Former Georgian PM returns to politics – ‘third force’ or ‘Ivanishvili's project’?
Gakharia’s return to politics
Former Prime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Gakharia announced his return to politics on March 23, which prompted much public discussion.
However, opinions over what Gakharia’s participation in politics would look like were fundamentally divided.
Many predict that Gakharia could rally a ‘third force’ which many have expected (or longed for) amid months of tough confrontation between the authorities and the united opposition.
Others are sure that the ‘new political project’ of Gakharia was invented by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has been considered the country’s shadow ruler since 2012, when the Georgian Dream party he created came to power.
Giorgi Gakharia stepped down as prime minister on February 18, 2021 as a result of serious disagreements with the team of the ruling Georgian Dream party. Gakharia was against the arrest of the leader of the most rated opposition party, United National Movement, Nika Melia. The oppositionist was eventually detained as a result of a special operation on February 23.
Giorgi Gakharia wrote on his Twitter page that in the near future he will publish his political plans: “The main thing is to overcome political polarization and develop an agenda for an early European future for Georgia.”
The day before, in an interview with the Formula TV company, he said: “I will not go anywhere, moreover, I will not leave politics.
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Gakharia as a ‘third force’. Tectonic shifts in Georgian politics?
Despite different predictions about which political path he will choose, most experts agree that Gakharia has good starting conditions for launching independent political activity.
First of all, this is his rating – at the time of his resignation, he was the top-rated politician in Georgia:
- In August 2020, Gakharia was named the best politician by 63 percent of respondents in a poll conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI).
- In January 2021, 46 percent of respondents named his work as prime minister successful, while only 21 percent of respondents expressed such an opinion a year earlier (the survey was conducted by the NDI).
It also works for Gakharia that a significant part of the Georgian Dream supporters are dissatisfied with the work of the ruling party, although they do not support the opposition.
“Gakharia will deprive Georgian Dream of a very solid part of the voters. Tectonic shifts are really starting in Georgian politics in terms of redistribution and activation of voters,” expert Khatuna Lagazidze said in an interview with Radio Palitra.
She believes that “Gakharia has charisma – both as a person and as a politician in communication with voters, and during speeches.”
Lagazidze says Gakharia has the resources to deprive not only the ruling team of voters, but also of the opposition:
“The emergence of Gakharia as an independent politician will become a cold shower for the opposition as well. This is really the last chance for the opposition to wake up, analyze their own mistakes, return to the people, go beyond the TV screen. In recent months, we have hardly seen politicians who would just come to talk to people.”
“The only party that is not in danger of losing voters due to Giorgi Gakharia’s return to politics is the United National Movement, a party founded by former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. They have their own voters. And the rest of the opposition parties will have to work hard to keep their electorate,” says Khatuna Lagazidze.
Gakharia should return to Georgian politics, expert Gia Khukhashvili is sure.
“We are trapped in a certain negative bipolarity. The country needs an alternative political center so that people are not forced to make a choice only between the past and the present. So that interesting proposals appear for the future as well”, Khukhashvili said on air during a Rustavi 2 broadcast.
According to Khukhashvili, both the opposition and the ruling team are suspicious of Gakharia:
“The opposition, of course, will say about Gakharia that he is Bidzina [Ivanishvili’s] project. But it is even more interesting (and comical) that the incumbent Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and the leader of the ruling Georgian Dream Irakli Kobakhidze will think with the same fear.”
In the ruling party, the fears have not been confirmed, at least not publicly. The opposition greeted Gakharia’s return to the political field with cautious comments that it doubted his ability to become a ‘third force.’