Tuesday, 11 November 2014 12:00

Georgia's Ruling Coalition Disintegrates

By Eka Janashia (11/11/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On November 5, the Our Georgia-Free Democrats (OGFD) party, led by Former Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, quit the ruling coalition Georgian Dream (GD). The departure of one of the founding members of the coalition was the culmination of a political crisis that had been ongoing for a week.

In the end of October, the prosecutor’s office arrested the former head of the Ministry of Defense (MoD) procurements department and two incumbent officials from the same department, along with the head and an official of the communications and IT department of the general staff of the armed forces, on charges of misspending GEL 4.1 million through a state-secret tender that allegedly was a sham.

Another set of charges came in early November when the Prosecutor’s office blamed three army medical officials and three employees of a state-owned food provider company for negligence resulting in foodborne illnesses of hundreds of servicemen last year.

As the charges were raised, Defense Minister Alasania was on a foreign trip, holding high-level meetings with French and German counterparts while the Chief of the General Staff of the Georgian Armed Forces, Maj. Gen. Vakhtang Kapanadze was paying a three-day visit to Estonia.

Upon his return, Alasania states his full support for the detained officials and termed the Prosecutor’s move a politically motivated attack on Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic course. The arrests took place while the Defense Minister was making efforts to strike a very important deal enhancing Georgia’s defense capacities, he said. Several hours after this statement, PM Irakli Gharibashvili sacked Alasania and his deputies from their posts in the Defense Ministry.

In response, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Maia Panjikidze – Alasania’s sister in law and his close associate, and the State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration Alexi Petriashvili, resigned. Four deputy foreign ministers, Davit Zalkaniani, Davit Jalagania, Tamar Beruchashvili, and Levan Gurgenidze also declared their intention to leave the cabinet, lamenting that Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic path is in danger. The decision of the Minister of Justice, Tea Tsulukiani – a member of OGFD – was critical in stifling the ensuing political crisis. After she declared that there was no reason to doubt the government’s pro-European stance and opted to retain her post, all deputy foreign ministers except Zalkaliani made a U-turn and kept their posts.

On November 5, at the Georgian Dream (GD) coalition’s council meeting, which was also attended by ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, OGFD announced its departure from the coalition. The step induced Gharibashvili to dub Alasania an “adventurer” and a “stupid and ambitious” politician and accused OGFD of being in a covert alliance with the United National Movement (UNM). Although Alasania initially did not rule out cooperation with any pro-European political force, including the UNM, after the PM’s accusations, he later denied such a perspective.

The U.S. Department of State expressed “concern” over the dismissal of Alasania and his deputy ministers as well as the subsequent resignations of the State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration and Foreign Minister. It announced its appreciation for Alasania’s work and called on the Georgian government to avoid perceptions of selective justice. 

Meanwhile, Alasania, who has resumed chairmanship of the OGFD party, stated at the party congress that OGFD, along with the Georgian people, would celebrate victory in the next parliamentary polls, planned for 2016. He also emphasized that the state “should be based on fair laws and not on the will of one man.” This statement echoed President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s earlier remarks. Commenting on the dismissal of the country’s top three ministers, the president stated that “the country should be ruled by strong institutions and not from behind the scenes.”

Margvelashvili could be among those who will gain from the change in political realities. Being exiled from the coalition, Margvelashvili and OGFD could find common ground for cooperation. The collapse of GD also creates a more favorable situation for the UNM, although the political environment will become more competitive as yet another pro-western party will bid for largely the same segment of the electorate.

In addition, OGFD’s move strengthened the Republican Party’s (RP) positions within the coalition. Before the cabinet reshuffle, RP leaders accentuated the need for GD’s “de-personalization” and “institutionalization,” a position echoed by Margvelashvili’s and OGFD’s recent remarks. In fact, the Speaker of Parliament, RP leader Davit Usupashvili, asserted at the OGFD congress that RP and OGFD will remain partners. It seems that RP can now choose to leave GD at the moment that best suits its interests.

The dismissal of pro-Western ministers could be costly for the ruling coalition. Firstly, it damaged the prestige of GD and exposed its internal fragility. Secondly, it encouraged fluxes in parliament. MPs Tamaz Japaride, Gela Samkharauli and Gedevan Popkhadze quit OGFD and joined GD, while GD deputy chairman of the legal affairs committee, MP Shalva Shavgulidze lined up with OGFD. The reposition left the ruling coalition with exactly 75 seats in the 150-member parliament, one deputy less than needed for a simple parliamentary majority. To avoid failure, GD has absorbed 12 independent deputies who have informally cooperated with GD since 2012. Thus, the coalition will likely attain 87 voices.  Nevertheless, three pro-western political forces – OGFD, RP, and UNM, plus president Margvelashvili, now aspire to circumscribe Ivanishvili’s grip on power.

On the other hand, it is unclear what levers Ivanishvili will be able to deploy against the OGDF and RP leaders. In his first public comments about the recent developments, Ivanishvili unveiled secret details of the criminal cases against the MoD officials in an attempt to downplay the political dimension of the charges. Thus, the anticipated pressure on opposition leaders and their ability to resist will determine the distribution of political forces in Georgia prior to the 2016 parliamentary elections. 

Published in Field Reports

By Johanna Popjanevski and Carolin Funke (10/29/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Georgia’s relations with Russia and its breakaway region of Abkhazia have deteriorated in recent months. Moscow-loyal Raul Khajimba’s ascent to power after the August presidential election in Abkhazia, followed by Russia’s proposed treaty on “alliance and integration” with Abkhazia, have given rise to concerns of a Russian annexation of the region and put both Georgia’s reconciliation process with Abkhazia and its attempts to normalize relations with Moscow at stake. In order to avoid a Ukraine-like scenario, Georgia’s Western allies must respond adequately to current developments. The Georgian government and opposition must also overcome their differences and adopt a united front regarding the common goal of restoring Georgia’s territorial integrity.

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Published in Analytical Articles
Wednesday, 29 October 2014 10:13

Moscow and Sukhumi to Sign New Agreement

By Eka Janashia (10/29/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

The Russian Federation and the Republic of Abkhazia intend to sign a Kremlin-proposed new agreement “On Alliance and Integration” by the end of October. The draft agreement further limits Abkhazia’s nominal independence in its relationship with Russia by circumscribing its competence to pursue defense and security policies. The publicized provisions of the document triggered reactions apprehensions in Sokhumi as well as Tbilisi.

The draft agreement foresees the introduction of a “common defense infrastructure,” a “combined group of forces” and “joint measures for border protection” to replace existing Abkhazian ones. Abkhazia’s Army, as an autonomous unit, will be replaced with a Combined Group of Forces (CGF) of the Russian and Abkhaz armed forces with joint command and defense infrastructure. In wartime, the commander of CGF will be appointed by Russia’s ministry of defense while citizens of Abkhazia will be able to serve on a contractual basis in Russian military units deployed in the breakaway region. The draft treaty also involves a “collective defense” clause obliging the sides to provide necessary support in case of attack.

The document also envisages a shift of the Russia-Abkhazia de facto border from the Psou River – at the de jure frontier between Russia and Georgia – to the Inguri River, which divides Abkhazia from Georgia proper. Moscow assumes the responsibility to protect the “Abkhaz state border with Georgia” by imposing “joint control” on the movement of people, transport and cargo in Abkhazia’s custom offices including ports. 

Meanwhile, the draft treaty posits that Sokhumi will align its customs legislation with Eurasian Economic Union regulations and procedures, and synchronize its budgetary and tax laws with those of Russia in pre-defined time frame. In turn, the Kremlin commits to support Abkhazia’s international recognition, making it eligible for accession into international organizations.

To mitigate its obvious attempt to annex the region, Moscow pledges to increase the salaries of employees at state agencies and pensions for Russian citizens residing in Abkhazia. Notably, possessing Russian passports, the majority of Abkhazia’s residents are Russian citizens. Moscow promises to integrate these people into Russia’s federal compulsory health insurance system, which will allow them access to Russian healthcare services.

Despite extensive social assurances, the draft agreement triggered concerns in Abkhazia’s political and civil society circles. Even incumbent officials of the de facto republic stated a need to revise the document, which will otherwise lead to the loss of Abkhazia’s sovereignty. The fragility of opposition forces in Abkhazia, however, makes considerable changes to the draft unlikely.

Tbilisi termed the document a “step towards annexation” of Abkhazia by the Kremlin. Georgia’s PM Irakli Gharibashvili said that “this [treaty] is directly contrary to their [Abkhazians] 25-year struggle for self-determination, recognition and so-called independence.” Gharibashvili’s statement was strongly criticized by most Georgian opposition politicians and analysts. The ethnic cleansing and expulsion of Georgians from their homes deprives Abkhazia of a right to “self-determination” and the use of this term by Georgia’s PM could legitimize Abkhazia’s struggle for independence, the opponents asserted.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s parliament did not support the opposition United National Movement (UNM) party’s demand to abolish the Karasin-Abashidze format. Bilateral talks between the Georgian PM’s special envoy for relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, and Russia’s deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin have taken place since December 2012 and mainly focuses on economic and trade issues. Tbilisi should express its protest to Moscow by repealing the format, UNM claimed.

Moscow termed Tbilisi’s reaction to the proposed treaty an “unscrupulous and dangerous speculation,” which may thwart the Geneva discussions, launched after the Russia-Georgia August war. For Tbilisi, maintaining the international platform provided by the Geneva talks is vitally important, as the format recognizes Russia as a party to the conflict. The Geneva talks also allow Georgia to discuss conflict related issues at the international level with the engagement of the EU, OSCE, and the UN, as well as the U.S. For the same reasons, Moscow is interested in thwarting the Geneva talks and instead reinforce direct, bilateral ties with Tbilisi.

The draft agreement proposed by the Kremlin will diminish any illusions that may have existed in Abkhazia regarding the region’s ability to attain sovereignty. The move will also test both Tbilisi’s capability to consolidate international pressure against Russia and Sokhumi’s strength to resist Moscow. 

Published in Field Reports

By Eka Janashia (15/10/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) October 1st resolution on “the functioning of democratic institutions in Georgia” spurred debates in both Strasbourg and Tbilisi.

The Georgian Dream ruling coalition along with Michael Aastrup Jensen of Denmark and Boriss Cilevičs of Latvia, the two PACE co-rapporteurs on Georgia, strongly opposed the document while the United National Movement (UNM) opposition party supported it, backed by the majority of Assembly members.

The draft resolution built on a report prepared by the co-rapporteurs as a part of PACE’s regular activity to observe the country’s performance regarding obligations undertaken upon its accession to the Council of Europe (CoE) in 1999.

Allegedly, UNM members of the Georgian delegation were, through the support of European People’s Party (EPP), able to introduce amendments to the initial version in order to make it more critical of the Georgian authorities. As a result, the originally “balanced” report has been changed into a “partisan” one, Jensen and Cilevičs claimed. Jensen termed the product “completely a shame,” because PACE should not be taking sides in Georgia’s internal politics, but should instead “try to paint a picture as correctly as it is.”

According to the document, despite the peaceful handover of power after the 2012 parliamentary and 2013 presidential elections in Georgia, the arrest and prosecution of almost the entire UNM leadership “overshadowed” the democratic achievements the country has made since.

The document describes the detention in absentia of former President Mikheil Saakashvili, former Minister of Defense David Kezerashvili and former Minister of Justice Zurab Adeishvili as well as the arrest of former Prime Minister and UNM Secretary General Vano Merabishvili, former Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia and former Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava as regressive moves for Georgia’s democracy.

The resolution expresses concerns over the freezing of assets belonging to former government officials’ family members and the length of Akhalaia’s pre-trail detention, asking the authorities to replace detention on remand with non-custodial precautionary measures. It takes note of the multiple charges filed against the former president as well as the large number of possible instances of criminal conduct on the part of former government officials and emphasizes that no one is above law, but meanwhile urges the authorities to ensure that their trials are impartial.

In this respect, the resolution recalls the Assembly’s reservations regarding the independence of the judiciary and administration of justice in Georgia. While it welcomes positive signals such as the adoption of a comprehensive reform package aiming to establish a truly adversarial justice system, it also notices that the sensitive legal cases against opposition leaders has disclosed “vulnerabilities and deficiencies” of the system. Thus, the Assembly suggests further reforms of the judiciary and prosecution service and recommends the Georgian parliament to achieve a necessary compromise to elect all members of the High Council of Justice.

Another set of concerns refers to an increasingly intolerant and discriminatory attitude especially towards sexual and religious minorities and a lack of measures from all stakeholders – the investigative and prosecution agencies, politicians and institutions with high moral credibility – to examine “hate crimes” and condemn discriminatory sentiments. Regarding minorities, the Assembly also calls on the Georgian authorities to sign and ratify the European charter of regional and minority languages, which remains an unfulfilled commitment of the country since its accession to CoE. The Assembly recommends the government to communicate the charter’s provisions to the public through an awareness campaign and ensure the engagement of civil society, media and other interest groups in the process. As for the deported Meskhetian population, the document underscores the setbacks in granting citizenship to already repatriated persons.

Before the resolution was adopted, PM Irakli Gharibashvili expressed hope that EPP along with other members would not rely on the “groundless allegations” put forward by UNM. Later, commenting the already approved document, he said the amendments to the resolution had been passed because of EPP’s “solidarity” with UNM. “The wording that was made in reference to Akhalaia and Saakashvili – I do not deem it alarming. This is yet another attempt by the UNM to fight against its own state, its own people,” he said.

Although the Assembly is deeply concerned about “a polarized and antagonistic political climate” in Georgia, the resolution has further fanned the confrontation between GD and UNM. Rejecting political motivations, GD declares that prosecution of former officials is a demand of Georgian people and that it certainly should be met. The head of the human rights committee in the Georgian parliament and one of the GD leaders, Eka Beselia, termed the Assembly’s request regarding Akhalaia an attempt to exercise pressure on the independent court.

The adoption of a critical resolution on Georgia signifies that leading European political forces are principally against the marginalization and demonization of UNM, as its disappearance from political scene would enormously damage democratic processes in the country. On the other hand, GD evidently maintains a tough approach reflected in its indifference to the PACE recommendations regarding the prosecution of opposition party members.  

Published in Field Reports

By Eka Janashia (10/01/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

A dispute between Georgia’s President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili gained momentum in mid-September, as both the head of state and the head of government decided to attend the September 23 Climate Summit at the UN headquarters in New York.

PM Gharibashvili declared his intention to participate September’s UN General Debates in July. Meanwhile the President’s office declared that Margvelashvili received a personal invitation from the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon though the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) withheld the letter.

Deputy Foreign Minister David Zalkaniani later explained that the UN invitation was initially mistakenly addressed to former President Mikheil Saakashvili and the MFA had to resend it, causing the delay. To verify their respective versions, both sides disclosed their correspondence while Georgia came close to the diplomatic embarrassment of sending two simultaneous delegations to the UN.

Finally, Margvelashvili was dissuaded from attending the UN Summit. Commenting on the outcome, he said that “serious, organized efforts were undertaken against the visit of the Georgian President and as a result of these efforts the visit to the United States is thwarted.”

The embarrassing episode was not the first sign of discord between Margvelashvili and the leadership of the Georgian Dream (GD) coalition in general, and between the president and PM in particular.

According to former PM Ivanishvili, the disagreement started with Margvelashvili’s decision to use the glass-dome presidential palace constructed during Saakashvili’s presidency and, in Ivanishvili’s words, associated with “violence, evil and indecency” (See the 04/02/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst). Margvelashvili, however, claimed that the tensions stemmed from the ruling coalition’s attempts to make him an “obedient” figure complying with the instructions of GD and the PM.

Another spat took place ahead of Georgia’s signing of the Association Agreement (AA) with the EU in June. The question of who would sign the AA became a subject of heated debate among constitutionalists, politicians, analysts and even ordinary people. Margvelashvili expressed his readiness to delegate his right to sign the treaty to the PM but the latter argued that Georgian constitution grants him sufficient competence to sing the agreement. Although most lawyers maintained that the AA should be signed by the president, it was the PM who signed it and the president was not even invited for the AA’s ratification ceremony in the parliament.

On August 1, Gharibashvili did not attend a session of the National Security Council (NSC) presided by Margvelashvili. The meeting was intended to discuss Georgia’s preparation for the upcoming NATO summit in Wales. Notably, the role of the NSC itself has been marginalized since November 2013 when the PM formed the Security and Crisis Management Council partially duplicating the NSC’s functions. On the same day, the GD parliamentary majority voted against the president’s Supreme Court judge nominees.

Several days later, the Prosecutor’s Office lamented that despite its request, Margvelashvili did not declassify a portion of the 2009-2013 spending records from the Special State Protection Service (SSPS). Part of those secret documents were publicized in April 2013. Another part, falling under President Margvelashvili’s competence, remained confidential.

Margvelashvili responded that he is empowered to contemplate sensitive matters such as declassification of secret information as long as the law allows him to do so and that no one can pressure him to do otherwise.

Some analysts suggest that vague and implicit clauses of the amended Georgian constitution, which came into force in 2013, fueled the conflict between the head of state and the head of government. Clause 69, paragraph 2 of the Georgian constitution states that “the president represents Georgia in foreign relations.” Nevertheless, clause 78, paragraph 1.4 entitles this competence to the PM as well, saying that the “prime minister … represent[s] Georgia in foreign relations within his competence” and meanwhile charges the cabinet with the responsibility to implement foreign policy. These clauses of the current constitution are likely to prompt confrontation rather than clarifying responsibilities.

However, the true reason for the disagreement between the president and PM likely has little to do with disagreements over foreign policy. Both politicians emerged through Ivanishvili’s clout, thanks to the allegiance they proclaimed to him. As Margvelashvili’s loyalty faded, the GD leadership increased pressure on him. As soon as Ivanishvili begun to publicly criticize the president, the PM and other ministers quickly replicated the move. This suggests that political power in Georgia is still concentrated to Ivanishvili’s informal rule.

After months of simmering conflict, it is still not clear whether Margvelashvili will stay within the GD coalition or endeavor his own political game. However, he recently reminded the public that in the case of a political crisis, he retains a right to resign or dismiss the parliament. 

Published in Field Reports

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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