The past is looming large in Georgia. Former president Mikheil Saakashvili (2004–2013) and former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili (2012–2013) have both clearly indicated their return to Georgian politics.
Since Saakashvili’s involuntary deportation from Ukraine in February, he seems to have given up the prospect of returning to Kiev and is focusing on Georgia.
In a video message from his current hideout in the Netherlands, he criticised the ‘mafia practices’ of bankers and his old foe Ivanishvili and decried corruption. He added that he would return to Georgia to work for changes in pensions and wages, but did not indicate how he would avoid arrest if he did, or how he is planning to travel there.
Realistically, there are few scenarios that could see Saakashvili return to frontline Georgian politics. He is not only wanted for allegedly illegally pardoning the murderers of a Georgian businessman in 2008. He also lost his Georgian passport when he became a Ukrainian citizen prior to taking up the post of Odessa governor in 2015.
Saakashvili will not be able to repeat his September 2017 stunt when he broke through a Ukrainian border post from Poland, surrounded by hundreds of supporters. In Georgia he lacks both a neighbouring state willing to tolerate such activities and a sufficiently mobilised support base.
This leaves only two ways for Saakashvili to return to Georgia. The Georgian Dream government could re-instate his citizenship and move to have his arrest warrant cancelled. In the absence of any domestic or international incentive, this scenario can safely be ruled out. A second path might be for Saakashvili to return if a new and more sympathetic president is elected in October.
Incumbent President Giorgi Margvelashvili is running for re-election, but Georgian Dream is unlikely to support him again, as it did in 2013, because he has repeatedly clashed with the government over constitutional reform. More recently, Margvelashvili stirred another controversy when he ordered the early release of a convict on receiving recommendations by the penitentiary and a letter of support from the mother of the man’s victim.
There has been talk that the opposition could unite behind the popular Margvelashvili, who has proved himself by acting independently of his former allies in government. The small fringe Free Democrats party has declared its support for him. European Georgia and the United National Movement announced on 30 April that they would form a new political movement, ‘Open Platform’, to unite anti-government forces and put forward a single candidate.
Saakashvili has said that he will not throw his hat into the ring but would clearly stand to profit from an electoral upset this year or during the 2020 parliamentary elections.