Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Caucasus Report

Has Countdown To Georgia's Next Election Already Started?

Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili
Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili
Three weeks after its parliamentary election defeat , Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement (ENM) is sending mixed signals.

On the one hand, its parliament deputies affirm their intention of acting as "constructive opposition" for the good of the country as a whole. On the other hand, they are clearly out to undermine and discredit the victorious Georgian Dream (KO) coalition headed by billionaire philanthropist and Prime Minister-designate Bidzina Ivanishvili, accusing its members of pressure and intimidation and criticizing the new government's program.

Meanwhile, inconsistent statements by Ivanishvili have led some to call into question his suitability as prime minister.

The newly elected parliament convened for its first session on October 21 in a glitzy new building constructed at a cost of 133.7 million laris (about $82.5 million) in Kutaisi, Georgia's second-largest city. One of Ivanishvili's first pronouncements after it became clear KO had won the election focused on the possibility of moving the legislature back to Tbilisi. Saakashvili on October 21 defended the relocation of the parliament from Tbilisi to Kutaisi as part of a broader decentralization of power.

In his address to the new parliament, Saakashvili made little effort to conceal his dislike and distrust of KO. The animosity is mutual: in a mark of disrespect, KO's 85 parliament deputies demonstratively declined to rise to their feet when Saakashvili entered the chamber, or to applaud him after he finished speaking. 

Saakashvili characterized the election campaign as "difficult, indecent, and venomous." He expressed the hope the new leadership will not embark on "destroying" or "making things worse," thereby implying that its members either intend to do so, or are incapable of acting otherwise. And he warned that "those who are in opposition today may come to power again."

At the same time, Saakashvili argued, as he had done during his first postelection meeting with Ivanishvili on October 9, that what is now important is to focus on the well-being of the Georgian people and work together for the good of the country, despite what he termed the very real differences in views and policies between KO and the ENM.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze similarly affirmed after his election on October 21 as deputy parliament speaker representing the ENM that "we shall try to be a constructive opposition." Former parliament speaker David Bakradze for his part said ENM's 65 parliament deputies would not attempt to block the confirmation of ministerial nominees.

Such assurances may have been intended primarily for PR purposes, however. Just days later, ENM parliament member Chiora Taktakishvili told journalists that KO was pressuring and intimidating unnamed ENM deputies to switch their allegiance, presumably with the objective of securing a constitutional majority (100 of the total 150 seats). During the discussion on October 23 of KO's 23-page government program, some ENM deputies panned it as superficial. Some said it did not indicate clearly how various policies will be funded, or the deadline for their implementation. Others claimed that some of its provisions contradict pledges enshrined in KO's election manifesto.

Arguably the most telling indicator of the ENM's long-term plans is Saakashvili's appointment as ENM general secretary of his eminence grise, former Interior Minister and (briefly) Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili. Merabishvili was quoted last week by the Russian daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" as stating outright that "our goal is and will be to return to power." To achieve that, Merabishvili said, he planned to transform the ENM into "a new contemporary party," taking into account changes that have occurred within society.

One of the initiatives Saakashvili proposed during his address to the new parliament -- introducing direct elections for mayors and regional governors, who hitherto have been appointed by the president -- may be intended to facilitate that objective.  The ENM had for years rejected repeated opposition demands for such direct elections, except for the mayor of Tbilisi.

The rationale for Saakashvili's volte face on direct elections may be that the incumbent mayors and governors -- members of the ENM whom he personally appointed to their current posts -- are ideally placed to function as the ENM's shock troops in its campaign to regain power.

Is Ivanishvili Ready To Lead?

Ivanishvili commented dismissively after Saakashvili's October 21 address that "the National Movement no longer has any chance of coming to power." His confidence may prove to be misplaced, however, in light of his inconsistent pronouncements and seeming lack of both professionalism and preparedness to assume the post of prime minister to which he had publicly aspired for the past year.

Several commentators have drawn attention to the length of time it took Ivanishvili to nominate his final cabinet line-up: they asked rhetorically why he had not decided in advance in consultation with the leaders of the other parties aligned in KO who should take which government post. And one of his choices has already proven controversial: several NGOs, including the respected Georgian Young Lawyers' Association, have called on Ivanishvili to retract his nomination of David Darakhvelidze as minister for displaced persons in light of chauvinistic remarks Darakhvelidze made during the election campaign.  

Other aspects of Ivanishvili's behavior too may have raised eyebrows. Unveiling his first cabinet choices on October 8, he invited journalists to guess whom he had nominated for which post. And during their joint public appearance the following day, he referred to his interlocutor as "Saakashvili," rather than as "the president," as protocol (and elementary courtesy) require.

Ivanishvili has also shown himself to be inconsistent. Immediately after his election victory he announced that his first trip abroad as prime minister would be to the United States. Two weeks later, after meeting with visiting EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fuele, Ivanishvili said his first foreign trip would be to Brussels

That inconsistency, and Ivanishvili's laid-back manner, may simply reflect his lack of previous political experience. But that is unlikely to deter the embattled ENM from adducing them, sooner or later, as evidence that he is out of his depth.

The amateurish impression Ivanishvili gives would not matter greatly (heaven knows that consistency was not one of Saakashvili's strong points either), but for the Damocles' sword of the presidential election due in October 2013. That means the new government (which the parliament is to confirm on October 25) has just one year in which to demonstrate to the electorate that it can run the country better and deliver a better standard of living for the population than Saakashvili's team.

Ivanishvili and his government must resign after the presidential ballot, and the newly elected president will be empowered to veto the parliament's proposed candidate to head the new government. That veto can be overturned only by a three-fifths majority vote (90 of the total 150 lawmakers).

Meanwhile, the parliament's first priority will be drafting the 2013 budget, taking into account the $11.4 billion foreign debt that the new leadership has inherited. The government, for its part, has to come to grips with a growing wave of strikes and work stoppages declared in solidarity with the 1,000-strong work force of the Chiatura manganese plant who downed tools last week.

Tags: Bidzina Ivanishvili

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Anonymous
October 24, 2012 19:38
Such biased and partisan reporting is unworthy of RFERL
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
October 24, 2012 23:14
Of coarse it is worthy, they are Russia-Austria-Germany-Brits
In name of impeio-resurect, as US pay in name of democracy,
While someone, not unlike Eugenio, devide and rule as "Fritc",
For Russia. They killed my mother lying CIA I was "red erecy".
In Response

by: Jack from: US
October 25, 2012 00:39
on the contrary, a biased and partisan reporting is quite worthy of RFERL, which is a CIA-operated propaganda outlet of US government
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Losd Angeles
November 05, 2012 05:50
But of coarse, Jack, US government pay and CIA monitor
RFE Forums, but it is because both controlled by Russia,
Infiltrated by Russian and Germani-Austria nazi lying bors,
Blessed by Brits imperial resurrectors - posting a "lazha",
Or kill people, as Eugenio, he lied on me to kill my mother.
In Response

by: Anonymous
October 25, 2012 02:25
Is this article written in UNM head office?

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
October 25, 2012 08:38
Reading this report, one kind of gets an impression that the US State Dept has no clue (as usual :-) what to make of the defeat of their friend Mischa: on the one hand, they are kind of angry with the guy, as long as he had at his disposal everything he needed to get reelected and continue promoting the US agenda in the region (i.e. spoiling Georgia's relations with the country's biggest neighbour) and still lost.
On the other, the State Dept is kind of used to seeing its lackeys leave the scene one after the other (Yushchenko in Ukraine, Mubarak in Egypt, Tadic in Serbia, soon Basescu in Romania), so they do not know yet what to say about Iwanischwili in order not to make his too angry too soon :-)).
In Response

by: Hillary from: US
October 25, 2012 13:54
don't worry Eugenio, after we, the US government, finish winning in Afghanistan, we will win in republic of Georgia. I'm Hillary and I approve this message
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
October 26, 2012 09:01
A good point, Hillary - I already see the US tanks rolling over the streets of Sukhumi 200-300 years from now :-)).
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
November 05, 2012 07:22
My long commentary was destroyed just now.
Hell! I will right it later. Eugenio is lying on all points!
Russia and 1954 pact, infiltrating USA and the World, doing all he accuses other, singing glory to Russia, that acted as "podletc, negodyay, intrigan and provokator".
Ivanishvili grabb of regions might be another version of Ukraine "regions" - be invaded by Russia.
Lightings in President's palace payed by atracted touristm - gradualy replace it by economy-lights.
Money Ivanishvili get in Russia are small fraction of Georgia wealth expropriated by Russia since USSR and times of Czars.
Only my brake-through inventions, Russia stole for USA, and my "Contract with the People" are in area of 200 Billions of royalties - I have nothing.
Help refugees and economy Ivanishvili!
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 05, 2012 12:26
Hey, Konstantin, don't be sad that your "long commentary was destroyed" - the "short" one is as interesting as all your comments are :-).
But with one point that you are making I would like to STRONGLY disagree. You are saying: "The money Ivanishvili gets from Russia are a small fraction of Georgia's wealth expropriated by Russia since USSR and times of Czars".
See, Konstantin, this is one of those stories that the US has used quite successfully back in the 1980s and 1990s in order to convince people in such places as the former USSR or former Yugoslavia that they would be better off living separately. And what the last 20-25 years have demonstrated VERY CLEARLY, I would say, is that this claim is just WRONG. Look at Georgia youself: haven't Gamsakhurdia, Shevardnadze and then Mischa successively promised to the people of this small republic that they would be just so much better off just separated from Russia, Ukraine, Armenia and all the other former Soviet republics? Yes they have promised that!
And what did the people of Georgia get from this separation IN FACT? Just a total collapse of the economy and of the political system of the country, a demographic desaster and a total dependence on the US that is just interested in using Georgia as a passage route for the oil and gas from Azerbaijan to Turkey - that's all!
You can not seriously think that Georgia will EVER get a massive influx of tourists from Europe - people here are just too brainwashed into thinking that everything to the East of Hungary is just so damn dangerous and most ot them are just simply unable to imagine travelling to places where none of their neighbours has been before!
So, it seems to me that the election of Iwanischwili is a demonstration of the fact that the people in Georgia are just tired of listening to all these stories of how well they will leave if they spoil their relations with Russia. If the guy (Iwanisch.) has some brain, he will do all he can to restaure the Georgia's relations with its biggest neighbour, as long as confrontation between the two damages both - whereas cooperation between Georgia and Russia will inevitably benefit both.
Cheers from Vienna, Konstantin, and it's always a pleasure hearing from you :-))!

by: Anonymous
November 01, 2012 20:28
If this is English language article, why use the Georgian alphabet-based abbreviations, "KO" and "ENM?" It's not only confusing, it's nonsensical.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.