Georgia: Can You Fix a Troubled Country in One Year?
Yep, says Georgia’s Bidzina Ivanishvili, who apparently views the prime minister’s position as a temp job. Before and since coming to power late last year, Ivanishvili has kept saying that his time will be short. Now, in a recent interview with the EUobserver, he has put a specific timeframe to it -- he is going to fix everything he promised to fix and quit before New Year's.
The early exit strategy appears to be Ivanishvili’s way of showing that power does not mean much for him and that he does not intend to hold on to it like certain someones before him. This might set a welcome example for Georgian politicians, but the bigger question is if he can get the job done. Items on his daunting to-do list include eliminating elite corruption, fixing the economy, patching up things with Russia, and joining NATO, among others.
During last year's parliamentary election campaign, Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream Coalition invited citizens to write down and submit their dreams for the billionaire to review. Perhaps an effective campaign tactic then, now it could be part of the reason the Georgian Dream is losing some of its luster among voters. Polling data suggests that jobs were and remain the biggest concern for Georgians. And the economy is one area where, according to government data, the Ivanishvili cabinet has not yet delivered on any dreams. The economy shrank by 0.8 percent in the first six months of 2013, compared with the same period last year, according to GeoStat, while the number of registered businesses declined by 17 percent. Unemployment, meanwhile, remains at 15 percent, officially, but upwards of half of the working-age population, unofficially. Those employed earn the lari-equivalent of just $433.76 per month, on average.
Among his accomplishments, Ivanishvili claims credit for less government interference with media (though his wife, Ekaterine Khvedelidze, still co-owns one of the country's national TV broadcasters, TV9), the end of torture in prisons, and Russia's reluctant decision to lift its embargo on Georgian water, wine and agricultural products. In a move that some criticize and others welcome, his government also has released scores of prisoners from jail and put some former government officials in their place.
But if Ivanishvili leaves before Georgians grow sour on him (as they did with all previous leaders), there is no other new political messiah in sight on which they can pin their massive hopes. Ivanishvili proposed his assertive education minister, Giorgi Margvelashvili, as the next president of Georgia. President Mikheil Saakashvili's rival team has fielded the reserved parliamentary minority leader Davit Bakradze, a former foreign minister and parliamentary speaker, and one of the few senior members of the United National Movement who is neither in prison, nor facing prosecution, nor has his reputation in tatters.
Constitutional reform, though, means the next new president will largely play second fiddle to the prime minister. And there are only five months left for a new messiah -- err, prime minister -- to emerge before the current one whisks himself away.