After two days of media speculation, there are signs that the rumored imminent reshuffle of Georgia’s power ministries may contain a grain of truth. On December 8 both Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania made statements that pointed toward a forthcoming reorganization. Symptomatically, the media leaks occurred while Zhvania was in the United Stated and parliamentary chairwoman Nino Burjanadze was in Germany.
Saakashvili convened a special briefing late in the evening on December 8 to inform journalists that no immediate government reshuffle was planned and, furthermore, he would not make any top personnel changes without consulting with Zhvania and Burjanadze. Saakashvili, however, clearly spoke about the need to reorganize the power structures and “reinforce certain directions,” which could be an oblique indication that some changes in the government might occur in the near future.
In a telephone interview with Rustavi-2 television on December 8, right after Saakashvili’s briefing, Prime Minister Zhvania was far more specific. He said that during the two weeks leading up to his departure for the United States, he had held discussions with Saakashvili on issues related to government reorganization that, in his words, might include some personal changes. Zhvania said that any personnel changes would be based on many indicators, including performance evaluations for the past year. Zhvania said he would discuss details of the changes in the government with Saakashvili around December 11-12 and then the general public would be informed about it (TV Rustavi-2, December 8; Civil Georgia, December 9).
Media speculation has focused on the power ministers, although other top officials might also be sacked. One scenario has Interior Minister Irakli Okruashvili replacing Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze, while the latter becomes either Secretary of the National Security Council or a substitute for Revaz Adamia, Georgian Ambassador to the UN. Gela Bezhuashvili, currently Secretary of the National Security Council, would move to the Ministry of Justice, whose current head, Giorgi Papuashvili, would shift to the Central Electoral Commission. Finally, Vano Merabishvili, Minister of State Security, would head the newly merged ministries of security and internal affairs.
Speculation has Russian oligarch Kakha Bendukidze, Minister of Economic Development, about to lose his job because of his failure to accomplish mass privatization and bring $1.5 billion to the state budget, as he promised to do when he took the office. Nick Gilauri, Minister of Energy, is expected to be replaced by Irakli Chubinishvili, head of Saakashvili’s administration.
So far, Bezhuashvili is the only official to concede the possibility of cabinet changes, though he has denied information about his imminent dismissal.
The first reshuffle in the power agencies took place in June. One month later the power ministers merely rotated among themselves (see EDM, June 10; July 1). The first media rumbling about another round appeared in September, right after the failed military campaign in South Ossetia this August (see EDM, September 2), and after stories emerged about illegal arms sales and questionable recycling of used weaponry (see EDM October 25). The whispers were particularly loud around Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze.
Local experts argue that the rumored personnel changes might indicate backstage fighting between the Saakashvili and the Zhvania teams, which have remained rivals despite their pompously announced unification into one political party, the United National Movement, on November 22 (TV-202, TV-Imedi, December 8).
According to parliament member Levan Berdzenishvili, Saakashvili himself leaked the latest reshuffle story to the press. “The rumor about changes in the government is coming from the very presidential service and is distributed through [Security Minister] Merabishvili.” Berdzenishvili argues that by disseminating this information, Saakashvili has put the general public on notice that he is dissatisfied with the performance of Baramidze, Papuashvili, and Bezhuashvili, but fully relies on Okruashvili and Merabishvili. Berdzenishvili sees this development as Saakashvili’s open statement to Zhvania that he no longer trusts “his” defense minister and other proteges (Resonance, Inter-Press, December 8-9). The personnel shuffle rumor has suspiciously coincided with a reorganization in the Tbilisi city government, which mainly sacrificed Zhvania’s followers.
If personnel changes indeed occur as rumored, it would only reaffirm the belief held by many pundits that Saakashvili is acutely short of qualified professional cadres and must grant high posts only to his most trusted underlings.