By Eka Janashia (05/13/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On May 8, Georgia’s parliament approved the reshuffled government with 87 against 38 votes. It was the third set of changes impacting the cabinet composition since the breakup of the Georgian Dream (GD) ruling coalition in the fall of 2014.
On November 5, 2014, one of the founding members – Our Georgia-Free Democrats (OGFD) party – left the coalition. The party’s leader and then Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, along with the OGFD Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Euro-Atlantic Integration, lost their posts instigating subsequent changes in the lineup of the cabinet (see the 11/11/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst).
Shortly thereafter, another regrouping affecting senior and mid-level government officials as well as the GD leadership, took place allegedly due to former Prime Minister and oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili’s loss of confidence in his protégé PM Irakli Gharibashvili. The PM’s trustees – the Minister of Interior, GD’s Executive Secretary, the heads of the Special State Protection and State Security Services, and the Deputy Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure (MRDI) were replaced by Ivanishvili’s cadres. On April 21, the Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure, Davit Shavliashvili, left the post reportedly for health reasons and was substituted by his Deputy Minister, Ivanishvili’s close associate Nodar Javakhishvili (see the 01/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst).
A week later, the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Protection, Elguja Khokrishvili and the Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs Levan Kipiani also resigned. Republican MP Gigla Agulashvili, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Agriculture and Tariel Khechikashvili, co-owner of one of Georgia’s largest auto traders Iberia Business Group, were respectively named for the ministers’ posts.
What came as a surprise was the nomination of the chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on European Integration, Republican Tina Khidasheli as Minister of Defense. Although Khidasheli allegedly has long been at odds with Gharibashvili, she replaces the PM’s confidant Mindia Janelidze on the post.
Through these alterations, the government lost a third of its members and according to Georgia’s constitution, the new cabinet initially needs the president’s signature and then a confidence vote in parliament. The president is not entitled to block or reject ministerial nominees but on May 1, President Giorgi Margvelashvili used another constitutional lever and delayed the signing and submission of the new cabinet nomination to parliament to the end of the statutory seven-day period.
“As the commander-in-chief, I want to ask a question: how frequently should we replace Defense Ministers?” Margvelashvili said and suggested that the PM and parliament to go through the proposed composition of government members once more. As an immediate response, Gharibashvili defiantly issued decrees of the appointment of nominated ministers. On May 8, the reshuffled cabinet won a confidence vote in the parliament.
The parliament approved a renewed cabinet in late July 2014 and after less than year, the government again needs to restore its mandate through the legislative body. While that reshuffle carried a much more cosmetic character, the regrouping conducted since November 2014 is indicative of the internal contradictions that GD has undergone after OGFD’s exit.
Several factors have contributed to undermining GD. Since fall 2014, Georgia’s national currency, the Lari (GEL) has devaluated, dampening the overall social and economic climate in the country. A considerable share of the electorate has withdrawn its support for GD for this reason. The GEL crisis was coupled with two important events: OGFD’s exit from the coalition and Ivanishvili’s endeavor to introduce new confidantes in the government, allegedly due to his changing attitude towards the once favored Gharibashvili.
OGFD leader Alasania has publicly accused Ivanishvili of departing from Georgia’s pro-western course and thwarting a crucially important defense deal with France, likely as an effect of Russia’s objection to it (see the 04/15/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst).
The coalition was forced to reject Alasania’s accusations and bring to the front the Republican Party (RP), which is aside from OGFD GD’s other founding member with a pro-western reputation. RP holds six out of 87 GD mandates in parliament. Despite its small number of seats in the legislative body, the party after the recent reshuffle enjoys three ministerial portfolios – Environment, Defense and Reintegration. Moreover, Defense Minister Khidasheli is the spouse of Parliamentary Speaker Davit Usupashvili.
Through the move, GD hopes to appease Georgia’s western partners and simultaneously mollify the electorate supporting Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. Ivanishvili’s need to retrench Gharibashvili’s clout has in fact provided RP with an opportunity to increase its sway in the government. Given RP’s partnership and ideological closeness with OGFD, it has previously been speculated that the two parties could unite in opposition. In this scenario, RP and OGFD would form a new coalition at the detriment of GD but at this stage, RP’s leaders have chosen a different course of action.
The recent government reshuffle is part of a continuous internal redistribution of power within the ruling coalition, rather than an attempt to empower the executive team to deal with the collapsing economy.