Tens of thousands of supporters of a leading opposition party rallied Wednesday in the Georgian capital before the weekend’s parliamentary election.
The United National Movement, led by former President Mikhail Saakashvili, has been in opposition since losing the 2012 parliamentary election to the Georgian Dream party founded by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia.
Opinion polls have shown the two parties locked in a statistical dead heat before Saturday’s vote.
The rally by the United National Movement drew more than 25,000 amid growing public discontent about economic difficulties and disillusionment with the government.
“Prices are rising and many people feel trapped,” said Vazha Melikishvili, a Tbilisi resident who attended the rally. He said he voted for Ivanishvili’s party in the previous election, but has lost trust in him since then.
Saakashvili addressed the rally in a video call from Ukraine, where he works as the governor of the Odessa region on the Black Sea after receiving Ukrainian citizenship. He promised to win the election and form a new Cabinet.
Saakashvili, president from 2004 to 2013, left Georgia in the face of abuse of power accusations leveled by his political foes. Georgian authorities stripped him of his citizenship, citing a national law banning double citizenship, a move Saakashvili said was politically driven.
“The experiment of a Russian oligarch, who set us up against each other finally will be over in three days,” Saakashvili said in Wednesday’s video call in a reference to his arch foe, Ivanishvili. “In just three days I will cross the sea. Just three days are left until the victory!”