authoritarian escalation with the arrest of an opposition leader

The Georgian authorities therefore carried out their threats by arresting, on the morning of February 23, Nika Melia, the leader of the country’s main opposition party. A chaotic arrest, as dozens of police force the meager barricades put in place by the supporters of Nika Melia to try to block access to the headquarters of the United National Movement, the country’s leading opposition party.

→ THE FACTS. Georgia: leader of main opposition party arrested

The tone had been set the day before with the confirmation speech by the new Prime Minister, Irakli Garibashvili, in which he promised to “Restore constitutional order” facing a party, the United National Movement, described as a “Refuge of criminals and terrorists”. In front of him, 90 deputies of the Georgian presidential party Rêve and 50 empty seats: the opposition has indeed boycotted the Parliament since the legislative elections of October 2020 which it considers to be tainted with fraud. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had for its part described a poll “Competitive” while raising allegations of intimidation.

An “unprecedented” act

“Since independence, no government has dared to storm the headquarters of the main opposition party and arrest its leader, it’s unprecedented and indicates a radical change in the nature of the regime”, moved Thorniké Gordadzé, teacher at Sciences-Po and former Minister of European Integration of Georgia.

The question of the fate of Nika Melia continues to agitate the country. Already last week, it had led to the surprise resignation of Prime Minister Guiorgui Gakharia, who disagreed with his party on the attitude to adopt towards the leader of the main opposition party. Georgian justice indeed accuses Nika Melia of having encouraged riots that shook the capital in June 2019.

The specter of Ivanichvili

The new head of government is seen not only as a hard line to the opposition, but also as a staunch supporter of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, a true gray eminence of Georgian politics. Prime Minister from 2012 to 2013, Bidzina Ivanishvili retains a major influence on the country’s politics and is regularly accused of pro-Russian obedience. And if the oligarch announced in January that he wanted to retire from political life, “Many in Georgia can hardly believe it”, notes Kornely Kakachia, politologist, director of the Georgian Institute of Politics.

→ ANALYSIS. Georgia: the opposition wants to bring down the government in the streets

The opposition has announced demonstrations to demand the release of Nika Melia as well as early elections, but it is therefore, for some, Bidzina Ivanishvili who should now be targeted. “Georgia is so closely tied to one man and his fortune that targeted and personal sanctions can work,” the Georgian media Civil Georgia wrote on 23 February. The opposition relies heavily on Western support, with several chancelleries having already expressed their concern over the arrest of Nika Melia.


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