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News Analysis: Ivanishvili's Cabinet Choices And His Domestic Reform Agenda

Georgia's Prime Minister-designate Bidzina Ivanishvili (far right) with some of the people he has chosen as cabinet ministers.
Georgia's Prime Minister-designate Bidzina Ivanishvili (far right) with some of the people he has chosen as cabinet ministers.
The Georgian Dream coalition swept to victory in legislative elections earlier this month promising to deliver on the lofty promises of Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution.

The coalition's win came just days after leaked videos emerged showing the apparent horrific abuse of prisoners by guards and prison officials in a Tbilisi jail, leading to popular demonstrations and the resignation of several top officials.

The scandal solidified fears that the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili was wavering in its commitment to human rights and democratic development.

Now that the leader of Georgian Dream, billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili, has announced his key cabinet picks, there is cautious optimism that the coalition intends to follow through on its mandate.

Ivanishvili tapped Irakli Garibashvili to take the post interior minister, and got lawyer Tea Tsulukiani to head the Justice Ministry.

Ivanishvili himself, when announcing his cabinet choices, stressed that although the country's first-ever peaceful transfer of power through elections was itself a landmark, it was only the beginning of a potentially difficult process.

"Besides the fact that we have peacefully changed the government, now we should do an even bigger thing, which is to become a genuine people's [government] as well as a really honest government," he said.

According to the U.S.-based NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), Georgia's human rights record in recent years has been "uneven."

HRW says Saakashvili's government used a politicized police force and judicial system for its own political purposes. It ignored deteriorating conditions in Georgian prisons and prison overcrowding. National television broadcasting is limited to state television and the pro-government Rustavi television channel.

Justice Reform

Reports in April 2011 by the Council of Europe and in May 2011 by the European Union noted the country's mixed record on rights and criticized the poor administration of justice.

Interior Minister-designate Irakli Garibashvili is just 30 years old, but he is seen as Ivanishvili's right-hand man.
Georgian Interior Minister nominee Irakli Garibashvili
Georgian Interior Minister nominee Irakli Garibashvili

Since 2004, he has worked in Ivanishvili's Cartu holding company. Most recently, he headed Ivanishvili's Cartu charitable foundation, which largely laid the groundwork for Ivanishvili to launch himself into politics.

Speaking on Georgian television on October 8, Garibashvili emphasized that Ivanishvili has tasked him with radically reforming the Interior Ministry, although he has offered no specifics yet.

"The most important task that we will have to carry out, that me and our team have been assigned, is that the police -- and the entire ministry -- should be freed from politics, from any kind of pressure," he said. "We have to defend the rights of police officers and, together with them, we must continue effective work in the service of the country. Secondly, we must make sure the police force regains its main function -- that it should serve the people and the country. This is the most important principle."

Garibashvili has said that he is the "personal guarantee" that there will be no political persecutions in Georgia and that the Interior Ministry will be "as transparent as possible."

Lincoln Mitchell, a professor at Columbia University in New York who advised Georgian Dream, expressed confidence that the young Garibashvili is capable of fulfilling such pledges:

"He's a competent, get-things-done administrator and he's very good at that, which is a large part of what the Interior Minister needs to be," he said. "His mandate is very clear there -- the Interior Ministry was a disaster, so we've got to clean it up. We've got to root out corruption. A lot of the work on strengthening democracy in Georgia will naturally fall to the Interior Ministry so this, I think, becomes a very important ministry because of that."

Turning Principles Into Policies

Ivanishvili's pick for justice minister, 37-year-old attorney Tea Tsulukiani, even more clearly demonstrates the new cabinet's human-rights priorities.

Tsulukiani joined Defense Minister-designate Irakli Alasania's Our Georgia-Free Democrats bloc in 2010 in order to oppose Saakashvili's government.

Most importantly, the French-educated Tsulukiani spent 10 years working at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Thomas de Waal, a Causcasus expert with the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, sees Tsulukiani as possibly Ivanishvili's most inspiring pick.
Georgian Justice Minister-in-waiting Tea Tsulukiani
Georgian Justice Minister-in-waiting Tea Tsulukiani

"She will now have oversight of prisons," he said. "You know, one of the reasons that the government lost the elections was the appalling state of prisons and the criminal justice system. So to have someone who is extremely progressive on those issues as justice minister, I think, is a very important signal and that will go down very well in Europe."

Speaking to journalists the day after her appointment, Tsulukiani underlined the principle of equality before the law.

"The two main principles I want to establish -- together with my future coworkers -- within Georgia's justice system, are that everyone should be equal before the law, from minister to ordinary citizen, and that there is no place for selective justice," she said. "A person who commits a crime must be punished, but this punishment should not be destructive. Punishment should be adequate and should be aimed at the betterment of the individual."

For both Garibashvili and Tsulukiani the task now is to transform principles into effective policies.

RFE/RL Georgian Service correspondent Salome Asatiani contributed to this report