Georgia has a new prime minister-designate after a surprise decision by former premier Giorgi Kvirikashvili to step down.
Finance Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze now heads Georgia’s government after the country’s ruling party, Georgian Dream, nominated him for the role of prime minister. Bakhtadze, a former CEO of Georgian Railways, has announced a series of structural changes to the cabinet that will see key Kvirikashvili allies removed from office.
Bakhtadze’s appointment follows Kvirikashvili’s decision to resign on June 13, citing “disagreements on fundamental issues” with Georgian Dream chairman, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. The resignation followed weeks of protests in the Georgian capital.
Kvirikashvili’s decision triggered the resignation of his cabinet.
Prime Minister-designate Bakhtadze has indicated that he intends to remove ministers close to his predecessor. On June 18, he announced a major shake-up in the cabinet according to what he called the principle of “small government.” The move will reduce the number of government ministries from 14 to 11.
“[Small government] entails flexible and effective government institutions,” he said.
Bakhtadze also announced that six ministries will see personnel changes, but did not elaborate on which ministers would be replaced.
The changes will require a fast-track acceptance procedure. According to Georgian law, structural changes to cabinet require a separate amendment process. Bakhtadze said the cabinet will undergo a vote of confidence, scheduled for June 20, featuring 14 acting ministers, before being presented to parliament again, with just 11 ministers, following the amendment process.
The prime minister-designate has also asked for the approval process to be sped up during the initial vote of confidence so that there can be more deliberation during the second phase. This second phase will take place within two to three weeks of phase one, according to Bakhtadze.
The shake-up will see two close associates of the former prime minister removed from office. When the 14-member cabinet of ministers is presented to parliament for the first phase it will exclude both Minister of Economy Dimitri Kumsishvili and Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze, both of whom will be replaced by their deputies for the vote.
Along with small government, the prime minister-designate outlined other key components of his agenda during his four-minute acceptance speech on June 14. Bakhtadze said the “completion of the Georgian people’s historic choice – integration into the Euro-Atlantic space” would be of prime importance.
His speech also touched on innovation, which would be stimulated via the introduction of an undefined “new economic model.” Bakhtadze also emphasised education reform, which will play a key role in Georgia’s strategy to reconnect with its breakaway territories.
“It is exactly the enthusiastic, educated, entrepreneurial and confident youth who will place Georgia on the map of developed economies,” he said. “It is exactly such a Georgia we offer to our Abkhaz and [South] Ossetian brothers, so that we can return to a single family.”
Bradley Jardine is a freelance journalist who covers the Caucasus.