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Georgia: President Nominates New Premier

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (file photo) Prague, 9 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has tapped 40-year-old Zurab Nogaideli to succeed the late Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, who was found dead of apparent gas poisoning in a Tbilisi apartment last week.

Nogaideli, who served as Zhvania's finance minister, now has two days to form a new cabinet that will meet with parliamentary approval. But the speaker of parliament is expressing dissatisfaction with Saakashvili's choice.

News of Zurab Nogaideli's nomination was announced at a press briefing late yesterday by Saakashvili spokeswoman Alana Gagloyeva.

"I would like to announce that Mr. Zurab Nogaideli has been nominated for the post of prime minister," she said. "He should himself nominate members of the new cabinet within two days. It is important to us to complete the work that we started and avoid any disturbances."

Saakashvili's decision came after two days of intense behind-the-scenes negotiations with several top candidates.

Before announcing his choice, the Georgian president held last-minute talks with top cabinet ministers and parliamentary majority leaders.

Nogaideli will be Georgia's second prime minister since that position was introduced last February. He replaces Zurab Zhvania, who died on 3 February of what authorities say was carbon-monoxide poisoning caused by a faulty gas heater.

Many in Georgia -- including some members of the ruling coalition -- have doubts about the official version of Zhvania's death. They are demanding that an independent probe be conducted.

The government has not responded to the request but has turned to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for help with its own investigation.

Georgian commentators today said Saakashvili, by nominating a member of Zhvania's cabinet, is seeking to project a sense of stability and continuity in the executive.

They also speculate that Nogaideli's appointment may, at least temporarily, avert a rift between Zhvania loyalists and ministers who are closer to Saakashvili.
"It is imperative that the prime minister shows flexibility and seeks compromises. Search for compromise does not, however, mean that the prime minister must slavishly approve everything, or abandon his principles." -- Parliament Speaker Nino Burjanadze

Nogaideli was considered one of the least controversial candidates to succeed Zhvania. Even so, there appears to be no political consensus on his nomination.

Speaking to reporters today, Parliament Speaker Nino Burjanadze made it clear she is unhappy with Saakashvili's choice.

"With regard to the discussions we have had [these last few days], I can say that when President Saakashvili invited me for consultations we discussed several candidacies," she said. "When I left his office, we were considering another candidacy, and I can tell you that Zurab Nogaideli's nomination came as a surprise to me. I have nothing to hide, and I am not fond of corridor conversations. I had my own views [on who should be nominated prime minister]. I was against Nogaideli's candidacy because of his character traits. These traits are not a problem for a finance minister, but I am sure they will become a hindrance if Nogaideli doesn't leave them at the door of his prime minister's cabinet."

Together with Saakashvili and Zhvania, Burjanadze was one of the leaders of the Rose Revolution that forced President Eduard Shevardnadze to step down in November 2003. She is considered a key element in the balance of political forces at the top of the Georgian leadership.

Burjanadze hinted that despite being dominated by the ruling party, the legislature might find it difficult to work with Nogaideli -- a man she described as stubborn, uncompromising and "lacking flexibility and communication skills."

"Today, it is important that the prime minister should be able to avoid conflicts, not only with the people he will work with, but also with the parliament," she said. "It is imperative that the prime minister shows flexibility and seeks compromises. Search for compromise does not, however, mean that the prime minister must slavishly approve everything, or abandon his principles."

According to Georgia's revised constitution, the composition and program of the new cabinet must be approved by a simple majority of lawmakers within seven days after being submitted to parliament for approval.

If the legislature rejects the president's choice for prime minister and the composition of the new cabinet three times, the head of state has the right to appoint a new candidate without the parliament's approval.

Nogaideli was born in October 1964 in Kobuleti, a town in Georgia's autonomous republic of Adjara. He holds a degree in physics from Moscow State University.

Like Zhvania, Nogaideli entered politics in the late 1980s and early 1990s by joining Soviet Georgia's nascent Green movement.

Nogaideli was first elected to the Georgian national legislature in 1992 and assumed the chairmanship of the environment and natural resources committee. Re-elected in 1995, he retained his parliamentary seat for another four years.

In 2000, Shevardnadze picked him to run the Finance Ministry. Two years later, Nogaideli resigned in protest over Shevardnadze's politics. He followed Zhvania into the political opposition, while simultaneously starting a career in the private banking sector.

Following Shevardnadze's resignation, Nogaideli was once again appointed finance minister, a position in which he reportedly developed a close working relationship with international lenders.

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