Incumbent Chair of UNM opposition party defeated in controversial race

  • Nika Melia (L) on Monday lost elections for the UNM chair to Levan Khabeishvili., 30 Jan 2023 - 12:29, Tbilisi,Georgia

Nika Melia, the incumbent Chair of United National Movement, the largest opposition party in Georgia, on Monday lost the race for the position to Levan Khabeishvili, in an election that followed intra-party controversies over the recent weeks.

With 40 percent of the vote, Melia came second in the electronic voting launched on Saturday, losing the race to the fellow party member he earlier called an “insignificant figure”. Khabeishvili received 52.58 percent of the 41,264 votes cast.

The two other candidates in the race - Nona Mamulashvili and Giorgi Mumladze - garnered less than four percent of the total votes.

The elections followed intra-party tensions between the camps of Khabeishvili and Melia over their position in regard to the imprisoned former President Mikheil Saakashvili, the founder of the party.

Khabeishvili had pledged to take “all necessary actions”, including “storming” the clinic where Saakashvili is receiving treatment, to ensure his release.

On his part, Melia had accused the winning candidate of being a part of a ploy of former UNM officials affiliated with Saakashvili to “run the party from the backstage”.

Melia had accused former UNM officials, Vano Merabishvili (L) and David Kezerashvili (R), of "fighting against him". Photo: Netgazeti.

The elections were scheduled following a briefing held in November by several UNM members who claimed the necessity of a new leadership in the party. Criticising the party representatives for the move, Melia claimed he had himself proposed the race, pointed to intra-party controversies and expressed readiness to re-run for the position he took in 2020. 

In his initial comments, Khabeishvili dismissed media reports on his running for the post, but on November 16 confirmed he would compete with Melia following “requests by many”. 

The verbal spats between the sides included claims last week by Melia, who alleged Khabeishvili was a “puppet” in the hands of the wanted former UNM Defence Minister David Kezerashvili and former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, who he said were involved in attempts of “shadowy interference” in party decisions and activities. 

The comment came following the release of an audio file in social media this month, with Melia apparently heard insulting Saakashvili before the latter’s clandestine return to Georgia in October 2021 and subsequent arrest in Tbilisi in the recording. 

Melia accused Merabishvili and Kezerashvili of releasing the “fabricated” recording ahead of the race, in a bid to hamper his reelection to the position.