Georgia: PM and Cabinet Skip State-of-the-Nation Speech
In a state-of-the-nation address snubbed by Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili and his cabinet, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili on March 31 called for a more participatory democracy, and cautioned against any one group trying to lay exclusive claim to the country’s political processes.
“Improving democracy is a constant process. There never will be a time when we can say ‘Stop working on it,’” Margvelashvili said.
But the cabinet and the prime minister weren’t there to hear it. Gharibashvili, the president’s regular sparring partner, earlier had explained their absence by an alleged desire to avoid “pomp.”
Georgia’s constitution does not require the prime minister and cabinet to attend the speech, but the empty seats once again underscored a sharp, ongoing rivalry between the head of state and the head of government.
Constitutional reform in 2010 largely reduced the Georgian president’s role to a guardian of the constitution, but still left him with some key functions, such as that of commander-in-chief and the power to strike down parliamentary bills and cabinet nominations. The president is a directly elected official, unlike the parliament-appointed prime minister.
Yet critics, including opposition groups, charge that the Georgian Dream coalition and its chairperson, Gharibashvili, construe separating powers between the prime minister and president as trying to prevent the president, who no longer bears the blessing of Georgian-Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, from taking part in government.
Hence, their decision not to attend parliament for Margvelashvili’s speech, some say.
A constructive way out of this impasse does not now seem any closer.
Although the president maintained a careful balance between praise and blame, lawmakers from the prime minister’s faction interrupted Margvelashvili with objections when he criticized the government for refusing to introduce limits to a secret surveillance program.
He also called for respect for state institutions (including, one can infer, the presidency), and for the independence of the prosecutor’s office, often accused of carrying out prosecutions against ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili and his associates to please the Georgian Dream. (The government has denied such accusations.)
There was also the matter of the economy, still stumbling from the lari’s loss of value against the dollar. Delayed official decisions that affect business-investments do not help matters, he continued.
As has become par for the course for most senior Georgian officials, he called for an even stronger push toward Western integration. Praise was dished out to the defense ministry, now working with NATO on a Georgia-based training center, for trying to comply with the alliance’s standards.
But, ultimately, the burden for creating a strong state lies with ordinary Georgians, Margvelashvili reasoned.
The government’s “biggest achievement” has been the fact that it “listens to the people,” he asserted. Now is the time for those Georgians “to get involved more actively in the country’s life,” he stressed.
Including, presumably, by listening to the president’s state-of-the-nation speech.