Ivanishvili becomes Georgian again and parcels out cabinet posts

By bne IntelliNews October 17, 2012

Molly Corso in Tbilisi -

The stripping of then-opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian citizenship in 2011 by President Mikheil Saakashvili was symptomatic of a bitter election campaign that had threatened to derail the country's maturing democracy. Saakashvili's restoration of Ivanishvili's citizenship on October 16 caps two weeks of growing hopeful signs that the October 1 elections won by the billionaire's Georgian Dream coalition will mark the country's first peaceful transition of power since independence in 1991.

The return of citizenship to Ivanishvili and his wife follows the resignation on October 11 of Saakashvili's government, paving the way for the Georgian Dream coalition to take over the cabinet. Ivanishvili has been nominated by the coalition to become the next prime minister, and he already has picked several allies to take over key positions in the government once the transfer of power is complete.

But maintaining power will require delicate diplomacy to keep the diverse parties within the coalition together long enough for the new government to implement its policy programme and prepare for the 2013 presidential elections. Following the 2013 elections, the party that holds the majority in parliament will elect the new, ubër-powerful prime minister, according to the current constitution.

There are nine parties in the coalition, including Ivanishvili's own Georgian Dream, that span from nationalistic to progressive, and many share a long history of political infighting and personal animosity. And there are already undertones of trouble.

Trouble ahead

The coalition has spent the first week in power in consultations, attempting to divvy up the cabinet posts and other offices, like the General Prosecutor, that fall under their control. Ivanishvili was able to nominate candidates for 13 out of the country's 20 ministries on October 8. Determining who - and which party - will get the rest of the positions, however, has gotten "quite complicated", he said.

Key positions, including the country's economic portfolio, took over a week to determine; the coalition offered the finance and economy ministry positions to several candidates before deciding on economist Nodar Khaduri for the finance ministry and Giorgi Kvirikashvili, a former member of the board on Ivanishvili's Cartu Bank, as economic minister.

To date, Ivanishvili has kept his nominations largely to his own inner circle. Topping the list is ex-AC Milan footballer and long-time Ivanishvili confident Kakha Kaladze, as well as several former ambassadors and even a minister form the era of Eduard Shevardnadze, when that old Soviet apparatchik ran the country from 1995 to 2003.

Irakli Alasania, a former Saakashvili envoy to the UN, was tapped to head the ministry of defense; his sister-in-law Maia Panjikidze, once Saakashvili's ambassador to The Netherlands, was nominated as foreign minister. Davit Kirvalidze, who served as agriculture minister under Shevardnadze, has been invited to return to the post.

A few government outsiders, however, are among the nominees: Irakli Ghabarishvili, formally the head of Ivanishvili's Cartu charity, is up to head the powerful Ministry of Interior Affairs - Georgia's umbrella ministry that oversees all policing agencies in the country. Tea Tsulukiani, an Alasania ally and former European Court of Human Rights lawyer, was nominated as justice minister.

Giorgi Margvelashvili, rector of Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA) and a respected political scientist, was nominated to head the education ministry. Davit Darakhvelidze, a Georgian displaced by the Abkhaz war, was named to lead the ministry for the internally displaced and refugees, and Khatuna Gogoladze - an environmentalist who worked for the OSCE - was nominated to lead the environmental ministry.

Just days after Ghabarishvili's nomination was announced, his father-in-law - and Ivanishvili's old friend - Tamaz Tamazashvili was released from prison on a plea bargain deal. Tamazashvili, a former police official, was arrested for illegally purchasing and carrying a firearm shortly after Ivanishvili entered politics last year. He had been serving a three-and-a-half-year sentence and had been accused by the Saakashvili government of engineering the prison abuse videotapes that were leaked to the media in September. The ensuing scandal went some way toward the defeat of Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM), which won 66 seats in the 150-seat parliament, compared with the Georgian Dream coalition's 84 seats.

Kaladze, the former AC Milan football star and an Ivanishvili business partner, has been tapped to lead the energy ministry. While Ivanishvili freely admitted Kaladze has no experience or knowledge in the field, he said the former sportsman's "talent" at learning will allow him to master the topic in short time.

Economist Davit Narmania has been nominated to lead the regional development and infrastructure ministry, a mammoth ministry that oversees major building projects in the country and has a GEL982m (€454m) budget. Narmania's post will be temporary; the team plans on dismantling the ministry and dividing its portfolio among the prime minister's office and the economy ministry. Eventually, Narmania will become first deputy at the finance ministry.

Other nominees include Levan Kipiani as minister of sports, writer Guram Odisharia as minister of culture, pundit Paata Zakareishvili as minister of reintegration, and Kote Surguladze as head of the diaspora ministry.

Sozar Subari, a public defender during Saakashvili WHAT, as the new head of the prison ministry - a politically important position since Subari will be in charge of reforming the system of prison abuse.

Waiting in the wings

The cabinet nominations are an important test for the coalition as it navigates a post-election scenario few had anticipated. But while it won the election, the Georgian Dream coalition did not win a constitutional majority - meaning the coalition will have difficulty pushing through some of its policies, including plans to change the constitution, impeach Saakashvili, and return the parliament to Tbilisi. Under the current law, the lawmaking body has been relocated to Kutaisi, a city 236 kilometres from the capital.

And, unlike the UNM, Georgian Dream is not a united body. Ivanishvili mentioned several times during the election campaign that it is "natural" that the coalition will break once it makes it to parliament. Saakashvili and other UNM leaders have indicated that is a scenario they are counting on.

In his remarks following his first meeting with Ivanishvili after the UNM's defeat in the polls, Saakashvili appeared to sow the first seeds for a distant comeback. "As the president, I and we all will take care to make the Georgian people's interests protected - that's what I was always guided by and that will remain my driving force in months and years to come and in my and my [allies'] future activities," he said.

"Everything requires time in order to see and analyze many things, but right now we all should be focused on future and we all should be focused on wellbeing of our people... I am sure that Georgia will have the great future and we also plan to be part of this future as citizens and politicians of this country."

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