Four weeks after the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party secured a constitutional majority in the second round parliamentary runoff vote, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili has formally confirmed as prime minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who had served in that capacity since late December.
The parliament had approved Kvirikashvili's cabinet by majority vote late on November 26 after a two-day debate. But the acrimonious criticisms of some nominees and of Kvirikashvili personally by the two opposition factions -- the former ruling United National Movement and the anti-Western Alliance of Patriots -- made it clear that Kvirikashvili's stated objective of promoting consensus and accord is likely to prove at best difficult, and possibly utopian.
Addressing the inaugural session of the new parliament on November 18, President Margvelashvili too had stressed the need for "constructive cooperation" between the various factions. Irakli Kobakhidze, who was elected parliament speaker at that session, similarly declared that he will try to ensure "the maximum possible constructive cooperation between political forces," but that doing so "will require our joint efforts."
The United National Movement, however, apparently has no interest in such constructive cooperation. When its leaders finally announced last month that its 27 deputies would not, as urged by party founder and former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, boycott the work of the new legislature to protest what they termed the blatant falsification of the election, they stated clearly that their intention was to create the maximum discomfort for the majority.
Accordingly, at both the inaugural parliament session and the special parliament session one week later to endorse the new cabinet, United National Movement representatives resorted to combative rhetoric. Giorgi Tughushi, for example, challenged Kobakhidze's declared readiness for cooperation with other political forces, citing his imputed "aggression and even hatred" for the United National Movement.
Minority leader Nika Melia, for his part, characterized Kvirikashvili as a "nominal prime minister," alluding to perceptions that it is Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia's founder, billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili, who in fact controls and dictates all aspects of government policy.
Kvirikashvili responded by asking Melia how he expected a "non-nominal" prime minister to behave. He recalled how, when the United National Movement was in power, one prime minister whom he declined to name (Vano Merabishvili) reportedly issued orders to Interior Ministry special forces troops and routinely telephoned judges to instruct them what verdicts to hand down.
A third lawmaker from the United National Movement, Elene Khoshtaria, told journalists that the content and discussion of the four-year government program unveiled by Kvirikashvili on November 26 shows that he and his ministers "are living in a parallel universe" and have no understanding of the problems the country faces.
That program entitled Freedom, Rapid Development, and Welfare, was based on Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia's election program and expanded on the four-point program Kvirikashvili announced after his appointment in 2014. It encompasses educational, pension, and tax reform and a further stage in the ongoing reform of the judiciary.
Commentator Aleksandre Tvalchrelidze of the Academy of Natural Sciences had argued in an extensive interview with the news portal InterpressNews that the government program should not be confined to economic issues and that the hoped-for rapid development is contingent on structural reforms, including in the public sector.
Kvirikashvili also stressed in his address to parliament that Georgia's foreign-policy priorities will remain unchanged, including reaching a free-trade agreement with the European Union and seeking a "deescalation" in relations with Russia without compromising on Georgia's insistence on respect for its territorial integrity.
Explaining the economic component of the program in greater detail, Economy Minister-designate Giorgi Gakharia listed as key challenges ensuring rapid economic growth and reducing the trade gap and unemployment.
Gakharia was one of just four new ministers, replacing Dmitri Kumsishvili, who took over as finance minister from Nodar Khaduri. Zurab Alavidze replaced Nodar Javakhishvili as minister for regional development and infrastructure; First Deputy Minister of Agriculture Levan Davitashvili succeeded his former boss as minister; and Viktor Dolidze, who represented the Free Democrats in the previous parliament, was named minister for European integration in place of Davit Bakradze, who has been appointed ambassador to the United States.
Tvalchrelidze attributed those changes not so much to the inefficiency of the ministers who were replaced as to Kvirikashvili's desire to select people whom he feels comfortable working with as part of a harmonious team.
Predictably, the United National Movement faction withheld its support for the new cabinet, declaring that the minimal changes show that the ruling party "does not understand the necessity for a change of policy."
Irma Inashvili of the Alliance of Patriots criticized the reappointment of the outgoing ministers of culture and environmental protection, arguing that both should be held criminally responsible for approving a new mining project that inflicted considerable damage on the prehistoric site of Sakdrisi, believed by some scholars to be one of the world's first gold mines.