A Leader of the United National Movement party and deputy chairman of party's political council, Zaza Bibilashvili, has said that his party’s informal ruler is former President Mikheil Saakashvili, in an interview with journalist Eka Kvesitadze on Rustavi 2 TV. Former President Saakashvili is living in exile in Ukraine.
Bibilashvili also spoke about the new political party, European Georgia, which is composed of many former UNM members, and said that they had left the UNM party because they wanted to distance the party from former President Saakashvili, and defeat former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. 21 MPs and 27 members of the United National Movement’s political council left the party on January 12, 2017. They then created the new political force “Movement for Liberty - European Georgia.”
“Our aim and the aim of United National Movement is distinctly clear: To get rid of Ivanishvili. Whereas the aim of our former colleagues [who left the party] was both to get rid of Ivanishvili, and not have Saakashvili close. This is very simple, and this is not the right way, in my opinion,” Bibilashvili said.
“The party has a leader, both a formal and informal leader. It’s informal in the sense that he is the authority which stands behind the party,” Bibilashvili said regarding former President Saakashvili’s role in the party.
The conflict within the United National Movement became public in October 2016 after former President Saakashvili encouraged members of the party not to enter the Parliament and not to participate in the runoff parliamentary elections. Many United National Movement’s MPs did not agree. Former Mayor of Tbilisi Gigi Ugulava, who was recently released from prison, also joining the group leaving the UNM. Ugulava previously stated that “the party isn’t divided, it’s destroyed.”
Former UNM leader Davit Bakradze has previously stated that “We always had such disagreements, but after the elections, they became more intense. We’ve had disagreements on issues such as the tactics of the party, assessment of the [party’s] past and the future of the party - what should have been our methods and what we should have offered potential voters. We’ve come to the reality that the UNM is divided.”
In his interview with Rustavi 2, UNM member Bibilashvili spoke at length about the former president: “They were saying that us going to Ukraine to talk to him [Saakashvili] should stop. But we weren’t going to Ukraine because Saakashvili was the chairman [of the UNM]. We were going there because Saakashvili is Saakashvili. Even if he was turned down from that position, he would still be Saakashvili. So the issue of chairmanship is artificial, not convincing, and it only acts as fact that we were accepting the rules of the game set by Ivanishvili. I don’t understand what else [the split] was if not the obstinacy of certain people.”