Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia has announced his resignation after a court ordered the arrest of a top opposition leader, a move that prompted calls for early elections.
Gakharia, who had held the post since 2019, said on Thursday he was stepping down because of a disagreement with his own team over the decision a day earlier to arrest Nika Melia, chairman of the United National Movement (UNM) opposition party.
Gakharia said Melia’s detention was unacceptable if it threatened to fuel political divisions in the South Caucasus country of 3.7 million people.
“I’ve made the decision to leave my post,” Gakharia said, according to the Sputnik Georgia news outlet. “Of course, I believe and want to believe that this step will contribute to lowering the level of polarisation in our country.”
A court in the capital Tbilisi had ruled on Wednesday that Melia be taken into custody for allegedly failing to post bail.
The opposition leader had been accused of inciting violence at street protests in June 2019, a charge he has dismissed as politically motivated.
Following Gakharia’s resignation on Thursday, the interior ministry said it was postponing carrying out the order to take Melia into custody.
If convicted, Melia faces nine years in prison.
Leaders of nearly all of Georgia’s opposition parties had gathered since Wednesday at the UNM party headquarters in Tbilisi, vowing to obstruct police if they moved to arrest Melia.
Inside the UNM headquarters, Melia called for early elections.
“On behalf of all opposition parties, I say let’s sit at the negotiating table with representatives of this government and start negotiations on new early elections,” Melia said.
Gakharia’s Georgian Dream, the country’s ruling party, won parliamentary elections last October, but the opposition said the vote was rigged and marred with violations.
Rights groups and international observers also expressed concerns over irregularities.
Melia said at the time that his party did not recognise its outcome and called for a rerun.
All of Georgia’s opposition parties have refused to take up their mandates in the new parliament, a boycott that weighs heavily on the political legitimacy of Georgian Dream, which is controlled by oligarch former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.