A week after Bidzina Ivanishvili’s sweep to victory in Georgia’s October 1 parliamentary elections, the billionaire has tapped a former Milan soccer star, a few ex-ambassadors, and a few Shevardnadze-era bureaucrats to top his Georgian Dream coalition’s list of cabinet nominations.
For the post of prime minister itself. Ivanishvili, though a French citizen, is the nominee, although, without Georgian citizenship, controversy persists about the constitutional path to his nomination.
President Mikheil Saakashvili must present the proposed cabinet to parliament, which reconvenes on October 20, for confirmation. The president has stated he will cooperate with the Georgian Dream coalition on this task.
In comments to reporters, Ivanishvili said that he expected to meet with Saakashvili on October 9 to discuss the proposed government.
Based on the current results, the Georgian Dream will hold 83 seats in the legislature, compared with 67 for Saakashvili’s United National Movement. (Vote results for several seats are under dispute, however, and based on the cabinet nominations, by-elections for a few seats also will be required.)Ivanishvili has requested that respected lawyer Davit Usupashvili, head of the moderate, reform-minded Republican Party, serve as parliamentary chairperson.
But while heated parliamentary debate about the cabinet is not expected, some of the individuals tapped to head a few of the most critical ministerial portfolios are total political newcomers.
Thirty-year-old Irakli Garibashvili, the former head of Ivanishvili’s charitable Cartu Foundation, has been nominated to lead Georgia’s powerful interior ministry, an institution that oversees all law enforcement in the country, from border guards to school monitors.
Garibashvili, educated partly at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, has no known background in law enforcement. The profession does, however, run in his family.
His father-in-law Tamaz Tamazashvili, the former police chief for the eastern region of Kakheti and a longtime friend of Ivanishvili, was arrested in 2011 for the alleged illegal purchase of a firearm shortly after Ivanishvili entered politics. He is currently serving a three-and-a-half-year sentence.
In an October 8 interview with the Ivanishvili-financed TV9, Garibashvili expressed hope that his father-in-law would be released from prison in two days. He did not specify by what means.
The choice to head the justice ministry, a government body, which, along with the interior ministry, was vilified for the recent scandal over prison abuse, is Tea Tsulukiani, a former European Court of Human Rights lawyer who has spent most of her career in France.
Other cabinet choices feature better-known public figures.
For prisons, that other hotbed of political controversy in Georgia, the nominee is Sozar Subari, who served as the country's outspoken ombudsman from 2004 to 2009.
Irakli Alasania, Georgia’s envoy to the United Nations under Saakashvili, and a former deputy state security minister under ex-President Eduard Shevardnadze, has been nominated as defense minister, and as deputy prime minister.
Other candidates for ministerial posts also have a background on Saakashvili’s foreign-policy team. Ivanishvili’s nominations to lead the foreign ministry (Maia Panjikidze) and the European and Euro-Atlantic integration state ministry (Aleksi Petriashvili) both served as ambassadors.
Panjikidze, once the ambassador to The Netherlands, served as Ivanishvili’s spokesperson during the campaign; Petriashvili, previously the ambassador to Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, is a member of Alasania’s political party.
Paata Zakareishvili, a well-respected, detail-oriented analyst of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, has been proposed as the state minister for territorial integration.
A few blasts from Georgia’s political past also have been included. Ivanishvili tapped two Shevardnadze-era ministers to return to their old posts: Davit Kirvalidze to the agriculture ministry and Amiran Gamkrelidze to the health ministry.
He also found space to thank loyal friends: retired AC Milan defender Kakha Kaladze, one of Ivanishvili’s business partners and a founder of the Georgian Dream party, has been nominated to lead the mammoth Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure, a government body that oversees water access and road construction around the country as well as regional socio-economic strategies.
With a budget of 982 million lari ($595 million), the ministry is one of the country’s largest, tasked with implementing foreign-donor-led building projects.
Ivanishvili was silent, however, about the picks for other ministries with influence on the country's economy.
Before the October 1 parliamentary election, the Georgian Dream’s economic platform was little more than promises of a chicken in every pot and inexpensive healthcare -- a hodge-podge of slogans that fueled fears that the coalition planned to reverse Georgia’s policies on market development.
During a nearly two-hour, freewheeling tête-à-tête with the cream of Georgia’s business set on October 5, Ivanishvili veered from personable to combative, at times offering up a carrot while brandishing the stick.
Businesses, the self-made billionaire promised, would be free of government interference. The days of “friendship” and phone calls to determine deals and divvy up property are over, he said.
He also pledged an end to monopolies and cartels, via an anti-monopoly commission.
“[E]verything will be done through the law or nothing will change . . . we don’t want that,” he said. “[F]or those of you who can, definitely get [your businesses] into shape.” Less than a week into Georgia's new era of attempted bipartisanship, getting into shape for the future is likely to prove a task for the country's politicians and officials as well.