The Our Georgia--Free Democrats party headed by former Defense Minister Irakli Alasania has withdrawn from the ruling Georgian Dream coalition of which it was the second-largest member. The loss of its 10 lawmakers leaves the Georgian Dream parliament faction with just 73 of the 150 mandates, three short of a majority. The opposition United National Movement of former President Mikheil Saakashvili has 51 mandates.
On November 4, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili dismissed Alasania as defense minister following the arrest one week earlier of five senior Defense Ministry and General Staff personnel in connection with a controversial Defense Ministry tender. Gharibashvili implied that Alasania turned a blind eye to the rigging of the tender in favor of a company in which a relative of one of his deputies served as finance director.
Gharibashvili also held Alasania publicly responsible for a widespread outbreak of food-poisoning among military personnel last year. Three army medical officers and three employees of a company that provides food for the armed forces have been charged with negligence in connection with the incident, which Gharibashvili adduced as evidence of Alasania's "inefficiency" and unsuitability to continue serving as minister.
Speaking earlier on November 5 prior to a session of Georgian Dream's political council that Alasania attended, Gharibashvili said he hoped that the Free Democrats, whom he characterized as including "many dignified and good people," would remain part of the coalition and continue to support Georgia's European and Euro-Atlantic integration. He again slammed as "reckless," "irresponsible," and "insulting" Alasania's claim that the arrests of senior Defense Ministry and General Staff personnel were "politically motivated" and intended to sabotage Georgia's pro-Western orientation.
"But if they [the Free Democrats] choose one person over the state, that is their choice," Gharibashvili concluded.
Khatuna Samnidze told journalists after the political council session that the Republican Party of which she is chairwoman will remain in the coalition.
The website Caucasus Knot had earlier quoted veteran Republican David Berdzenishvili as not ruling out the possibility that the Republicans would also leave, and their nine parliamentarians would form a new parliament faction with the Free Democrats.
Despite his November 4 appeal to all who uphold Georgia's pro-Western orientation to close ranks, Alasania categorically excluded the possibility of the Free Democrats aligning with the ENM, although ENM faction head David Bakradze has signaled his readiness for such an alliance.
Meanwhile, Gharibashvili has appointed the little-known Colonel Mindia Djanelidze to succeed Alasania, predicting that that "he will be a much better Defense Minister than his predecessor." Djanelidze, 36, is a qualified lawyer whom Gharibashvili, then interior minister, had named in late 2012 to head the ministry's counterintelligence department. One year later, he was appointed to head the ministry's newly created Security and Crisis Management Council.
-- Liz Fuller