Mikheil Saakashvili, the exiled former president of Georgia, says he has returned to the country just one day before Saturday’s local elections and urged people to vote for opposition parties.
“Good morning Georgia. Greeting you already from Georgia, after 8 years,” Saakashvili announced in a Facebook post on Friday morning. Shortly after, he uploaded a video of himself, allegedly from the city of Batumi at the Black Sea.
“I risked my life and freedom to be back,” Saakashvili said in the video. “I call on everyone to go to the elections and vote for the United National Movement,” he added. United National Movement is the main opposition party that Saakashvili founded in 2001.
Saakashvili, who led Georgia from 2004 until 2013, added that he won’t make any public appearances until election day is over and called on Georgians to take to the streets and protest on Sunday, October 3.
However, the country’s government is pouring cold water on Saakashvili’s claim that he is back in the country.
Georgia’s interior ministry said that the former leader had not crossed the border. And the chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Irakli Kobakhidze, also does not believe Saakashvili has entered the country. “I can say for sure that the video is fake. Saakashvili is not in Georgia,” Kobakhidze said, adding that Saakashvili is a “clown,” according to Georgian media.
Saakashvili announced Monday that he intended to return for the municipal elections. At the time, Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said that “if Saakashvili sets foot on Georgian soil, he will be immediately arrested and brought to prison.”
Georgia’s current government is increasingly unpopular. A poll from June 2021 shows that 62 percent of Georgians believe the country is headed in the “wrong direction.”
After his presidential term ended in 2013, the newly formed government led by the Georgian Dream party started a criminal procedure against Saakashvili over alleged embezzlement and abuse of office, an investigation Saakashvili called politically motivated. He left Georgia in 2013 to avoid prosecution and lived in exile.
Dato Parulava contributed reporting.