A public altercation last week between Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili and TV personality Gia Gachechiladze (aka Utsnobi) has given rise to widespread speculation that Kvirikashvili may step down, followed by multiple denials from coalition colleagues.
First Deputy Parliament Chairman Tamar Chugoshvili ruled out Kvirikashvili's exit on December 18 at the start of debates on the composition of the new cabinet that the prime minister proposed last month.
Both Chugoshvili and other senior Georgian Dream lawmakers have similarly denied any connection between Kvirikashvili's response to Gachechiladze's allegations of government corruption and the announcement on December 15 of the planned formation of two new factions within Georgian Dream's 115-member parliament majority.
Gachechiladze went public with his allegations at a specially convened press conference on December 12. He claimed that the government unfairly favored a company owned by outgoing Sports Minister Tariel Khechikashvili that was awarded a government contract to supply the Health Ministry with ambulances in a tender in which the Citroen subsidy in Georgia, which belongs to one of Gachechiladze's relatives by marriage, also participated. He said he appealed to Kvirikashvili, as an old friend, to intervene, whereupon the prime minister advised him to take legal action or lodge a formal complaint with the relevant government agency.
Gachechiladze was quoted on December 17 by Tabula.ge as suggesting unnamed government officials may have taken advantage of Kvirikashvili's trusting nature to engage in unlawful machinations behind his back. That news portal further divulged that since May 2015, companies owned by Khechikashvili have won tenders worth 23.5 million laris ($9.34 million) to supply the Georgian government with 502 vehicles.
Kvirikashvili publicly rejected the allegation of malpractice as untrue, saying that the tender was conducted strictly within the framework of the law. He added that if the allegation of foul play was nonetheless proven true, he was ready to resign, but that if it were not, he expects a formal apology from Gachechiladze, Interpressnews.ge reported.
As for the announcement that two new factions will be established within Georgian Dream's parliament majority, parliamentary chairman Irakli Kobakhidze rejected on December 16 as unfounded speculation that it reflected internal disagreements within the majority. Kobakhidze said discussions on establishing the new factions had begun prior to the end of the autumn parliament session, and that the objective was to improve internal management and coordination.
At present the majority comprises five small factions of five-to-six people, several of which (the Industrialists, the Conservatives) represent parties that aligned with Georgian Dream to contest the 2012 parliamentary election, plus an 86-member Georgian Dream faction headed by Mamuka Mdinaradze, who described that numerical disparity as "not the best foundation for management."
'Amendments To The Amendments'
One of the new factions will be headed by Bidzina Gegidze, who likewise denied any connection between their creation and the stand-off between Kvirikashvili and Gachechiladze.
A second prominent Georgian Dream faction member, lawyer Eka Beselia, argued that membership in small factions gives lawmakers a greater chance to participate in the work of the legislature. She further noted that Kvirikashvili's blessing for the establishment of the new factions is required in his capacity as Georgian Dream chairman.
Nonetheless, it became clear that there are differences of opinion within the Georgian Dream parliament majority during the vote on December 16 in the second reading on tweaking the constitutional amendments passed in October. The text of the "amendments to the amendments" had been changed after the first reading the previous day to broaden and enumerate the grounds on which public access to official documents may be restricted, Civil.ge reported.
First deputy parliament chairman Chugoshvili was one of several Georgian Dream lawmakers who criticized that new wording, declaring that "excess transparency has never caused a problem in this country; what created problems was excess secrecy." Those reservations did not, however, prevent the entire 115-majority voting for the bill.