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Editorial | Ivanishvili should either step up or move on

14 June 2018
(OC Media)

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili’s resignation over disagreements with party chair Bidzina Ivanishvili highlights once again a lack of transparency and accountability at the top of Georgia’s leadership. If Ivanishvili wishes to continue to exert such political control over the country — a move much of the electorate supports — he should do it in full-view and from a position within the government. Georgia deserves a transparent democratic process and a leader fully accountable to the public, and if Ivanishvili cannot provide this, he should fully resign from politics and leave ruling the country to the professionals.

Kvirikashvili’s resignation on Wednesday marks the departure of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s second surrogate from the top government executive job.

Ivanishvili, who served as Prime Minister for just over a year after defeating the United National Movement and their leader Mikheil Saakashvili in 2012 parliamentary elections, has faced continual accusations of ruling the country informally from behind the scenes.

The 31-year-old Irakli Gharibashvili, who had worked in multiple positions in Ivanishvili's multi-billion dollar business empire, was first to replace him as Prime Minister from late 2013 for about 13 months. He was followed by Giorgi Kvirikashvili, former CEO of Ivanishvili's Cartu Bank, whose premiership lasted two and a half years.

With Ivanishvili’s former business employees with no political background chairing the government in Georgia, the prime minister’s post has begun to look like a freelance management job with little to do with political ideology or even long-time party affiliation.

After naming economic issues as an area of disagreement with others in the Georgian Dream party — and its chair Ivanishvili — Kvirikashvili dedicated most of his resignation speech to justifying his fiscally conservative economic policy, but Georgians have been deprived of hearing the whole story.

The outgoing PM’s press briefing looked like a continuation of a long-running debate Kvirikashvili had been having with Georgian Dream’s leadership — a debate that had taken place beyond the public, or even parliament’s reach.

The debate over the economic direction of the country is a valid and important discussion and one that must take place with the full participation of the public, civil society, and parliament.

The ruling party seems to be out of survival mode after managing to neutralise — at least temporarily — the radicalising street protests over an allegedly compromised investigation of last December’s fatal teen brawl. And civil society groups critical of Kvirikashvili are happy to see him go and would not miss Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani in the soon to be updated cabinet of ministers either.

[For the latest developments into the Khorava Street investigation, read on OC Media: Protest leaders detained in Georgia]

Nevertheless, it is hard not to notice that the latest departure from the top political post does not actually reflect nor clearly respond to pressing political issues like justice system reform, calls for scrutiny over law enforcement agencies, a protracted drugs decriminalisation project, or political freedoms.

The next candidate put forward by Georgian Dream for prime minister, will likely once again be another person with no independent political capital. There is a high chance Ivanishvili will continue to rule the country without running it in the public spotlight, which will be yet another missed opportunity to have a genuine transparent democratic process in Georgia.

Ivanishvili mobilised the opposition and helped make the first peaceful electoral transfer of power happen in Georgia in 2012, and he actually did in late 2013 what he had promised — to retire from his post and from politics altogether.

Until his recent comeback as party leader, Ivanishvili cared enough to insist that sceptics were wrong and that he had kept his vow to leave politics. But what he failed to recognise was that for his supporters other priorities were far more important than keeping this promise.

A large chunk of Georgia’s electorate voted not for Georgian Dream but for him. The winner of the election not heading the government formally is a failure to appreciate and respect a popular democratic mandate.

Authoritarian tendencies can mean more than a ruler standing in the way of being unseated by a popular vote. They can also be about leaders trying to stand beyond government positions and transparent political processes. The root of Georgia’s ongoing political crisis lies in the problem of authority staying beyond the reach of constitutional controls. Ivanishvili should take heed of a growing consensus among his political friends and foes and abandon what he has been trying to do since a year after defeating Saakashvili’s rule: trying to be a national father figure and a secular patriarch instead of a private citizen or a statesman.

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