Some people start off the new year with a new plan for diet or exercise, but the South Caucasus country of Georgia took a different tact. With a parliamentary election ahead, it kicked off 2016 with a new prime minister — the 48-year-old, US-educated Giorgi Kvirikashvili, a former foreign and economic development minister.
So far, however, no sign has emerged that Prime Minister Kvirikashvili intends to make sizable policy shifts. Apart from a new foreign minister (former Deputy Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze), the cabinet remains unchanged.
Other details also remain constant.
A longtime banking professional with a master’s degree in finance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Kvirikashvili may want to promote start-ups, “economic development,” and political cooperation, but, like his 33-year-old predecessor, Irakli Gharibashvili, he is a company man. A Bidzina-company man, that is.
From 2006 until 2011, Kvirikashvili worked as general director of Cartu Bank, an investment bank set up by the billionaire former prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who founded Georgia's ruling Georgian Dream coalition.
Though Kvirikashvili, a former MP, is no stranger to Georgian politics, it was Ivanishvili who brought him into the cabinet — in 2012 as economic development minister; a position he held until last September, when he became foreign minister.
For many Georgians, his pick as PM is another sign of a blessing from Bidzina, the man still seen, more than two years after his resignation as prime minister, as the country's real leader.
An interview broadcast shortly after Gharibashvili’s surprise December 23 resignation doubtless did little to dispel that popular notion.
Speaking on the 2030 talk show (another Ivanishvili-godfathered project, broadcast on son Bera’s GDS TV station), Ivanishvili stated that he had consulted with Gharibashvili about his resignation, but termed it a “personal decision.”
Ivanishvili, though, emphasized the Georgian Dream’s need for “new faces” in parliament, and implied that Kvirikashvili is part of that public makeover. Gharibashvili, he said, had resigned to “let others try . . . “
A recent opinion poll conducted for the US-based National Democratic Institute showed widespread ambivalence about preferred political parties, with 38 percent of 1,881 respondents undecided. Eighteen percent supported the Georgian Dream — just a six-percentage-point lead over the opposition United National Movement.
Support for the Georgian Dream has slipped badly over the past year amidst an anemic economy and sharp devaluation of the Georgian lari against the dollar.
In a terse, televised statement on December 23, however, Gharibashvili did not indicate what considerations had prompted his resignation.
All people have “a right to choose,” he noted. “Government positions are temporary. Only God and homeland are eternal.”