Irakli Gharibashvili has resigned as prime minister of Georgia.
Gharibashvili announced his decision at a press conference on Monday. He did not clarify why he was stepping down or who would replace him.
Shortly before Gharibashvili’s resignation, the pro-government TV channel Imedi cited sources within the party as saying that the chair of the ruling Georgian Dream Party and former speaker of parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, would soon replace him. They said an official announcement would be made at a Georgian Dream party congress on Thursday.
During his speech, Gharibashvili said he would take up Kobakhidze’s current position as chair of the party. Imedi reported that Kobakhidze would also occupy the post of political secretary of Georgian Dream.
Gharibashvili noted that the party’s political council had ‘offered’ him the opportunity to stay in the role until summer, ‘before the start of the election campaign’.
‘I chose to make this decision now. It is important that the next prime minister presents his team in time and forms a new government’, he said, adding that ‘there are many successful leaders in the team and they need to be given opportunities’.
The change comes just a month after Bidzina Ivanishvili, the party’s billionaire founder and former prime minister, formally returned to politics as the party’s ‘honorary chair’. Following Ivanishvili’s return, Georgian Dream’s Political Council amended its charter to allow the honorary chair to approve the party’s prime ministerial candidates.
[Read more: Ivanishvili announces return to politics]
Several members of the opposition suggested the change had been orchestrated by Ivanishvili.
Paata Manjgaladze from the Strategy Aghmashenebeli party called the change a ‘facade’.
Levan Khabeishvili, chair of the United National Movement, the largest opposition party, said the changes were ‘not related to the well-being of our citizens, it is related to Bidzina Ivanishvili’s so-called political entanglements’.
Irakli Kobakhidze previously served as the chair of parliament from 2016 until 2019. He resigned following mass anti-government protests over an invitation to Russian MP Sergey Gavrilov to address parliament in Russian from the speaker’s tribune. He was appointed chair of the ruling party in 2021.
Kobakhidze has been among the most outspoken leaders of the ruling party, including spearheading a surge in anti-Western rhetoric in recent years.
Rumours of a new cabinet
Reports of Gharibashvili’s imminent resignation first emerged on Sunday when the pro-opposition TV station Mtavari Arkhi reported that the ruling party intended to swap Gharibashvili with Kobakhidze.
Mtavari Arkhi also reported that the switch would include an extensive cabinet reshuffle. They stated that Culture Minister Tea Tsulukiani, Justice Minister Rati Gregadze, Foreign Minister Ilia Darchiashvili, Defence Minister Juansher Burchuladze, and Health Minister Zurab Azarashvili were all expected to be getting the axe.
Georgian Dream officials initially denied any planned changes, although Eka Sepashvili, a member of People’s Power, a pro-government group in parliament, said on Monday that personnel changes in the ruling team ‘will be better for business’.
Shalva Papuashvili, Georgia’s parliamentary speaker, dismissed the claims on Monday as ‘speculation’.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Mtavari Arkhi reported Gharibashvili's resignation on Monday. The report was made on Sunday.