship it would help the opposition unity. Although not saying it directly, but Usupashvili’s remarks were an apparent hint that it was possible to make Gachechiladze Alasania’s running mate instead of Subari.
While this group of opposition parties has yet to determine a final configuration, there are several key parties on the opposition front, which boycotting the local elections. The Labor Party, led by Shalva Natelashvili; ex-parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze’s Democratic Movement-United Georgia and National Forum, led by Kakha Shartava, are among them.
Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM), a leading party in the parliamentary minority group, and its mayoral candidate Giorgi Chanturia are running a campaign on their own without aligning themselves with any of the other opposition groups. Chanturia, who described himself as neither opposition nor pro-government figure, would be running for the office no matter what the configuration on the other side of the opposition front will be.
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.