PM appointment quells fears of Putin-Medvedev switch in Georgia

On August 20, the United National Movement of Georgia’s (UNM) spokesperson, MP Chiora Taktakishvili, named candidates for the number one position in the ruling party’s list of MP candidates and the Prime-Minister post. According to Taktakishvili, Davit Bakradze, the speaker of the outgoing parliament of Georgia will retain his position and maintain leadership in the ruling party list. Meanwhile, former Minister of Interior Affairs of Georgia and now, newly appointed Prime-Minister of Georgia Vano Merabishvili, will act as a counterbalance to the Georgian Dream Coalition PM candidate Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Bakradze has led the ruling party list of MP candidates since 2008. The UNM chose him as a top political figure in the party list when former Speaker of Parliament of Georgia and number one candidate in the UNM list, Nino Burjanadze, unexpectedly refused to lead the ruling party during the 2008 parliamentary elections. As such, Bakradze has replaced Burjanadze as the number one candidate in the UNM list of MP candidates. After his victory in the parliamentary elections, he was elected as the Chairperson of the Parliament of Georgia. Under the current constitution, the Chairperson of the Parliament of Georgia is the second highest ranking post in Georgia after the President.

Merabishvili, once more nominated by the UNM as the PM candidate, is well-known for his activities during his stint as Minister of Interior Affairs of Georgia. Earlier, various human rights activists were alarmed by the appointment of Merabishvili, as his tenure as the Interior Minister was tainted by the controversial events that unfolded on November 7, 2007 and May 26, 2011, when Georgian police and Special Forces were blamed for using excessive force and violating human rights.

The issue of the ruling party’s PM candidate was crucial. Earlier, the Parliament of Georgia passed amendments to Georgia’s constitution. Based upon the amendments accepted on October 15 of 2010, Georgia transformed from a presidential government to semi-presidential republic. The constitutional powers of the president will now be diminished as more power will be transferred to the PM position. The changes to the constitution will come into effect after the Presidential elections that are set for 2013.

However, these changes to the constitution raised questions and much suspicion as to whether Mikhail Saakashvili planned to follow in the footsteps of Putin and Medvedev by retaining the reins of power as prime minister when his presidential tenure expired. Vladimir Putin was replaced by Dmitry Medvedev on the post of the President of Russia. Based upon the relative political weakness of Medvedev, Prime-Minister Putin maintained full control over the country, despite the fact that Russia is still officially a presidential government.

According to the current Georgian Constitution, Saakashvili cannot run for the post of president for a third term; he has to give-up his position which he has held now for eight-years. On the backdrop of Saakashvili’s speeches, the behavior and unquestionable leadership within the UNM and the government as a whole, some Georgian NGOs, politicians, opposition activists and international observers have questioned whether or not Saakashvili was ready to leave the top position in the political structure of the state. As such, amendments made to the constitution have been considered a technical means for which Mikhail Saakashvili could retain power through a constitutional loophole.

By following the Putin-Medvedev model, Saakashvili would effectively set back the aspirations of Georgian society in its path towards developing democratic values, as well as Georgia’s goal of further integration into Western institutions.

For a long time, political experts, as well as Georgian and foreign journalists, have been trying to figure out whether or not Mikhail Saakashvili intends to stay on as a leader of a reformed Georgia. However, when posed with such questions, the president of Georgia has avoided providing a definitive answer, emphasizing that he didn’t have any future plans yet.

Now with the influential Vano Merabishvili in power as Georgia’s PM and nominated as a candidate for the PM post for the UNM, the chances of seeing Saakashvili as the PM of Georgia have decreased considerably.

Political experts note that Merabishvili, well-known for being a strong hand, most probably won’t be a ‘marionette’ in the hands of the current president of Georgia. In general, the appointment of such a strong political figure to the post of PM will definitely present an obstacle for Mikhail Saakashvili to retain full control over all pillars of the executive and legislative branches of government.

In addition, Merabishvili’s nomination will also weaken the doubts of international and Georgian commentators regarding Saakashvili’s aspirations to maintain the existing status-quo in the political establishment of the country. Yet still, rumors regarding the political resemblance between Vladimir Putin and Mikhail Saakashvili will persist until proven otherwise.

The original article was published by GeorgiaToday. It is available here. PDF version.

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