In the October 27 presidential elections, the candidate of the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) coalition Giorgi Margvelashvili achieved an outright win over David Bakradze – the nominee of the major opposition party United National Movement (UNM). Margvelashvili gained 62.12 percent against Bakradze’s 21.72 percent while Nino Burjanadze, the former parliamentary speaker and the leader of democratic Movement - United Georgia party, secured a third place with 10.19 percent of the votes.
Observers from the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the European Parliament and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA) claimed that recent elections demonstrated the obvious progress the country attained in terms of strengthening democracy and European standards as well as the image of Georgia as the most democratic country in the region.
Whereas the election result proved the public support for the coalition and its leader, Prime Minister Ivanishvili, it also revealed GD’s overstated anticipation of the UNM’s political bankruptcy. The former ruling party maintains the status of the country’s major opposition force while pro-Russian radicals like Burjanadze and Koba Davitashvili – the head of the Party of the People who gained 0.6 percent of the votes – could mobilize little popular support.
In addition, the recent presidential elections had an extremely low turnout at less than 47 percent, perhaps an illustration of public disillusionment and political apathy suggesting that a sizable share of the electorate may feel unable to influence the course of political events.
After the presidential elections, Georgia will to enact constitutional amendments, adopted in 2010. These will come into force after the new president is sworn in on November 17 and will shift the balance of power in favor of the parliament and the PM. Consequently, Georgia will become a parliamentary republic with expanded authority for the PM and diminished powers for the president. The president will no longer have the lead in domestic and foreign policy and can appoint or dismiss the chief of staff of the armed forces as well as key military commanders only with agreement of the government. The same goes for signing international treaties, while most legal acts issued by the president will require authorization from the PM.
The post of PM thus obtains enormous political clout. In transitional democracies where personalities rather than parties are the main political actors, it is of utmost importance who will take the influential office.
31-year-old Gharibashvili is a long-time close associate of multi-billionaire PM Ivanishvili. Although his academic background is noteworthy – Gharibashvili studied international relations at Tbilisi State University and Political Science at Pantheon-Sorbonne University (“Paris 1”), his work experience has largely been limited to companies affiliated with Ivanishvili.
Since 2005, Gharibashvili has been Ivanishvili’s assistant at JSC “Cartu Group.” After a few years, he was promoted to director of Georgian Dream Ltd and later entered politics along with Ivanishvili. After the October 2012 parliamentary elections, Gharibashvili took the post of interior minister. PM Ivanishvili assessed him as a “very practical” and “honest” person” who “managed to do a miracle in one year,” transforming the previously untrustworthy police system into a European one.
The UNM sharply criticized Ivanishvili's decision, accusing Gharibashvili of nepotism and inability to deal with the challenges the country is facing in terms of the economy, unemployment and scarcity of investments. The UNM also insisted that 28-year-old Alexandre Tchikaidze, named by Gharibashvili as a candidate to replace him as interior minister, is an associate of Garibashvili’s father in law, Tamaz Tamazashvili.
Tchikaidze, who is less known to the public, joined the Ministry in 2008 as an assistant detective. After Gharibashvili secured the post of the interior ministry, Tchikaidze initially was promoted to chief of police in Kakheti and later as chief of the Tbilisi police department.
What is really obvious in Georgia’s post-election environment is that key political positions are to be taken by non-political figures. Both Margvelashvili and Gharibashvili ascended to power thanks to Ivanishvili and would hardly be able to maintain either the unity of GD or influence over it without his patronage. Unsurprisingly, this situation triggers speculations that Ivanishvili plans to rule Georgia from behind the scenes, with all the levers of power in his hands – a majority in the legislative body and two loyal persons in the executive branch. Consequently, he will neither have to face public criticism, nor take political responsibility in the case of government failure.