Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Georgian PM Ivanishvili Strips Defense Minister Alasania of Vice PM Post

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GEORGIAN PM IVANISHVILI STRIPS DEFENSE MINISTER ALASANIA OF VICE PM POST

by Eka Janashia (02/06/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Georgia’s Defense Minister and the leader of the Our Georgia-Free Democrats (OGFD) Irakli Alasania, one of the six parties constituting the Georgian Dream (GD) collation, has dismissed speculations over the possibility of the GD’s collapse after his February 2 meeting with Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. The first signs of uncertainty emerged on January 22 when Alasania stated on the Georgian Public Broadcaster’s political talk show Accents that he had “tense” talks with PM over the upcoming October presidential elections. Ivanishvili’s concerns were prompted by the fact that the OGFD’s discussions over the presidential candidacy were not synchronized with the GD, Alasania said, adding that “I agree fully with him that the presidential candidate should be agreed with the coalition and agreed with the coalition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili.”

The next day, Ivanishvili’s decision to deprive Alasania of the post of Deputy PM was publically announced. This gave rise to considerable discussion regarding potential conflicts within the GD coalition. Initially, Ivanishvili and his team vigorously sought to present Alasania’s demotion as a pragmatic move enabling the minister to focus strictly on defense issues. However, Ivanishvili later stated that Alasania’s failure to coordinate the issue with him encouraged rumors and misinterpretations in the provinces. Ivanishvili also provided a more detailed motivation saying that a local police chief had recently urged the head of the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG) party’s local branch in Ozurgeti to leave his post and join Alasania’s party as he would certainly become Georgia’s next president. According to Ivanishvili, the “elementary carelessness” demonstrated by Alasania had badly affected the GD coalition activists and officials in regions.

Apparently, the root of the differences stems from the divergent visions of the OGFD and the other collation members regarding the state’s constitutional arrangement. The Republican Party (RP) supports a parliamentary form of governance where the president is elected by the legislative body instead of direct elections and has only symbolic powers. The OGFD, on the contrary, favors a strong presidential institution and the election of a president through a popular vote. The same arrangement is stipulated in the constitutional amendments that will enter into force after the October presidential elections if the RP’s recently initiated amendments are not approved before that.

The initiative has the support of PM Ivanishvili, who also supports one of the RP leaders, Vakhtang Khmaladze, as a presidential candidate. However, neither the RP in general nor its leaders enjoy strong popular support. The RP thus has small chances of winning a direct presidential election but if a parliamentary form of governance will be established, Khmaladze could well become president with Ivanishvili’s support. Such a scenario will allow the RP’s other leader and Speaker of parliament David Usupashvili to secure a high-profile post in the government.

This is also very much in Ivanishvili’s interest as he struggles to secure unchallenged power over each pillar of the political system but most vigorously over the presidency. A symbolic-representative status of the institution of the presidency will allow Ivanishvili to minimize the possibility of any serious confrontation with the executive branch.

However, a strong presidential institution and Alasania’s presumed intention of running for president is a challenge to any such perspective. Alasania has enjoyed considerable popular support since 2008 when he left the United National Movement (UNM) and went into opposition. In the 2010 municipal elections in Tbilisi he obtained 19 percent of the votes and was the major rival of the incumbent mayor Gigi Ugulava.

While Ivanishvili is unlikely to accept a person with such high public ratings at a key political post, the Georgian public may conversely appreciate political diversity in the government. Given the UNM’s long-lasting monolithic ruling, a division of power between the political factions is welcomed by many Georgians. This may be a key reason for the coalition’s reluctance to submit the issue to a referendum as Alasania requires.

In addition, the OGFD’s preferences regarding the presidential institution coincide with those of the UNM, which is an additional issue of concern for GD.

Although there is at present little evidence to suggest either a split of the coalition or stronger ties developing between the OGFD and the UNM, Alasania’s demotion by Ivanishvili demonstrates that the latter does not trust him and will seek to prevent Alasania from gaining more power than he currently possesses.

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