Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 209

On November 10, the Georgian parliament narrowly elected Nino Burjanadze, 37, as its chairwoman–the second most powerful post in the land. Its holder becomes interim head of state in the event of a presidential vacancy, pending a pre-term presidential election. That possibility is inevitably being considered in Georgia owing to the advanced age of President Eduard Shevardnadze, who was reelected last year to a five-year term of office.

Burjanadze received 129 votes, eleven more than necessary in the 235-seat parliament. Her main supporters are right-of-center, reformist and Western-oriented deputies. Zurab Zhvania, who had resigned as parliamentary chairman on November 1, and his allies strongly backed Burjanadze. The runner-up in the balloting, veteran state official and presidential confidant Vazha Lortkipanidze, had the tacit support of Shevardnadze and received 98 votes, mostly of pro-presidential deputies. Shevardnadze, who is closely acquainted with both contenders and their families, pledged after the balloting to work closely with Burjanadze. Yet their respective agendas and alliances will require some effort to harmonize, unless the president moves decisively in deeds and not only in words against official corruption.

Jemal Gogitidze, a leader of the single largest parliamentary bloc, Revival, was a late entry and an also-ran. Revival’s top leader, Aslan Abashidze, who is also Ajaria’s Supreme Soviet chairman, indignantly complained about official Tbilisi’s reluctance to engineer a victory for Gogitidze. Abashidze tried to cast this election as a test of Tbilisi’s attitude toward regions in general, including Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Burjanadze had chaired the legal affairs committee in the 1995-99 parliament and the foreign affairs committee in the current parliament until now. She is a doctor of international law and the wife of Chief Military Prosecutor Badri Bitsadze. In her first statements in her new post, Burjanadze urged resolute steps against corruption, the urgent formation of a new government excluding the discredited former ministers, and undelayed parliamentary action on constitutional reform.

In what sounded like cautionary advice to Shevardnadze, she also said: “I am confident that the president of Georgia will not put the parliament, himself or the public in an embarrassing position by nominating individuals whom the people of Georgia regard as unsuitable for government posts, to put it mildly.” She seemed also to caution the vested interest groups in parliament, some of them informally allied with the president, when she said: “If the parliament can demonstrate that it takes decisions in the interest of the country and is attuned to public opinion, then the issue of early parliamentary elections may not be so topical. But if the parliament does not succeed in this, the country will naturally demand early elections.”

Such remarks reflect the reformer’s views and emerging political agenda, which envision the creation of a reform coalition in parliament, passing constitutional amendments to create a cabinet of ministers and the post of prime minister and appointing reformers to those posts–all to be accompanied by a crackdown on official corruption. It is understood that some of these measures would reduce the presidential powers, and certainly the informal power of vested interest groups that enjoy quasi-immunity and support the political status quo (Prime-News, Kavkasia-Press, Georgia Television, Tbilisi Radio, Rustavi-2 Television, November 8-12; see the Monitor, November 5, 8).