Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president and the founder of the United National Movement, rejected calls for postponing the contested party congress, scheduled for January 20, 2017.
Davit Bakradze, who was number one on UNM’s party list for October 8 Parliamentary Elections, spoke on the need to reschedule the party congress in his interview with Rustavi 2 TV station on December 24.
“I would like to propose to the political council [referring to the party’s 60-member governing body] to postpone the congress… let’s postpone [the congress] and try to maintain the future and our integrity,” Bakradze said.
Bakradze also criticized the establishment of the committee for organizing the party congress in circumvention of the political council. The six-member organizational committee, which has been holding meetings with party activists across the country in the last few days, does not enjoy the approval of the political council.
“[The organizational committee] says that it requires neither consent nor legitimization of the political council, and that it will organize the congress alone, including the selection of delegates, vote counting procedures, regulations, agenda. In other words, the six-member group was created bypassing the 60-member elected political council,” Bakradze told Rustavi 2.
Mikheil Saakashvili, who responded to Bakradze’s statement with a Facebook post, rejected the proposal. “The party congress should be held on January 20 … and the party management should be returned to its membership. Any attempts of postponing the congress from those, who were rushing to convene the congress for December 27, are unfounded,” Saakashvili stated.
“I am joining thousands of our activists across Georgia [referring to his video conferences at meetings organized by the congress organizational committee] and I know full well, that they are ready for conducting the congress in high standards,” Saakashvili added.
Intra-party crisis emerged in the aftermath of October 8 Parliamentary Elections, with Georgia’s former president and the founder of UNM, Mikheil Saakashvili, who at that time was also the governor of Odessa region in Ukraine, questioning the overall legitimacy of elections and calling for boycotting the results and with most political council members and future MPs under the leadership of Davit Bakradze and Giga Bokeria preferring to enter the parliament and the majoritarian runoffs.
Disagreement resurfaced after the majoritarian runoffs over the decision of the political council to elect a new chairperson. Majority of UNM’s lawmakers were in favor of electing a new chairperson, while some backbenchers, linked to Mikheil Saakashvili and commanding strong loyalty of the party’s mobilized grassroots, demanded to leave the post vacant – after losing Georgian citizenship, Saakashvili was deprived of the right to be a chairperson of a political party in Georgia, but the party decided not to elect a new chairperson.
The political council’s November 30 decision to hold the congress with participation of 7 000 delegates, as ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili desired, did not end the dispute. The confrontation has been particularly acute in social networks, where Saakashvili’s supporters confronted those members of the party, who spoke in favor of electing a new chairperson and backed a more modest party congress with participation of 2158 delegates, accusing them of severing the party from Mikheil Saakashvili and its grassroots.