Georgian Dream -- Democratic Georgia (GD-DG), the senior member of the country's five-party ruling coalition, will participate separately in the parliamentary ballot due in October, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili announced on March 31 following talks with the unequivocally pro-Western Republican Party.
Just hours earlier, Republican Party chairwoman Khatuna Samnidze had similarly announced that her party had decided four days previously to contest the ballot independently, but had delayed going public with that decision at Kvirikashvili's request.
At the same time, Kvirikashvili told journalists that the Republicans' decision does not necessarily imply either that the party's immediate withdrawal from the parliament's majority faction, in which the Republicans hold 10 mandates and chair two parliamentary committees (on legal affairs and European integration), or the resignation from his cabinet of the three Republican ministers. He stressed the importance of "the stability of the government, regardless of party affiliations."
Addressing journalists jointly with Kvirikashvili, Parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili (Republican) said that henceforth the two parties will be both partners and competitors. He explained that the reason the Republican Party will not move immediately into opposition is in order not to "damage stability" and call into question the prospects for the country's development.
In a written statement, however, the Republican Party clarified that while its three ministers (of defense, environmental protection, and reconciliation and civic equality) will continue "to implement the government's program endorsed by the parliament," its 10 lawmakers will not necessarily always vote in tandem with the other coalition members.
The statement did not specify potential divisive issues, but the Republicans are reported to have reservations about supporting Kvirikashvili's proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as "the union of a man and a woman," even though the party does not support the legalization of same-sex marriages.
The Republicans' decision to participate independently in the October parliamentary ballot came as little surprise in the light of a recent public disagreement between Defense Minister Tinatin Khidasheli (Usupashvili's wife) and the brewery magnate Gogi Topadze, head of the Industrialists faction, one of the smaller coalition members, that impelled Kvirikashvili to reprimand both of them.
Following a subsequent meeting with Kvirikashvili, Usupashvili told journalists that the two parties would finalize "very soon" an agreement on continuing "strategic, not just short-term" cooperation in the run-up to the October parliamentary election and beyond.
'Beginning Of The End'
As for GD-DG's decision to cut free from its other coalition partners and run independently in the October ballot, Kvirikashvili explained that "the situation was different" in the run-up to the previous parliamentary election in 2012. On that occasion, several disparate political forces aligned with GD-DG, the creation of billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili, with the express intention of defeating then-President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement (ENM).Today, by contrast, Kvirikashvili continued, "the electoral process is much more democratic and transparent."
At the same time, he noted that it is still premature to speak about possible forms of post-election cooperation, but said "it is normal" to form a coalition government -- thus leaving the door open for renewed cooperation with the Republican Party in the event of a GD-DG victory.
Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze, who is general secretary of GD-DG, was quoted several days ago as saying that "it would not be a bad thing" if the various parties aligned in the current coalition participated individually in the October ballot and then formed a new coalition. Other coalition members, including Topadze, reportedly concurred.
Republican parliamentarian Vakhtang Khmaladze said that one of the factors behind his party's decision was GD-DG's clear desire to participate independently in the upcoming election, a desire he attributed to that party's "discomfort" with other coalition partners. (He did not elaborate, or name them.)
Referring to recent opinion polls, GD-DG executive secretary Irakli Kobakhidze expressed confidence on March 31 that the party has the necessary resources to run independently and win.
Some political analysts, however, see the other coalition members' willingness to contest the ballot individually as fraught with risk. Zurab Abashidze, a leading member of the Free Democrats who quit the GD coalition in late 2014, opined in early March that any of the smaller coalition parties that chose to run separately would find it difficult to garner the minimum 5 percent of the vote required to win representation under the proportional system.
ENM parliamentarian Davit Bakradze, for his part, described the twin statements by Kvirikashvili and the Republican Party with barely disguised schadenfreude as "the beginning of the end" of GD as a political force.