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Georgian Dream Lawmakers OK New Government On Sharply Divided Caucasus Landscape


New Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili is congratulated by Georgian Dream lawmakers after a confidence vote in his government in a boycotted parliament on February 22.

The Georgian parliament has approved a new government led by Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili following the surprise exit last week of a prime minister from the same ruling party angry over its handling of accusations targeting an opposition leader.

Gharibashvili and his proposed cabinet were supported by 89 deputies with two opposed in the 150-member parliament, where the main opposition United National Movement (ENM) and smaller parties are boycotting proceedings.

The political scene for the Caucasus nation's 4 million people has been on the brink of crisis since October elections dominated by the Georgian Dream party but that independent monitors say were marred by irregularities.

The long-governing Georgian Dream named the Paris-educated Gharibashvili, a former prime minister who was serving as defense minister, to replace outgoing party colleague Giorgi Gakharia.

Gakharia announced his resignation as prime minister on live television on February 18 following a court ruling that ordered the arrest of Nika Melia, the head of the ENM.

Gakharia had warned that Melia's arrest could further escalate Georgia's ongoing political crisis and that polarization that "is the greatest risk for the future of our country [and] its economic development."

A Tbilisi court granted a prosecution request to place Melia in custody in a case denounced by the opposition as a political witch hunt.

In the West, Georgia has been regarded as a potential role model for its democratic trends in a region where democracy is sometimes an afterthought or worse.

International observers said Georgia's national vote in October was "competitive and, overall, fundamental freedoms were respected" but cited pervasive allegations of pressure on voters.

Critics say Georgian Dream founding billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili has cemented his grip on power over the past seven years of on-again, off-again public leadership of the party.

After Georgian Dream's electoral victory in 2012, Ivanishvili served as prime minister for just over a year before returning to the private sector, though most believe he still wields unrivaled influence over Georgian politics.

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