Georgian president angered by premier’s departure over row with kingmaker

Farid Hajili Analysis 14 June 2018
Georgian president angered by premier’s departure over row with kingmaker

In a live televised news conference on June 13, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili resigned, ascribing it to differences of opinion with the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) leader and founder, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, often referred to by the opposition as Georgia’s “informal ruler”.

In his eleven-minute address, Kvirikashvili cited “differences of opinion” on his economic policies with ruling party members as a reason for his resignation. He also added that over recent months he has had differences “on certain fundamental issues” with Bidzina Ivanishvili, chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party.

“I think, time has come to allow the party chairman to assemble a new team based on his views,” he added. Speaking on some details of his economic policies, Kvirikashvili said: “Over the past 2.5 years, the country under my leadership has implemented tremendously vital reforms, and despite extremely difficult political, economic and security situation in the region, we managed to create a stable environment in Georgia and put the country on the right track of development.”

“Today, we have the highest economic growth in the region, the most favorable environment for doing business, secure property rights, and free trade agreements with the world’s largest markets,” Kvirikashvili said, adding that “pragmatic” foreign policy made the country “secure and stable.”

On burgeoning relations with the West, the outgoing prime minister said: “Today, we are as close to the European Union and Nato as never before; we also enjoy an unprecedented support from our strategic partner – the United States – and the European Union; we have also voiced our readiness to take further steps for settling our relations with Russia in the Geneva talks format, and I believe sooner or later these proposals will yield positive results,” he added.

Kvirikashvili touched on his four-point action plan as well, saying the reform package was a “right” solution for Georgia’s long-term development.

“I know full well the hardships that people are going through, that we have many families who can barely make their ends meet. This is a fact, but I also know it well, that if not for our policies, the possibility of creating decent living conditions for these people, would be a far lengthier prospect – which I would not have allowed myself,” he said.

“I believe it is the duty of every responsible politician and of the prime minister in particular, to implement decisions that can be unpopular, that are based not on immediate, one-time returns, but the country’s long-term development,” Kvirikashvili added.

Kvirikashvili then underlined that his government implemented several of such decisions, including “the floating exchange rate, gradual increase in key policy rate,” as well as the steps against dollarization and excess debt.

“Of course, we could have fixed the exchange rate, which would have eased the situation for the people at that point, but we would have wasted our reserves and we would not have got the economic growth dynamics that we have today,” he also noted.

“So, these were painful, but conscious decisions… right decisions that have brought about the current dynamics,” Kvirikashvili said.

Georgian President Georgi Margvelashvili criticized the opacity of the resignation of Prime Minister Georgi Kvirikashvili, who, in his view, was a successful head of government.

"Yesterday the prime minister resigned his post and announced that he would allow the chairman of the Georgian Dream ruling party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, to form a new government. I think these processes should be more transparent and understandable to the public," G. Margvelashvili said at an international conference in Batumi on Thursday.

"By what principle are the prime ministers appointed here, and by what principle do the successful prime ministers resign? I believe that this is a period of masquerade, the principle of appointment and release of premiers is incomprehensible to society and our foreign partners. This should be ended," he said.

According to the president, if Georgia is aimed at European standards, then in Europe the leaders of the ruling parties become prime ministers. "Accordingly, Bidzina Ivanishvili, as the leader of the ruling party, should become prime minister if we are talking about responsible politics and the formation of a public process that is understandable to society," Margvelashvili said.

"This masquerade, when people are appointed, but the party makes a real decision, must end, since all these harm Georgia," he added.

Under Article 79 of the Georgian constitution, resignation of a prime minister or termination of his/her tenure shall result in termination of the tenure of other members of the government. The ruling Georgian Dream party has to name a new prime minister now, who will then nominate cabinet members to face parliament’s confidence vote, requiring the support of at least 76 MPs.

A day before Kvirikashvili resigned, neither the Georgian president, nor the prime minister was in Turkey’s Eskisehir to attend the inauguration of TANAP, the major segment of the Southern Gas Corridor. The president of Georgia also received an invitation to participate in the opening ceremony, but he could not go to Turkey "because of the busy schedule," Novosti Georgia news agency said.

Georgia, which is a key link in the phased action, has since the times of Eduard Shevardnadze, former president, been methodically receiving dividends and is poorly protected against big economic trouble. The industry had been weak since Soviet times. However, its fuel and energy complex at present literally sits on guaranteed transit commissions, and it owes it to Azerbaijan and Turkey, Minval.az news agency said.

Intensive contacts toward a normalization of relations that have been observed lately between Tbilisi and Moscow aim not only to overcome the lack of understanding but also to resume cooperation within the framework of the agreement on the principles of mechanism of customs administration and trade monitoring, the agency said.

It seems that Tbilisi, with its optimistic expectations, does not want to annoy Moscow in order to get the relationship unblocked at last. The cancellation of visas for Georgian citizens to Russia may become a revolutionary development toward the revival of economic contacts. But what has TANAP to do with it, as it is no competitor to the Turkish Stream at all?!

Many in Tbilisi believe that Azerbaijan and Turkey ostensibly have no other option because transit energy pipelines are not light facilities that could be demolished or easily rerouted. That is true. However, social mobility that Georgia has now gained is a derivative of a sensible specialized policy that has been possible to implement owing to the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic (SOCAR). It would not be enough to say that the company plays a life changing role in Georgia’s life. It is Georgia's hope and that says it all. Turkish businesses also bring obvious élan into the life of Georgian society, according to the report.