Opposition rally in Tbilisi passes off peacefully
06 October 2016

The last major political event of the 2016 election campaign in Georgia took place on Wednesday, 5 October, when supporters of the opposition United National Movement gathered in central Tbilisi to listen to their leaders assuring them of victory in Saturday's polls. The event passed off peacefully and without incidents. special correspondent in Tbilisi, Felix Light mingled with the crowd, and later filed in this report. 

In one final show of force before what may be a difficult election for Georgia's onetime ruling party, around 10, 000 supporters of the United National Movement (UNM) attended a central Tbilisi rally on Wednesday afternoon.

On stage in Rose Revolution Square, party leader Davit Bakradze gamely rallied the party faithful with predictions of victory in Saturday's elections, a warm-up act for the man his audience had come to see: Mikheil ‘Misha' Saakashvili. Sure enough, after a crooning ballad dedicated to the ex-president and entitled ‘Waiting for Misha', the UNM's prince across the water appeared on video link from his Ukrainian exile.

From the Odessa seafront the former president assured his followers, many of whom had been bussed in to Tbilisi from the UNM's rural western strongholds, of imminent electoral success and a return to government, from which position they would ‘rebuild the country'.

And yet, all was not right in Rose Revolution Square. Though UNM sources had assured of a turnout numbering 35, 000, in his address, Mr. Bakradze felt moved to thank the throng for their attendance, assuring them more were on the way. Memories of 2003, when UNM rallies had regularly attracted 100, 000 or more, hung morbidly over Rose Revolution Square.

Unsurprisingly, then, the campaign's likely losers directed most of their words towards its likely winners: the governing Georgian Dream party, and its billionaire founder Bidzina Ivanishvili. All speakers, whether Bakradze, Saakashvili, or former first lady Sandra Roelofs, now a UNM parliamentary candidate in Samegrelo, railed against the Georgian Dream ‘dictatorship', with Saakashvili himself promising to send Ivanishvili into exile. That particular sentiment seemed to have percolated into the crowd: amidst the Georgian, European, and occasionally Ukrainian flags on display were placards accusing Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Moscow, of being an agent of the Russian FSB.

For all its vehemence, however, the UNM's rhetoric speaks perhaps to a party whose star has fallen greatly since the heroic days of the mid 2000s. These days, the driver's seat of Georgian politics is occupied by Ivanishvili's party. During Misha's address, it was impossible to miss a second, much larger screen towering over the square, playing Georgian Dream adverts on an endless loop.

source: Felix Light filed in this report from Tbilisi, for