Both sides – winner Georgian Dream and defeated United National Movement – hailed that handshake as an historic event which should set a precedent for the peaceful transition of power in independent Georgia.
And yet, after their meeting, Ivanishvili could not resist rebuking his “graceless” United National Movement opponents and the President could not restrain from repeatedly raising “fundamental differences” with the Georgian Dream political agenda.
At his first press conference on the day after the parliamentary victory, the leader of the Georgian Dream coalition remarked that the best thing would be for President Saakashvili to step down. Shortly thereafter, Ivanishvili issued a written statement clarifying that he had not intended that remark as a political demand on the part of his coalition and that, as the future Prime Minister, he was ready to cooperate with the President of Georgia. Since then, neither Ivanishvili nor the Georgian Dream has again suggested that the President resign.
The process of transferring power started soon after the election results were announced. To that end, representatives of the two parties conducted several meetings. A Georgian Dream transition team also entered various public institutions to start familiarizing themselves with government activities.
For his part, the President did not submit the names of his own cabinet members to the newly elected Parliament for approval. Nor did he take advantage of his presidential power to appoint law enforcement ministers.
In a widely praised move, leaders of the United National Movement (UNM) said they were willing to hand over the reins of government to the winning team as soon as possible to ensure a smooth transition. But it soon became evident that the victorious coalition had not bothered to make any preparations for manning the government.
A full week after the election, Bidzina Ivanishvili named candidates for only part of the new cabinet. Moreover, as Ivanishvili acknowledged, those candidates learned of their nominations just fifteen minutes before they were announced.
Although the Georgian Dream had made especially lavish social and economic promises during the election campaign, it failed to accord a high priority to leadership of the economic bloc. No candidate for either finance or economy minister was among the initial nominations announced by the Georgian Dream leader.
Instead, Ivanishvili announced his nominees for thirteen other ministerial positions as well as candidates for positions which he has no authority at all to fill. In particular, he named nominees to head the State Audit Service and the National Bank of Georgia and to serve as the Chief Prosecutor.
Former Speaker of the Parliament Davit Bakradze had to remind the Georgian Dream coalition that the country had conducted parliamentary elections. Consequently, the winning coalition could nominate candidates for only those government leadership positions which fall within the competence of the Parliament to approve. As Bakradze explained, replacement of other public officials is carried out according to established procedures and is not dependent on which political force holds a majority in the Parliament.
Later, Georgian Dream representative and newly named Speaker of Parliament Davit Usupashvili rectified Ivanishvili’s mistake. Usupashvili explained that the nomination of candidates to head the State Audit Service and the National Bank of Georgia did not mean that the incumbent heads of those services would have to leave their posts along with the current cabinet members.
Another full week later, Ivanishvili not only named candidates for the six remaining positions in the new cabinet of ministers but also reshuffled his still-unapproved government. Moreover, Ivanishvili disclosed plans for some structural changes in the ministries.
Experienced and Inexperienced Cadres
Of the thirteen candidates nominated by Ivanishvili for ministerial posts on 8 October, six are representatives of the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party; four are from the political party Our Georgia-Free Democrats; one represents the Republican Party, and the remaining two are unaffiliated with any political party.
Bidzina Ivanishvili entrusted the Interior Ministry to his most trusted representative from the Georgian Dream coalition – Irakli Garibashvili. The nominee has worked for years in Ivanishvili’s business and charity structures, but has no experience working in law enforcement.
Several other nominees for the future cabinet of ministers also lack any experience in corresponding spheres or, more generally, in government service: Professional footballer Kakha Kaladze, who is nominated from the Georgian Dream party as Vice Premier and was initially named as Infrastructure Development Minister; writer Guram Odisharia, a Georgian Dream activist nominated as Minister of Culture; and Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs nominee Levan Kipiani, another Georgian Dream activist whose “only merit so far” – in Ivanishvili’s own words – is that he is the son of a legendary Georgian footballer.
Other nominees with professional experience in relevant spheres include: Foreign Minister nominee Maia Panjikidze from the Georgian Dream party; First Vice Premier and Defense Minister nominee Irakli Alasania; Tea Tsulukiani, a former employee of the European Court for Human Rights who is nominated as Justice Minister; former Human Rights Ombudsman Sozar Subari, nominated as Corrections Minister; and Paata Zakareishvili, the nominee as State Minister for Reintegration.
Two other of the initial nominees for the Georgian Dream cabinet of ministers, namely Amiran Gamkrelidze for Health Minister and Davit Kirvalidze for Agriculture Minister, also have very relevant experience – past service in those same capacities in the Shevardnadze government. Gamkrelidze was Shevardnadze’s minister from 2001 to 2004 while Kirvalidze served from 2000 to 2004. Even though the past service of neither was distinguished by any significant positive achievement, Ivanishvili praised both for their experience.
In nominating Kirvalidze, Ivanishvili made no reference to the 2004 investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office into alleged misappropriation of humanitarian aid during Kirvalidze’s tenure. Back then, Kirvalidze was ordered to pay 250,000 GEL to the state budget while a criminal case was instituted against one of his deputies.
Among the six candidates nominated on 16 October, two are from the Georgian Dream, one is from the National Forum, and the remaining three are not affiliated with any political party.
The nominee for Finance Minister, Nodar Khaduri, was a member of Nino Burjanadze’s Democratic Movement-United Georgia political party before switching to the Georgian Dream. Khaduri served as a deputy finance minister in 2003-2004 and, before that, headed the parliamentary revenue committee for three years.
Giorgi Kvirikashvili, the nominee for the post of Minister of Sustainable Economic Development, was director general of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Cartu Bank until he left that position a year ago. He was elected as a Member of Parliament in 1999 as a representative of the then ruling party, Citizens’ Union, but thereafter switched over and served as a representative of the New Rights party until 2004.
The nominee for the position of Minister of Refugees and Resettlement, Davit Darakhvelidze, is a member of the National Forum, one of the political parties in the Georgian Dream election bloc. Darakhvelidze ran unsuccessfully in the 1 October parliamentary elections as a single-seat candidate. Before the Rose Revolution, Darakhvelidze served as governor of the Racha-Lechkhumi-Kvemo Svaneti region.
Nominees unaffiliated with any political party include Education Minister nominee Giorgi Margvelashvili, who until his nomination had served as rector of the Zurab Zhvania Georgian Institute for Public Administration, and Environment Minister nominee Khatuna Gogaladze, who previously worked for years at that Ministry before leaving in 2008 to accept the position of OSCE environmental projects coordinator.
Bidzina Ivanishvili seemed especially hard-pressed to settle on an appropriate candidate for the post of Energy Minister. Media had speculated on a number of possible candidates, including former Shevardnadze energy minister Davit Mirtskhulava, who had been spotted at the Georgian Dream headquarters not long after the elections. Even though Mirtskhulava had served a sentence from 2004 to 2008 for financial violations in the energy sector during his tenure, his experience had still been touted by the Georgian Dream coalition. Corrections Minister nominee Sozar Subari even said that Mirtskhulava’s immense experience in the energy sphere must necessarily be used. Another tarnished member of the Shevardnadze government, Mamuka Nikolaishvili, was also reported by media to be in the running for Energy Minister. Nikolaishvili, who succeeded Mirtskhulava as President Shevardnadze’s energy minister, has been living in France since the Rose Revolution. Although Nikolaishvili confirmed to media that he had been offered the job as Energy Minister in the new government, Bidzina Ivanishvili ultimately picked someone else – Kakha Kaladze, whom the Georgian Dream leader had initially nominated as future Vice Premier and Infrastructure Development Minister.
Kakha Kaladze will retain the position of Vice Premier when confirmed as Energy Minister. He frankly admitted that he has “no experience in the sphere of energy.” Bidzina Ivanishvili also acknowledged Kaladze’s inexperience in either of the spheres in which he had been nominated. As if to justify his selection of such an inexperienced candidate for the cabinet of ministers, Ivanishvili said: “I want to stress Kakha Kaladze’s success and how he has grown up as a politician over the past one year since he joined our newly established party and you, journalists, probably also noticed how fast he has grown up and how much success he has achieved recently.”
Replacing Kakha Kaladze as Ivanishvili’s choice for Minister of Infrastructure and Regional Development is Davit Narmania, who has been serving since 2009 as the Executive Director of the Economic and Social Institute of the Caucasus. Narmania’s tenure as Minister will be extremely short-lived, however. In announcing Narmania’s nomination, Ivanishvili also disclosed that the Ministry of Infrastructure and Regional Development will be abolished and its functions redistributed between two entities with infrastructure issues falling under the competence of the Ministry of Economy and regional development established as a separate entity directly subordinated to the Prime Minister. When that structural change takes place, Davit Narmania will become a Deputy Finance Minister.
In yet another reshuffle of the as-yet unapproved cabinet, the initial nominee as Health Minister, Amiran Gamkrelidze, was replaced by cardiologist David Sergienko. That change occurred after Gamkrelidze changed his mind about accepting the post. The reason cited by Gamkrelidze was a conflict of interest created by his son’s job as a senior manager for an insurance company. Sergienko until now has headed a medical centre in Sachkhere.
On the very next day after Bidzina Ivanishvili announced his final nominations for the new government, he himself was nominated as Prime Minister by President Mikheil Saakashvili pursuant to the former rivals’ agreement on the peaceful transfer of power.
Outline of Politics
After the nominees had been announced, most of the candidates for the cabinet of ministers limited themselves to brief comments regarding their future plans.
Irakli Garibashvili was the most expansive in declaring that law enforcement bodies would maintain “zero tolerance” toward crime and would carry on an uncompromised fight against thieves-in-law. He also declared that the Ministry would be reorganized and that the Constitutional Security Department (KUD) and the Special Operative Department (SOD) would probably be abolished as structural unitsof the Interior Ministry as part of that reorganization. A few days later, however, Garibashvili changed his first statement, saying that the KUD and the SOD would be reorganized instead of scrapped.
One of the key objectives which Ivanishvili has set for the future Interior Minister is the “de-politicization” of the police. The Georgian Dream has yet to explain exactly what concrete measures that implies. On the one hand, Ivanishvili pledges to retain any public official who has not been involved in criminal activity. On the other hand, it is not clear whether “de-politicization” will be used as grounds to dismiss police employees because of their political affiliation.
Nominee Irakli Alasania simply promised to undertake “qualitative reforms” in the Ministry of Defense aimed at upgrading defense and combat capabilities of the country.
Justice Minister nominee Tea Tsulukiani declared that the new cabinet of ministers might expand to include a Ministry of Security, which would be separated from the Interior Ministry.
According to Ivanishvili, he has tasked the future Justice Minister with “developing a draft for the establishment of a system of fair justice” which would be considered by the new Parliament.
Foreign Minister nominee Maia Panjikidze vowed that Georgia’s foreign policy vector would not change and that the country’s integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures would remain a priority.
With regard to Russia, Panjikidze said that she favors talks with Russia, but excludes outright unconditional resumption of diplomatic ties with Moscow. “The problem of territorial integrity of Georgia cannot be solved without relations with Russia,” she declared, adding that “Russia must know that it cannot have three embassies on the territory of Georgia” and that the twenty percent of Georgian territories which are now occupied will never become a subject of compromise.
The Georgian Dream coalition leader himself declared that the country’s foreign policy will be a continuation of the former government’s course. Ivanishvili stressed that point following his meeting with President Saakashvili: “Our aspiration will be toward Europe and, in the foreseeable future, Georgia will manage by all means to be a NATO member.”
The Georgian Dream will be able to start putting its politics into practice once the newly elected Parliament convenes. The Constitution mandates that the first session of the Parliament be held within twenty days of the date of publication of the protocol summarizing election results. The Central Election Commission is required to publish that protocol no later than 20 October.
The powers of the incumbent government will stop on the date the Parliament convenes. The President must then submit the new government to the Parliament for approval. As agreed between the two sides, the head of the new government manned by the Georgian Dream will be Bidzina Ivanishvili. Submission and approval of a new cabinet and the appointment of ministers will be completed within the first thirty days.
Even though the President and the National Movement have voluntarily ceded the entire government to the Georgian Dream, the President maintains sufficient powers to influence both the Parliament and the government. In particular, the government must agree with the President on a draft state budget to submit to the Parliament. The President still has the power to dismiss the entire government or any individual member. Moreover, any legal act adopted by the Parliament must be signed into law by the President, who enjoys the right of veto and can suspend or rescind any government act.
The President of Georgia has the exclusive right to appoint members of the National Security Council. Upon agreement of the Prime Minister, the President also appoints his representatives (governors) in the regions, as well as the Chief of the Joint Staff of the Armed Forced and the chairpersons of regulatory bodies.
Only the President can appoint the nominee for Chief Prosecutor submitted by the Justice Minister. Without the President’s consent, Bidzina Ivanishvili’s nominee as Chief Prosecutor, Archil Kbilashvili, will be unable to undertake that position.
As for the Chairman of the Supreme Court, the Chief Auditor and the President of the National Bank, those officials are appointed by the Parliament for fixed terms. They can be involuntarily replaced only by impeachment, which requires a simple majority vote of the Parliament as well as a finding of wrongdoing established by a court of competent jurisdiction.
After the elections, Ivanishvili clearly expressed his wish to control various branches of executive power, including the National Bank and State Audit Service. However, the President just as clearly signaled to the coalition that he is not going to cede any of his powers beyond approving government ministers.
On 8 October, Mikheil Saakashvili appointed Giorgi Kalandadze as the new Chief of the Joint Staff of the Armed Forces of the Ministry of Defense, even though future Defense Minister Irakli Alasania expressed the coalition’s disagreement with that appointment.
Before that, the President changed the status of state provisional and government special communications and information agencies and transferred the supervision of those agencies to the Special Service of State Security. By doing so, the President removed those agencies from the subordination of the government.
At the same time, representatives of the Georgian Dream in several regions expressed discontent that UNM representatives are heads of self-governance bodies, notwithstanding the fact that the tenure of self-government officials elected in the 2010 local elections does not expire until 2014.
The objective of the incumbent government and the political coalition that won the parliamentary elections is to ensure a coexistence which will not degrade into open conflict to the detriment of the country. Both sides must avoid, for instance, the type of confrontation that flared between Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from 2007 to 2010.
After the 1 October election, qualitatively new rules of the game are being established in Georgia. Those rules imply the control of various branches of power by different political forces, a common reality in many developed democracies but a novelty in Georgian political life. Both the new government and the new opposition will now have to learn to play by those new rules.
That new reality was certainly not reflected in the confrontational tone of Ivanishvili’s rhetoric after his meeting with Saakashvili. Ivanishvili assessed the process of power change as the legitimate right of his team alone. He also declared somewhat threateningly that he would not treat his opponents as harshly as they deserve.
UNM representatives evaluated those statements as the partisan speech of a political party leader rather than the unifying words of a statesman. Ivanishvili’s post-election bombast contrasted sharply with the tone adopted by leaders of the former ruling party and representatives of government, who rejected the type of aggressive and hostile rhetoric toward the Georgian Dream which hadcharacterized the pre-election period.
Western diplomats have strongly emphasized the importance of a peaceful transfer of power in Georgia. Thomas Melia, Deputy Assistant U.S. Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, expressed hope that the transfer of power would be as democratic all the way through to its completion as it was in the beginning when President Saakashvili conceded his party’s defeat. If that happens, Melia said that U.S. political principles toward Georgia would not change. Although the United States welcomes Georgia's “remarkable transition,” Melia also made clear that “much more than the election is necessary to further consolidate Georgia's democratic trajectory.” He said that he had considered the prospect of post-election violence to be “quite real,” but that the conduct of both sides since the vote is something that he hoped “we will see more often in the former Soviet space.”
Immediately after the election, Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission, and Stefan Fule, Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, jointly called on political forces in Georgia to recognize that “both responsible government and constructive opposition are essential parts of a functioning democratic society.”
As Foreign Secretary of Great Britain William Hague said on 3 October: “It is now time for all parties to set their differences aside as they work together in the new Parliament and form a new Government. Cooperation and political dialogue are the hallmarks of a true democracy.”
The results of the election place a great responsibility on the leaders of the Georgian Dream and the United National Movement “to ensure that the newly-elected Parliament will take up its functions in a normal and constructive manner, in accordance with democratic and constitutional norms,” the foreign ministers of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania said in their address on 9 October.
Western media have actively reported on the transfer of power in Georgia. “This reassertion of democratic political will is also a victory for the United States .... A peaceful transition in Georgia enhances regional stability and sets a valuable precedent,” The New York Times wrote on 4 October.
“Democracy is indeed on the march — not through external intervention or revolution but through the patient development of political culture,” The New York Times article stated. Noting that “things could still go badly,” the newspaper urged the international community to stay involved in monitoring the transfer of power and curbing “Ivanishvili’s bad political instincts on talking about Saakashvili’s early resignation or on replicating the retribution that occurred in the immediate aftermath of the Rose Revolution.”
In a subsequent article published on 8 October, The New York Times focused more specifically on the personal qualities and behavior of Bidzina Ivanishvili. The newspaper described him as a “reclusive oligarch” who before coming to power in Georgia “lived in a sealed environment of his own making, raising zebras, practicing yoga and amassing a $1.3 billion art collection.”
The newspaper reported that, just hours after the elections, Ivanishvili as a national leader sounded alarm bells when he recommended that the president resign immediately. It seems “he had not been aware that [his statement] would set off a panic in Western capitals.”
The New York Times further reported that Esben Emborg, the Danish consul in Tbilisi, had to remind Bidzina Ivanishvili that he had won an election not a fistfight. “There are 50 percent of the population that did not vote for you. Somebody told him: ‘Look, this is not the way the victor behaves. This comes across as a very small person,’” Emborg was quoted as saying.
The Financial Times also examined post-elections risks in Georgia. In an article published on 5 October, the business newspaper noted that one of those potential risks is formation of a new government upon completion of the election process.
“President Mikheil Saakashvili has been praised for a statesmanlike concession of defeat for his party well before final results were known,” the Financial Times reported.
The Financial Times predicted problems with Ivanishvili’s formation of a new government because the Georgian Dream is “a disparate and squabbling coalition that includes nationalist elements.” Noting that Ivanishvili insists he is “a good manager,” the newspaper pointed out that “politics is not business.”
The Financial Times article also questioned whether the Georgian Dream would be able to resist the common post-Communist political urge to revanche against its predecessors. And to illustrate the point, the newspaper cited the inevitable example of Ukraine, where Viktor Yanukovich upon becoming President jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Candidates for the cabinet of ministers and other
positions nominated by Bidzina Ivanishvili
Prime Minister – Bidzina Ivanishvili;
Minister of Defense and First Vice Premier – Irakli Alasania (Our Georgia-Free Democrats (OGFD) political party);
Minister of Energy and Vice Premier – Kakha Kaladze (Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG) political party);
Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure – Davit Narmania;
Interior Minister – Irakli Garibashvili (GDDG);
Finance Minister – Nodar Khaduri (GDDG);
Minister of Sustainable Economic Development – Giorgi Kvirikashvili
Minister of Justice – Tea Tsulukiani (OGFD);
Minister of Foreign Affairs – Maia Panjikidze (GDDG);
Minister of Labor, Health and Social Affairs – Davit Sergienko;
Minister of Education – Giorgi Margvelashvili;
Minister of Agriculture – Davit Kirvalidze;
Minister of Corrections and Legal Affairs – Sozar Subari (GDDG);
Minister of Environmental Protection – Khatuna Gogaladze
Minister of Refugees and Resettlement – Davit Darakhvelidze (National Forum):
Minister of Culture and Monument Protection – Guram Odisharia (GDDG);
Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs – Levan Kipiani (GDDG);
State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration – Aleksi Petriashvili (OGFD);
State Minister for Reintegration – Paata Zakareishvili (Republican Party);
State Minister on Diaspora Issues – Kote Surguladze (OGFD);
President of the National Bank of Georgia – Nodar Javakhishvili (National Forum);
Chief Prosecutor – Archil Kbilashvili (GDDG);
Chief Auditor of the State Audit Service – Revaz Shavishvili (National Forum).
This article has been updated since it first appeared in Tabula Georgian Issue #118, published 15 October 2012.