Dusting Off Old Roses in Tbilisi

Georgian politics is nothing if not interesting. On March 21, protesters crowded Tbilisi’s Freedom Square demanding the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) coalition government’s resignation. Organized by the opposition United National Movement (UNM), which held power between 2004 and 2012, turnout ranged from estimates of 15,000 to 50,000. Either way, it was an impressive show of force for the UNM, which has largely subsisted at the margins of Georgian political life after a string of electoral defeats in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

The protests largely coincided with new polls from the International Republican Institute, which showed a large decline in support for GD; the most recent numbers give GD 36 percent—a steep drop from its mid-2014 election share of just over 50 percent. This sense of public discontent gives UNM activists hope that their interregnum from power will end sooner rather than later. But if the polls are to be believed, the UNM also has some way to go before it becomes electorally competitive again.

In some ways, the 21 March protest represents a return to the UNM’s roots—it catapulted to power through peaceful mass protests in the 2003 Rose Revolution. But it also underscores the difficulties the UNM has had coping with life as an opposition party. If anything, UNM support has shrunk over time; its 51 seats in parliament—mostly based on the 2012 election, during which it was a dominant incumbent—almost certainly flatters its actual support. In the 2013 presidential election and 2014 local elections, the UNM was held to only about 20 percent of the nationwide vote, and recent polls only give it 14 percent (albeit with still many undecided voters). It’s perhaps telling that UNM protesters called for the government’s resignation rather than for elections they would be unlikely to win.

But despite GD’s flagging fortunes, the UNM has not been able to rebuild its brand or…

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