Georgia has a new president and a new prime minister. On 17 November, in a "modest and non-pompous" inauguration ceremony, the new head of state, Giorgi Margvelashvili, took the oath of office. Neither the former president nor representatives of the former ruling party attended the ceremony. The representation of foreign guests was modest too – the swearing-in ceremony was attended by only one head of state, the President of Lithuania, whilst the delegation of the key strategic partner, the United States, was led by the head of USAID.
The inauguration of the former president, Mikheil Saakashvili, in January 2008, was attended by the presidents of five countries – Romania, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. The US was represented by the Secretary of Commerce, whilst Russia sent Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov. The first inauguration ceremony of Mikheil Saakashvili in 2004 was attended by US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Russia's Foreign Affairs Minister Igor Ivanov.
According to Georgia's new Constitution, which entered into force after the inauguration of 17 November, the powers of the fourth president of Georgia are significantly curtailed as compared to those of his predecessors. The president can no longer appoint and dismiss cabinet members; he can appoint the highest ranking military officials and ambassadors to foreign countries, sign treaties and agreements, and call for elections with the mutual consent of the prime minister. The president, however, still represents the country in foreign affairs. Pardoning convicts, granting awards, titles and citizenship, signing legislative acts into laws and performing an annual parliamentary address remain within the scope of his office.
The nomination of the former Minister of Education and Science, Giorgi Margvelashvili, for the post of president was, in fact, former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili's personal decision. Other members of the Georgian Dream coalition agreed with his nomination without any debate or further consideration.
The former Rector of the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs, Giorgi Margvelashvili, who has an academic background in philosophy, previously worked as a lecturer of philosophy, guide of a tourist company and a marketing consultant. Margvelashvili had never participated in public politics, nor had he independently demonstrated political ambitions before Bidzina Ivanishvili entered the Georgian political arena and the Georgian Dream coalition was established.
It seems that one of the decisive factors in selecting a future presidential candidate was precisely this lack of political ambition. A member of the coalition, the Defense Minister and First Vice-Prime Minister Irakli Alasania was reprimanded in due time by Bidzina Ivanishvili for showing presidential ambitions and his arbitrary activity in politics. Back then, the Prime Minister dismissed Alasania from the position of the First Vice Prime Minister and replaced him with Margvelashvili. This, as it turned out, proved to be a springboard towards the presidency.
In his inaugural speech Giorgi Margvelashvili did not mention the Russian occupation and described Russian-Georgian relations as a "complicated situation."
The most resonating incident during Margvelashvili's term of office as the Minister of Education was the stripping of the Agrarian University of its accreditation, which promptly motivated protest among students and other segments of society. Shortly thereafter, Margvelashvili reinstated the university's accreditation. At the time, the university's management and the political opposition maintained that the decision to revoke the accreditation of one of Georgia's best universities was politically motivated.
Before nominating Margvelashvili as the Georgian Dream's candidate for the presidency, Ivanishvili did not hide his personal sympathies towards him. For example, he publicly recalled their many intellectual conversations. Margvelashvili, for his part, tried to underline his personal closeness to the prime minister, often referring to the prime minister by his first name during the presidential campaign.
In both the inaugural speech and the speech made at a reception on the inauguration day, Giorgi Margvelashvili credited much praise to Bidzina Ivenishvili.
In terms of the country's development strategy in the area of domestic politics, President Margvelashvili's first public statements were too general. The newly sworn-in president spoke about building a European type of democracy, promoting economic advancement, forming a new free society and preaching universal forgiveness. The new president was more specific in formulating foreign policy priorities, stating that the key objective of the country continues to be further integrating Georgia into Euro-Atlantic structures and further developing its strategic partnership with the United States.
As regards Russia, in his inaugural speech Giorgi Margvelashvili did not mention the Russian occupation and described Russian-Georgian relations as a "complicated situation." He expressed readiness to engage in a dialogue with Russia that acknowledges Georgia's move towards Euro-Atlantic integration and "fully respects Georgia's national interests, internationally recognized borders and territorial integrity and sovereign principles, and is conducted on the basis of mutual trust."
Just days before the inauguration, Giorgi Margvelashvili gave an interview to First Channel, the Russian state tv company. This interview received scathing criticism from the opposition. In the interview, the then president-elect did not mention the occupation of Georgian territories by Russia; rather, he virtually put the responsibility of the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war on Mikheil Saakashvili. It was apparent that in the interview Margvelashvili tried to give general answers to the Russian journalist's questions, giving viewers the impression that it was difficult for him to clearly formulate answers or was afraid of stating something that was incorrect.
Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili named his successor – the then Interior Minister Irakli Garibashvili – the day after the presidential election, which was held on 27 October. On 18 November, i.e. the day after inauguration, the future prime minister nominated his government members – every minister of the Georgian Dream cabinet maintained their posts and Garibashvili determined the government's performance over the past year as positive. "The cabinet has performed flawlessly thus far. As Mr. Ivanishvili calls it, this is a truly European team." These are the words Garibashvili used to describe the government, the only new member of which was his replacement for the position of Interior Minister.The Georgian parliament approved the new cabinet with record speed on 20 November.
In his speech to Parliament, Garibashvili cited political instability as the reason for economic slowdown in the country and blamed the former government for it. On 19 November, during heated debates in a meeting with the parliamentary minority, Garibashvili refrained from responding to questions concerning economic issues and asked Finance Minister Nodar Khaduri, who attended that meeting, to respond to them.
At that meeting, Garibashvili even declared that he will always receive and listen to advice and recommendations from Bidzina Ivanishvili.
It seems that Bidzina Ivanishvili's selection of both Giorgi Margvelashvili and Irakli Garibashvili was determined by their devotion to him. Proof of this is easily found within the career history of the new prime minister – the entirety of the 31 year old's work history has been connected to entities owned by Ivanishvili. For his part, Bidzina Ivanishvili, when nominating Garibashvili as future prime minister and speaking about his merits, recalled an episode in which Garibashvili successfully bargained on the price of a helicopter which Ivanishvili purchased from a French company.
The political experience of the new prime minister is limited to his year-long activity in the Georgian Dream while the coalition was in opposition, which was subsequently followed by a year serving as Interior Minister.
One of the first topics that drew the attention of the opposition and the media soon after Garibashvili took up the office of Interior Minister was that he appointed many of his relatives to various positions in state entities. The majority of such appointees were relatives of Garibashvili's father-in-law, Tamaz Tamazashvili, who was a high police official during the Shevardnadze era. In response to accusations of nepotism during a hearing at a parliamentary committee, Garibashvili responded that his wife's relatives were not his relatives, with a tinge of irony.
After being nominated as a candidate for the post of prime minister, Garibashvili named the head of the Tbilisi Police Department, the 28 year-old colonel, Aleksandre Chikaidze, as his successor. Describing Chikaidze, Garibashvili said that he "was born in the family of a police officer and had a good father." Placing emphasis on these factors provided the grounds for the opposition to assume that Tamazashvili's personal ties played a decisive role in Chikaidze's appointment too.
For his part, the new Interior Minister Chikaidze stated that he would employ his relatives "if they appear to be good professionals" in response to the parliamentary minority's inquiries on the appropriateness of appointing relatives to political positions.
Irakli Garibashvili also named a candidate for the position of Georgia's Chief Prosecutor – the former head of an investigative unit of the Finance Ministry, Otar Partskhaladze. It was under Partskhaladze's leadership that this unit illegally detained high officials of the Tbilisi Mayor's Office on the day of a visit of the NATO Secretary General to Tbilisi. Without leveling any charges against or interrogating them, they were released later that day. Moreover, criminal charges were pressed on the mayor of Tbilisi and other former high officials under the leadership of Partskhaladze as well.
The period of Garibashvili's service as the Interior Minister was marked with a rise in crime. Even though the ministry maintained that the crime level decreased in the country and provided statistical data to support their claim, these figures did not match with those acquired by journalists from the prosecutor's office and courts, thus proving that crime in the country had actually increased.
The desire of the Interior Ministry to show a decrease in crime by hook or by crook is understandable – admitting the opposite would prove that the mass amnesty implemented by the new government led to an increase in crime throughout the country. This would, however, have been damaging for political interests of the Georgian Dream coalition.
Irakli Garibashvili himself was not enthusiastic about the amnesty at all. In an attempt to fight crime, he applied his own methods through implementing random detainments and searches thereby restoring the well-forgotten practice of stopping cars and people selectively in streets and searching them thoroughly. These random detainments often offended citizens and infringed on their rights. However, the Interior Ministry did not publicly admit that these were any special measures against "decreased" crime. Rather, the claim was that police were performing their regular duties and taking preventative measures.
At the same time, the police, under Irakli Garibashvili's leadership, continued the fight against crime bosses and arrested many people on charges of them being members of organized crime syndicates. Over the past year, regardless of the rise in crime, there has been no observation of an increase in organized crime. Those crime bosses of former times left Georgia shortly after they received amnesty.
One of main pledges that Irakli Garibashvili made upon his appointment to the office of Interior Minister was to "de-politicize" police. Bidzina Ivanishvili and other leaders of the Georgian Dream repeatedly alleged that during the previous government's era, the police were used to perform political orders. Ivanishvili, Garibashvili and others stated that they would put an end to this practice.
The first test of the "de-politicized" police was 8 February 2013, when former inmates – who received amnesty for allegedly being political prisoners – disrupted an event in which the president of Georgia planned to address the nation from the National Library. Even though the police were present, they failed to prevent "political prisoners" from assaulting members of parliament and the mayor of Tbilisi, who had attended in order to listen to the president. The charges pressed on several individuals who were arrested for the assault was a mere one-hundred lari fine.
In response to the incident, Garibashvili declared that the "political opponents" provoked the assault by not using the corridors monitored by the police. Representatives of the opposition, however, flatly denied the existence of any such corridor.
The so-called political prisoners attacked representatives of the United National Movement several times in the run-up to the presidential election. Garibashvili pledged back then that every offender would be severely punished. "Severe punishment", however, in every such case was a one-hundred lari fine.
A surreptitious audio recording involving Irakli Garibashvili's first deputy, Gela Khvedelidze, proved that protests of "political prisoners" and assaults on political opponents were organized by the Interior Ministry. In this recorded conversation, the First Deputy Minister, at least, did not deny the assertions made by his interlocutors about this.
Irakli Garibashvili dismissed his First Deputy himself after he was charged with releasing a surreptitious video recording containing footage of the private life of journalist Giorgi Paresishvili.
As Interior Minister, Garibashvili also distinguished himself by first discovering and then destroying secret audio and video recordings. Under his leadership, a ceremony was held to destroy files featuring the private lives of various people which remained in the ministry from the previous government. All of the CDs were destroyed in a celebratory event in front of the press. Technically, however, while CDs were burned, there is no guarantee that the files are still not in the government's possession in digital form.
Shortly after "destroying" the files, the Interior Ministry declared that he discovered secret storerooms of the previous government with more surreptitious recordings, along with weapons, drugs and "a list of people to be arrested." These recordings contained several scenes of violence by police. The interior minister organized the screening of some of those files for representatives of media and of society behind closed doors. Irakli Garibashvili placed responsibility on the United National Movement for the violence depicted in the recordings. The Georgian Dream used the situation to place pressure on their opponents. As a result, several representatives of the ruling party even called on the United National Movement members to exit politics altogether. Thus, the "de-politicized" entity of Garibashvili did a great job to meet the political interests of the ruling coalition.
In the capacity of Prime Minister, Irakli Garibashvili has not presented a clearly formulated plan for future activity (the government program presented to Parliament comprised only the general principles of the activity).
Considering the activity of Irakli Garibashvili at the post of Interior Minister, one can roughly predict what methods he will resort to as the head of government. Perhaps he will carry on with the retaliation against his opponents, practice nepotism, make efforts to mislead society and manipulate statistics.
There is a high probability that Bidzina Ivanishvili, who "moved to civil sector", will, in reality, make decisions for the new cabinet. However, by choosing candidates for the posts of Chief Prosecutor and the Interior Minister, Garibashvili is already trying to form a team that will be loyal to him.
The key pre-election message of the Georgian Dream was to put an end to the cohabitation of two political forces. This cohabitation has been blamed by the Georgian Dream as the reason why significant headway has not been made, why the country's problems have not been solved, and why promises have not been kept. Now that the presidential election has been held, the period of cohabitation has come to an end. Power has been consolidated by the ruling force. The "epoch of Dream" has begun.
It seems, however, that the government intends to "deal with" problems by applying the same methods in the future. The existence of many problems will be denied (saying, for example, that crime has not increased but decreased) or will be blamed on the previous government. The question, however, is: how long will the government manage to run the country with these methods?