Last week (May 1), Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili submitted his new cabinet appointments for approval by the parliament. The pro-Western Republican Party, which is part of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition, made substantial gains in the new cabinet.
One of the leaders of the Georgian Republican Party, Tinatin Khidasheli, is set to become the new minister of defense. Khidasheli is regarded as perhaps the most consistent and uncompromising pro-Western politician on the Georgian political scene today. She will be the first female defense minister in Georgia’s history (Interpressnews.ge, May 1). “With this appointment, the prime minister is signaling to the West that the country is committed to civil control over the military and demonstrates readiness to develop and strengthen democratic institutions,” analyst David Avalishvili told Jamestown. Though, he doubts Khidasheli’s selection to head the defense ministry will result in any concrete headway in Georgia’s integration in Euro-Atlantic institutions (Author’s interview, May 1).
Gigla Agulashvili became another Republican nominated for a position in the new government. Agulashvili is expected to become the minister of environmental protection. Including Paata Zakareishvili, the state minister for reconciliation and civic equality, this will bring the number of avidly pro-Western Republican Party members in the ruling coalition to three. Another member (and former leader) of the Republican Party, David Usupashvili, was elected to the position of speaker of the parliament back in 2012. In addition, lawyer Vakhtang Khmaladze, who oversaw the rebirth and the consolidation of the Republican Party, chairs one of the most important parliamentary committees, the committee for legal issues and constitutional reform.
Georgian experts believe that by bolstering the positions of the Republican Party in the government, the Georgian Dream coalition is trying to find a substitute for the party of former minister of defense Irakli Alasania, the Free Democrats. After the Free Democrats left the coalition late last year (see EDM, November 11, 2014), the resulting government crisis precipitated the resignation of the government and the need for a renewal of the parliament’s approval of the cabinet.
In November 2014, then–Minister of Defense Irakli Alasania, Minister of Foreign Affairs Maia Panjikidze and the State Minister of Georgia on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Alex Petriashvili all resigned, accusing Prime Minister Garibashvili and the founder of the Georgian Dream coalition, Bidzina Ivanishvili, of undermining the pro-Western orientation of the country and flirting with Moscow (Ghn.ge, November 6, 2014). The Free Democrats left the ruling coalition simultaneously with the resignation of its three members from the government (Civil Georgia, November 5, 2014).
The Republican Party stayed in the coalition, but increased its political demands. “We insisted that the interests of our party be taken into consideration to a greater extent during the formation of the government and while making important decisions. Thus, we proposed to transform the coalition into a European style union of parties, where the parties are not simply formal participants and share the same values, but they also share overall responsibility and authority,” Republican Party founder and Soviet-era dissident Levan Berdzenishvili told Jamestown in an interview on May 1.
The Republicans are not hiding the fact that the prime minister’s decision to appoint Tinatin Khidasheli and Gigla Agulashvili came after intensive consultations. Only a day before nominating Khidasheli to one of the most important positions in the government, Prime Minister Garibashvili was still publicly saying that he did not intend to replace the Georgian minister of defense, Mindia Janelidze, who acquired the position in November 2014, after Alasania’s resignation (Tabula.ge, November 5, 2014). The move is especially surprising, since Janelidze was widely considered to be the “right hand” of the prime minister, and his closest associate, partner and collaborator. Garibashvili entrusted most important tasks to Janelidze at the time when the latter still headed the Council for Security and Crisis Management.
Yet another reason for the decision to allot more government positions to the Republican Party was the concern expressed by some of Georgia’s Western partners after a recent string of cabinet-level resignations. It should be noted that Georgia heavily depends on Western political and economic support; in the current economic downturn, the Georgian currency has been devalued by some 30 percent since mid-November.
After the resignation of Alasania and his party members from the government, the ministers of interior, infrastructure and regional development, environmental protection, as well as sport and youth affairs also stepped down. The cabinet lost a third of its members and it became necessary for the government to renew its mandate through the parliament, according to the Georgian constitution.
No one doubts that the Georgian Dream coalition’s parliamentary majority will approve the new cabinet, but the past tumultuous days compelled the opposition and domestic experts to speak of serious problems in the country. “The current government and its actual leader, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, are leading Georgia in the wrong direction, and the consequences may be catastrophic for our country,” David Darchiashvili, a deputy from the opposition party United National Movement, told Jamestown (Author’s interview, April 30).
According to political analyst Giorgi Nodia, “It is too early to speak of a political crisis yet, since the Georgian Dream coalition has enough seats to confirm the new cabinet of ministers. But current events [the most recent government reshuffle] strengthen uncertainty and volatility on the political stage” (Author’s interview, April 29).
Meanwhile, Giorgi Khukhashvili, a former advisor to Ivanishvili when the latter served as prime minister, emphasized that a “management crisis” was taking place in Georgia. “Ministers who do not cope with their duties and resign without a proper explanation for why they are stepping down have an incentive to hint at a negative influence coming from Bidzina Ivanishvili. Whereas, in fact, it is their own incompetence and low professionalism that cause problems,” Khukhashvili said (Author’s interview, April 30).
At the moment, the government needs to pacify the public, stabilize the economy, as well as lead the country out of its lengthy period of uncertainty and volatility. Failure to do so could result in new upheavals at a time when the threat from Georgia’s northern neighbor is still quite strong. Soon, it will become clear whether the decisions of the 33-year-old Prime Minister Garibashvili will resolve the crisis.