Georgia's Free Democrats leave ruling coalition as political crisis deepens

By bne IntelliNews November 6, 2014

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Georgia’s Free Democrats party have left the ruling coalition Georgian Dream, its leader Irakli Alasania announced on November 5. The decision came at the end of a tense day following Alasania’s dismissal as defence minister on November 4 by Prime Minister Irakli Gharabishvili.

“We have left the coalition,” Alasania declared after his party met other leaders of the coalition to discuss the crisis.

Alasania stated that the arrests of several officials in his ministry were “politically motivated” and meant to undermine supporters of better relations with the West, a declaration the PM labeled as “irresponsible” and led him to sack the minister.

The move was followed by a series of resignations in protest. Alexy Petriashvili, a member of the Free Democrats, left his post as state minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration; Maya Panjakidze (who happens to be Alasania’s sister-in-law) resigned as foreign minister, and Davit Zalkaliani quit as first deputy foreign minister. However, Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, Alasania’s party ally, decided to stay in office.

The defection of the Free Democrats increases political instability in the country of 4.5mn crossed by pipelines that carry Caspian oil and gas from Azerbaijan to Europe. In June 2014, Georgia signed an Association Agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the European Union.

The Free Democrats hold 10 of the coalition’s 83 seats in the 150-seat assembly. Analysts think that at least two MPs are likely to stay in the coalition, leaving it with exactly half of the seats. The coalition will now need the backing of independent deputies for a majority but a confidence vote must be called only if seven or more of the 20 cabinet members are replaced.

The PM has already appointed little-known Mindia Janelidze as the new defence minister but has yet to name a new foreign minister and state minister. These three changes in the government do not require parliament’s approval.

Foreign officials have expressed concern over the current crisis. The US ambassador to Georgia, Richard Norland, said on November 5 that there were “legitimate” concerns that the judicial system was being used in “a politicised way”.

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