Georgian Dream name political newcomer as candidate for PM

15 June 2018
Mamuka Bakhtadze (Facebook)

The ruling Georgian Dream party has nominated acting Finance Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze to become Georgia’s next Prime Minister. At a press briefing on Thursday, the 36-year-old said he would present his plans based on ‘four principles’ in the following days.

The announcement followed Giorgi Kvirikashvili’s resignation as PM on Wednesday, over differences of opinion over several ‘fundamental issues’ with party chairman Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Bakhtadze entered politics just eight months ago, when he was appointed Finance Minister, and recent polls suggested more than half of Georgia’s population did not know who he was.

A poll from the Washington-based International Republican Institute’s (IRI) conducted in April suggested that 55% of Georgians had not heard his name; 22% said they viewed him unfavourably and only 9% favourably.

The findings were similar in a National Democratic Institute’s (NDI) poll in March, which suggested 43% had never heard of him; 31% had neither positive nor negative attitudes towards him, 5% had negative attitudes and 9% positive.

His appointment has also led to controversy after revelations that in 2012 he donated ₾20,000 ($8,000) to now opposition party the United National Movement (UNM).

[Read on OC Media: Opinion | Bank reforms touted by Georgia’s Prime Minister–to-be could spell the end of predatory lending]

Bakhtadze’s Four Principles

After being introduced as Georgian Dream’s candidate, Bakhtadze spoke about the ‘four principles’ he said he will implement during his governance.

  • ‘Georgia’s full integration into the Euro-Atlantic space’ — Bakhtadze said Georgia has already progressed in this respect and cooperation needs to be ‘strengthened and deepened’.
  • ‘A new economic model with new fair rules’ — He promised to deliver reforms ‘in all directions’. He said, the new economic model will affect every Georgian family and the government will continue ‘further strengthening democratic institutions’.
  • ‘Small government ’ — ‘Georgia needs small and tangible governmental bodies’, said Bakhtadze, insisting that institutional and public control must grow stronger, including ‘anti-corruption efforts’.
  • ‘Education, innovation, youth — The biggest priority of my life’ — said Bakhtadze in his presentation.

He insisted that large-scale investments in education will be the biggest priority of his government.  ‘Motivated and self-assured young people will bring results, meaning Georgia’s inclusion into the list of developed economies’, said Bakhtadze.

Donation to the opposition

Bakhtadze’s selection caused controversy after it emerged he previously made a large donation to the opposition. In 2012, as Georgian Dream was running in elections against the UNM for the first time, Bakhtadze donated ₾20,000 ($8,000) to the UNM, according to a report from the State Audit Service.

Parliamentary Chair Irakli Kobakhidze said he had no information about this.

‘Bakhtadze will answer all the questions. We know what his principles and values are and know that he’s a team player, for which he was named our candidate’, said Kobakhidze.

Another Georgian Dream leader Archil Talakvadze gave a different explanation to Bakhtadze’s donation. He said that back in 2012, the UNM would collect donations by pressuring private companies.

‘Often it was the case that companies didn’t even know about it and their money was managed ignoring whether or not a person wanted to donate. This was the case here as well’, said Talakvadze, stressing that Bakhtadze had already provided the answer to this question.

Bakhtadze has yet to publicly comment on the matter.

Previous experience

According to the Ministry of Finance, Bakhtadze is a graduate of Tbilisi State University and the Georgian Technical University and holds a PhD in Technical Sciences. He received a master’s degree from the Lomonosov Moscow State University, holds an MBA Degree of INSEAD Business School.

According to the ministry’s website, he started his career as a project manager at Georgian Railways in 2015. In 2007–2008 he was a supervisory board member at hotel chain Rcheuli and the director general of the Georgian International Energy Corporation in 2010-2012. At the end of 2017, he became CEO of Georgian Railways and Minister of Finance in November 2017.

Kvirikashvili’s resignation

Giorgi Kvirikashvili resigned as Prime Minister on Wednesday over disagreements within the ruling Georgian Dream party. During his resignation speech, he said he disagreed over several ‘fundamental issues’ with party chairman Bidzina Ivanishvili.

‘This position has been a great responsibility for me. I’ve always tried to carry this responsibility with dignity. I have tried to be everybody’s Prime Minister. I believe in my heart that every step I have taken was out of goodwill for our country. I have always been and still am a team player. I can see the attitudes in the team and therefore I made a decision — I am resigning’, said Kvirikashvili.

The Prime Minister’s resignation automatically triggers the dissolution of the whole cabinet, after which, within seven days, the Georgian constitution requires a majority in parliament name a new candidate for Prime Minister, who will be formally submitted to the full Parliament for confirmation by the President.

Within another seven days, the new candidate for prime minister must submit a cabinet together with a government programme for parliament’s approval. A new government’s confirmation requires 76 votes — a majority of the 150-member parliament. The ruling Georgian Dream party holds 116 seats in parliament.

The President of Georgia has the right to dissolve Parliament if it fails to approve a new candidate for prime minister or cabinet three times.

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