By Ann Tsurtsumia-Zurabashvili (@TsurtsumiaA )
On December 23, 2015 Georgian Prime Minister’s administration made an announcement about Mr. Gharibashvili’s forthcoming press statement but without the presence of journalists. The press conference was delayed several times during the day and rumors about PMs resignation were confirmed by the evening. In his 5 minute long resignation address, Irakli Gharibashvili did not clarify the reasons that led him to such an unexpected decision.
“Holding an office – be it of interior minister or prime minister, and being in government in general has never been a goal in itself for me,” noted Gharibashvili. “For me this is a mean to serve my country!”- said the former PM.
Irakli Garibashvili, 33, who first became a Ministry of Interior (2011) thanks to the working experience with Mr. Bidzina Ivanishvili’s (Georgia’s former PM) private business, was nominated as PM by Ivanishvili, after his resignation from the office (2013).
Although, Georgia’s Minister of Defense Titantin Khidasheli stated that the resignation of Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili was not completely unexpected, as he had achieved all his goals he set and had “paved the way for a new leader, for new blood” to lead the country, the event has raised questions in the society.
Firstly, just few days earlier, on December 18, Georgian government received a green light on visa liberalization process with the EU, meaning that the European Commission positively assessed the policies and actions of the government to fulfill the visa liberalization action plan. Visa free movement in Schengen area was one of the top electoral promises of Georgian Dream and the positive assessment of the EU was considered as a victory of the current government.
Secondly, Georgia is due to conduct its parliamentary elections in fall 2016 and the resignation of the government just 9 months before the elections did not look like right time for a “new blood” as the government would soon move on to “electoral mode”.
Surprisingly so, Christmas cards featuring the PM with his family were distributed to stakeholders as scheduled, even after his resignation (or they were sent out before the unplanned resignation). This became one of the suspicious signs that the former PM did not plan a resignation well in advance.
Signs of informal governance
The major opposition party United National Movement claims that former PM, Bidzina Ivanishvili remains as an informal decision maker to the government and that Gharibashvili’s unexpected resignation was decided on his behalf.
Opposition MP Zurab Abashidze, Free Democrats noted that the event left him with the impression that “no one, but few people within the ruling coalition, knew about Gharibashvili’s intention to resign.” Abashidze added that keeping the ruling majority members unaware of such an important decision was yet another indication of Ivanishvili’s “informal rule.”
Giorgi Gabashvili, MP, United National Movement suspected that “nothing is changing in principle” with the resignation of Gharibashvili.
“I would call it reshuffle of puppets; Gharibashvili has never been an independent figure and leader. He has always been a very energetic executor of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s orders… and other government members are Ivanishvili’s clerks,” Gabashvili told Imedi TV.
Other opposition leaders and some political experts suggested that the cabinet reshuffle about ten months before the parliamentary elections was possibly made in response to declined public support for the Georgian Dream ruling coalition.
November poll, commissioned by NDI, showed most of the voters undecided; GD’s support among likely voters stood at 18%, which is up by 4 percentage points since August, but 6 percentage points lower than in April, 2015. UNM opposition party had 12% support among likely voters, compared to 15% and 16% in August and April, respectively; Free Democrats – had 7% support, compared to 5% in August and April. (see www.civil.ge)
New Government – No changes in the Cabinet of Ministers
Garibashvili’s abrupt resignation created a need for nomination of the new PM and the approval of the new cabinet, as the existing one could only act as an interim government.
The candidacy of a new PM came from Ivanishvili’s most trusted circle: Giorgi Kvirikashvili, 48 who also joined Georgian Dream after working for Ivanishvili’s private company and earning his trust, was first given the position of the ministry for Economic Development, later shuffled to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Kvirikashvili led the MFA under Gharibashvili’s government and acted as a deputy Prime Minister.
Despite his opposition with the Georgian Dream, the President confirmed the nomination of Kvirikashvili in a timely manner and presented it to the parliament for approval.
Just as short as in one week after PM’s resignation, on December 30, 2015 Parliament of Georgia approved the new government. However, Kvirikashvili did not change a single minister in his cabinet (except for MFA, as he held the position himself). The proposed cabinet of ministers did not get a vote of confidence from the opposition parties in the parliament (UNM and Free Democrats).
Amid the increased discontent with the economic situation in the country, the major expectations of the population concerned the change of the Minister of Finance, as well as the Minister for Education. However, the anticipated reshuffle did not happen.
Unlike Gharibashvili, the new PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili is known for his ability to communicate with the opposition and relatively moderate stand on political rivals. Moreover, Kvirikashvili still remains the most trusted person before Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Apart from his PM office, Irakli Gharibashvili has also resigned from the position of a chairman of Georgian Dream party and with that, prospects of his political future within the ruling coalition have vanished.
Both, the political future of former PM Irakli Gharibashvili and the composition of the ruling coalition Georgian Dream for the upcoming elections remain uncertain.