Georgia’s richest person Bidzina Ivanishvili serves as the country’s prime Minister since 25 December 2012. On several occasions, Ivanishvili has declared his intention to quit the job after the presidential elections in the country on 27 October, 2013; once consistency of his political course is ensured2. Presently, there is plenty of speculation whether Ivanishvili would keep his promise. In the meantime, potential prime ministerial choices are also being discussed.
Just like many, political scientist Zaal Andjaparidze believes Ivanishvili will remain in politics. According to him, Ivanishvili never made an official statement on the issue but expressed his personal wish. His close associates, however, are doing their utmost to convince the public that it was not a game but a genuine wish.
Recent survey by the U.S. National Democratic Institute (NDI) revealed that the majority of respondents oppose PM’s wish to abandon politics. Indeed, in his open letter to the public Ivanishvili said that he may return to politics if needed.
Who would be the next Prime Minister?
For public, most intriguing subject is the candidature of the prime minister. Although, Ivanishvili said that the choice has been made already and that designated prime minister was an interesting person, he failed to mention any names.
According to experts, candidates include Ivanishvili’s close associate, Interior minister Irakliy Garibashvili, Economy minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Defense minister Irakli Alasaniya and businessman Levan Vasadze. Vasadze is also known to have close relations with presidential candidate Georgiy Margelashvili, although Margelashvili did say that he was not on the candidates list. In the meantime, Georgian political expert Vaja Beridze mentioned yet another candidate. Ucha Mamachashvili, who also happens to be incumbent PM’s relative, plays a key role in management of Ivanishvili’s business. Although not viewed as a political figure, he is still known as a smart person.
Ivanishvili said that among other candidates, “Georgian railways” director-general Mamuka Bakhtadze will also be considered. Ivanishvili mentioned him in response to media claims that Bakhtadze was his replacement for the job. According to the “Free zone” movement, that is supportive of President’s “United National Front”, Bakhtadze’s candidature was recommended by Ivanishvili’s son Uta. In the past, B. Ivanishvili stated that it was his elder son who urged him to come to politics. Thus, it must not be ruled out that his son’s recommendations would be considered during the choice of the prime minister.
According to the information from the parliamentary majority, G. Kvirikashvili and I. Garibashvili were the top candidates. Kvirikashvili took the bid seriously and even started attending oratory classes. Still, some experts believe that the former is yet to prove himself on the political arena. As to the candidature of Garibashvili, he said the incumbent Prime minister was not keen to weaken the interior ministry, and therefore, Garibashvili would continue serving in this capacity. However, if Ivanishvili was to retain leverage over the politics upon completion of his duties, Garibashvili, who is unassociated with other members of the coalition, might become a candidature of his choice.
In the run-up to the 2012 parliamentary elections in Georgia, telephone conversations between the “Georgian Dream” collation members were made public. Some of politicians whose names were mentioned humiliated each other while others targeted Ivanishvili and his family. Alasaniya was among those insulters. Although Ivanishvili called it a provocation and dismissed the incident, most of those implicated in the scandal found themselves out of bounds in the new government. Reservations of Alasaniya with respect to transition to the parliamentary republic, his presidential aspirations and the abovementioned event may preclude his appointment as the prime minister.
Holder of a master’s degree from the U.S., Giorgi Kvirikashvili has worked in various positions, in the banking sector of the country. In 2006-2011, he was the CEO of Ivanishvili owned “Cartu Bank”. The former is known to trust his bank employees just like his family members. An embodiment of that trust would be the appointment of Archil Khabadze, former head of bank’s credit division, as the head of the government of Ajara. Moreover, Ivanishvili suggested candidature of Nodar Javakhishvili, “Cartu Bank” incumbent CEO to the position of the President of Georgia’s Central Bank.
Presumably should Ivanishvili step down, Kvirikashvili, appointed deputy PM this July, may replace him. According to political scientist Soso Tsintadze, for the sake of justice, Ivanishvili must call for extraordinary parliamentary elections enabling the leader of the party to claim the victory to become the new prime minister. However, he is skeptical that Ivanishvili would go for it because, in the event of new parliamentary elections, Nino Burjanadze would certainly claim a landslide victory.
Ivanishvili the new Deng Xiaoping?
Saakashvili’s second and last term in office is winding down. According to sociological surveys, presidential hopeful Georgi Margelashvili enjoys high ratings and Ivanishvili is confident that the candidate of his choice will claim victory in the first round. Ivanishvili said he would step down as a Prime Minister once the new President was sworn in, and would continue his activity in the non-governmental sector with a focus on strengthening the civil society. With estimated fortune of 5.5 billion USD, the incumbent Prime Minister said he would also continue pursuing his business goals and invest 80% of his capital into Georgia’s economy. It should be noted that Georgia’s state budget for the 2012 was 4.4 billion USD3.
Zurab Japaridze, a parliament member from the “United National Movement”, believes that, in the political process, Ivanishvili wishes to pull the strings behind the scenes. Ivanishvili in turn, dismisses any aspiration to become the Deng Xiaoping of Georgia.
At the time, B. Ivanishvili declared that coming to politics his goal was to stop the rampancy of M. Saakashvili’s government and prevent the former from eventually becoming a Prime Minister. That goal is mostly achieved. Nevertheless, Ivanishvili is yet to clarify his intention about retaining power and unveil a concrete plan on the country’s development. In his tenure, Ivanishvili was unable to implement robust reforms or to achieve political stability. There has also been no breakthrough in relations with Russia.
Russian oligarchs of the 1990s also aspired to run things from behind the scenes, but Putin made sure their dreams remained unfulfilled. With domestic problems and sore relations with Russia, running Georgia sub rosa may prove to be a challenge. Standing at the helm is what it requires; otherwise Ivanishvili’s complete departure from politics may entail a collapse of coalition that he had built.