Experts: Change of power in Georgia to positively affect domestic and foreign policy

December 16, 2013 6:00 pm

Inauguration of Giorgi Margvelashvili, the new president of Georgia who gained 62.12 % of votes, was held in Tbilisi on 17 November 2013. Irakli Garibashvili, who previously served as interior minister of the country, was approved for the post of the prime minister, the most powerful political office in the country since the constitution amendments shifted a raft of key from the president to the prime minister.Georgian and foreign experts are positive about the changes in the country’s leadership, noting, however, that the foreign policy priorities of the official Tbilisi will remain unchanged and will be focused on Euro-Atlantic integration.

The independent Georgian publicist and political scientist, editor-in-chief of the information agency “Gruzinform” Arno Khidirbegishvili in an interview with news agency “PenzaNews” expressed the opinion that sane politicians came to power.“Despite the fact that foreign policies of the former and the new leadership are the same, at this stage the new power suits both the US and Russia, in relation to which the tone has changed and there is no more abusive rhetoric – everyone is talking about peaceful resolution of territorial issues. We should not expect some news surprises a la Mikhail Saakashvili’s,” said the expert.

According to him, the political atmosphere inside the country became more relaxed.

“Citizens, who were recognized political prisoners during the reign of Mikhail Saakashvili, were amnestied. Some people targeted in the investigation are key figures such as former Prime Minister and Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaya and former Prime Minister Giorgioand General Secretary of the United National Movement Vano Merabishvili. MPs of minority National Movement believe that it is a settling of scores on political grounds and call those people political prisoners; and the West goes on to say that we cannot use this method to solve the problem. Nevertheless, the position of the new government and the new prime minister of Georgia is that the perpetrator of a crime should be responsible for it regardless of whether he was the highest state leader or a middle manager,” the analyst explained.

Commenting on the foreign policy of the state in the context of relations with Russia, Arno Khidirbegishvili pointed to a positive trend.

“Grigory Karasin, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, made a very encouraging statement on the prospects in this direction after a meeting with the Special Representative of the Prime Minister of Georgia on the relationship with Russia Zurab Abashidze. According to him, the two countries have already achieved good results. I think he was talking about the removal of the embargo on imports of Georgian wine and agricultural products, positive changes in the humanitarian field and enhanced cultural exchange. Countries do have great promise in the field of commerce and culture and I think cooperation will be deepened in these areas. In addition, I expect that Russia will facilitate visa requirements for Georgian citizens entering its territory, but I believe that it will happen most likely after the Olympic Games in Sochi,” he said.

In turn, Uwe Halbach, Senior Research Fellow at German Foundation for Science and Politics reminded that the amendments and changes announced in October 2010 for implementation after the presidential elections in 2013 bring a new power shift within the executive branch — from president to prime minister — and between the executive and the legislative power — with more competences for the parliament.

“The new president Giorgi Margvelashvili will be in a less powerful position than his predecessors. The most powerful incumbent in the executive branch will be the new Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili. Both new leaders are said to be without much political experience and to be the choice of Bidzina Ivanishvili who pressed his very personal stamp to the political new beginning in Georgia before he officially left politics,” the foreign expert said.

Asked about potential internal transformations, the analyst noted that it is difficult to say how effectively domestic reforms will take place and added that there are many serious problems.

“In the socio-economic sphere the most challenging one is the agrarian sector where production has shrunk dramatically in the last two decades. This sector involves 55% of population but contributes only 8% to the GDP. Another challenge is generally the high rate of unemployment. It will take time for the new political leadership to get along with these challenges. Another urging reform challenge is the “de-politicization” of the juridical sector. It was in the focus of the political disputes from October 2012 to October 2013 and will continue to be a main topic in the domestic sphere,” Uwe Halbach said.

According to him, the main vector of Georgian foreign policy will remain the orientation toward Euro-Atlantic institutions and partners.

“The question arises, however, how far this vector will be compatible with the modification of the Georgian Dream’s policy toward Russia to a more pragmatic approach in a time when Russia is hardening pressure on its “near abroad” for more Eurasian, less European orientation,” Senior Research Fellow at German Foundation for Science and Politics added.

The Georgian Dream MP, chairman of factional group on electoral issues Zakaria Kutsnashvili expressed the view that the new president is a moderate, experienced and educated person who can establish relations with all countries, neighbouring Georgia.

georgia-election-2012-615“The very first interview of the president confirmed that he favours compromise and dialogue rather than confrontation. I think that the election of Giorgi Margvelashvili means that the dialogue between Moscow and Tbilisi will be more warm and fruitful,” said the Georgian politician.

He also noted that, in accordance with the new Constitution, the president will represent Georgia in foreign relations and will be the higher commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the country.

“I hope that the new president will be able to show himself as a leader of a new generation and new values,” Zakaria Kutsnashvili added.

He stressed that the elections were held peacefully, and the internal situation in the country is currently quite stable.

“There are still some problems in the economy, but I think we will make up for lost time and will be able to boost the economy of Georgia next year,” the MP emphasized.Commenting on the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he said that Georgia is aimed solely at peaceful settlement of territorial issues.

“We finally put away any power solutions to this problem because the Abkhazians and Ossetians are our kindred peoples. It is unwise to fight against kindred peoples. It’s not in our plans,” Zakaria Kutsnashvili added.In turn, Ilgar Velizade, political analyst, deputy chief of the filial branch of RIA “Novosti” in Azerbaijan Republic, chief of the International Press-Centre “Novosti” in Baku, noted that representatives of the Georgian Dream have special responsibility.

“Constitutional amendments which entered into force in Georgia were initiated by the former leadership back in 2010 and supported by the majority of Georgian electorate. However, only political opponents of Mikhail Saakashvili could fully implement them. Therefore, now much depends on the practical steps by the new president, the prime minister and elected parliament. At the same time, we may say that the political situation in Georgia today is atypical, I would say unique, both for this country and for the post-Soviet space in general. At the helm of the state there are people who are still little known in the country; and a person with really high political rating — the leader of the Georgian Dream Bidzina Ivanishvili —gave up public office on his own accord. The country is collectively managed by the associates of Ivanishvili who controls the situation from the political backstage. Time will tell how effective this management model is,” the expert said.

He also stressed that there will be no major changes in Georgia’s foreign policy.

“Soon Tbilisi will initial an Association Agreement with the European Union in the framework of the Eastern Partnership program, which will provide the opportunity of close cooperation with the EU in several areas ranging from cooperation in the political field and ending with the development of contacts in the economic and humanitarian fields. Integration into NATO remains a priority georgian parliamentfor Georgia as well. At the same time, relations with Moscow are still uncertain. Any step by Tbilisi towards deeper cooperation with the West distances the prospect of full-scale normalization of relations with Russia. It is difficult to imagine how the parties will find common ground if their interests are diametrically opposed. “Encouraging” rhetoric of Georgian and Russian leaders has not yet led to any concrete action that would allow talk about warming of the relations between the two countries,” Ilgar Velizade noted.

According to Kakha Kukava, Chairman of Free Georgia party, Georgian citizens have high expectations for the new prime minister.

“The government of Bidzina Ivanishvili could not implement the reforms mentioned on the eve of the last parliamentary elections. Social, economic, legal and political promises were not fulfilled. Today, a solid part of our society pins hopes on Irakli Garibashvili, thinking that he would be able to carry out the reforms that have not been started during the reign of the former prime minister,” the politician said.

According to him, there are two domestic priorities in Georgia at this stage: restoration of justice and fight against unemployment.

“Many citizens who were exposed to reprisals hope for cancellation of a criminal record and retrieval of confiscated property, some of them expect the investigation of crimes committed against them and proceedings against officials of Mikhail Saakashvili. Another serious problem is creation of new jobs. There was a severe economic crisis in Georgia during the reign of Mikhail Saakashvili, and in the last year we lost about 45 thousand jobs,” Chairman of Free Georgia party said.From his point of view, Irakli Garibashvili should convince investors and economic partners of Georgia that it is safe to invest in the country.

“If there are no radical changes, this government will probably have the same ending as the government of Mikhail Saakashvili,” Kakha Kukava emphasized.

Meanwhile, according to him, Georgian foreign policy is very similar to the situation in Ukraine.

“It is also difficult to develop any coherent foreign policy as the country is divided. A large number of our citizens support Georgia’s integration into NATO and the European Union, another large part of the society stands for normalization of relations with Russia, which may positively affect both economic prospects of the country, and the future settlement of the conflict in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. At present it is difficult to say which of these areas will be the most important for the new government,” the politician noted.

In his opinion, it is too early to make any predictions about the development of relations with the Russian Federation.

“The country has a new leadership, and we do not even know whether it can remain in power for a long time. The prime minister is very young, and many observers wonder whether he can maintain stability in the country. Forecasts can be given only a few months later,” the politician concluded.


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