President Mikheil Saakashvili has nominated Finance Minister Zurab Noghaideli to be Georgia's next prime minister. However, the choice generated immediate controversy, as Parliament Speaker Nino Burjanadze termed Noghaideli's candidacy as "unexpected" and "puzzling." Analysts see Noghaideli, a political ally of the deceased former prime minister, as a technocrat who lacks political experience, but who is capable of keeping reforms on course.
Responding to Burjanadze's remarks, Saakashvili told parliamentarians late on February 9 that he had decided to nominate Noghaideli only after Burjanadze -- a leader of the 2003 Rose Revolution along with Saakashvili and the late Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania -- had declined the post. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The parliament speaker had told reporters on February 7 that she had not been offered the premiership and did not expect such an offer.
"Initially, I offered the position of prime minister to Nino Burjanadze," Saakashvili was quoted as saying by the Civil Georgia website. "However, she rejected the proposal. She thinks that she is more important in the parliament."
At a February 9 news conference, Burjanadze told reporters that Saakashvili and she had agreed on another candidate a few days prior to Noghaideli's nomination on February 8. Although Burjanadze declined to disclose the name of the person under consideration, in earlier statements she had expressed a desire for a candidate with a solid understanding of economic policy.
The parliament speaker's objections appear to stem largely from a personality conflict. "Mr. Noghaideli is not a very communicative person and is very rude," elaborated Burjanadze spokesperson Ia Makharashvili in an interview with EurasiaNet. "She would like Mr. Noghaideli to improve his personal features and to be much more flexible." In a statement to reporters, Burjanadze requested that Noghaideli "leave his obstinate and uncommunicative character at the door of the prime minister's office so as to avoid potential conflict with parliament."
Despite her objections, Burjanadze stated that she will support Noghaideli's candidacy when Parliament holds a confirmation hearing. "She calls on all the MPs to vote for him because the candidacy is presented by the president," Makharashvili said. Parliament, controlled by the ruling National Movement-Democrats, is widely expected to approve the nomination after it reconvenes on February 10 for its spring session. Members of the opposition New Rights/Industrialists have indicated that they will oppose the nominee.
Saakashvili conceded that not all members of parliament and government officials with whom he had spoken about Zhvania's replacement had supported Noghaideli's nomination, but emphasized that continuity in government policy was "the most important thing."
"The Georgian government has not stopped its work for a single minute," Saakashvili said. "There has been no confusion, not for a moment.
Elizabeth Owen is EurasiaNet.orgs regional news coordinator in Tbilisi.