Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Georgian Dream Nominates Presidential Candidate

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by Eka Janashia (05/15/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On May 11, the leader of the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) Coalition, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, nominated Education Minister Georgy Margvelashvili as GD’s presidential candidate for the October 2013 elections. Although Ivanishvili proclaimed that anyone can defeat the candidate of United National Movement (UNM), the major opposition party, he still preferred to bid for his “friend” and “exemplary” minister. The UNM, in turn, has not yet nominated its candidate and plans to reveal him or her through U.S. style primary elections.


A doctor of philosophy, 43 year-old Margvelashvili was selected “unanimously” by the GD leadership. Ivanishvili described him as “very creative, unique in crisis situations, and experienced in management and politics.” Margvelashvili “is a good analyst, a good expert; I don’t know what else to list,” Ivanishvili said. Margvelashvili’s appearance on the Georgian political scene dates back to 2003 when he joined the opposition electoral bloc Burjanadze-Democrats ahead of the November parliamentary elections. Since then he has been associated with the former Speaker of Parliament Nino Burjanadze and in 2008 even became a member of the board of advisers of her Foundation for Democracy and Development.

Margvelashvili has also served twice as a rector of the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs, from 2000 to 2006 and then again from 2010 to 2012. His academic career and prominent criticism of Saakashvili’s government apparently made him an appealing presidential candidate for Ivanishvili. Conspicuously, the billionaire-turned PM offered Margvelashvili the post of Minister of Education and Science of Georgia in 2012 and even promoted him to the position of Deputy PM in 2013 after stripping Defense Minister Irakli Alasania of this status (see the 2/13/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst).

Alasania had previously been one of the leading potential Presidential nominees along with Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Kakhi Kaladze, Republican MP Vakhtang Khmaladze and former Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili. Among these, however, Alasania enjoyed the greatest popular support. According to a survey conducted in November 2012 by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), 72 percent of respondents backed Alasania’s appointment as Minister of Defense while Margvelashvili’s assignment was approved by 53 percent. Moreover, in the NDI’s March 2013 survey, Alasania’s job performance was voted second best among the ministers whereas Margvelashvili gained the tenth place.

Three days before the GD presidential candidate was announced, Alasania said that he was aware of “the final episode of the series for choosing the candidate.” Talking at the Public Broadcasting Channel 1 program – Dialogue with David Paitchadze, he also hinted that it might be necessary to achieve a compromise within the coalition.

Meanwhile, the UNM secretary general and former PM Vano Merabishvili said on May 9 that the party would identify its candidate through primary elections. Whereas Merabishvili declined to state directly whether he plans to run, the minority vice Speaker of Parliament and former state minister for Euro-Atlantic integration Giorgi Baramidze did not exclude the possibility that he will run in the primaries. Tbilisi’s incumbent mayor Gigi Ugulava whose term in office expires in 2014 ruled out his own participation and named Davit Bakradze, the former Speaker of Parliament and one of the leaders of the UNM parliamentary faction, as the best suited candidate for the presidential elections. Notably, the recent NDI survey revealed that the number of respondents who like Bakradze increased from 42 percent in November 2012 to 48 percent in March 2013. He is followed by Vano Merabishvili with 26 percent and Gigi Ugulava with 25 percent popular support.

Among the players who may also join the presidential race are Nino Burjanadze and the leader of the Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM) Giorgi Targamadze. According to the NDI March 2013 polls, Targamadze enjoys 31 percent public support whereas 43 percent of the respondents dislike him. Burjanadze, in turn, has the highest disapproval rate at 60 percent.

There are also some speculations about the possible participation of the Moscow-friendly Georgian businessman Levan Vasadze and the pro-western Salome Zurabishvili in the 2013 presidential elections. Whereas Zurabishvili might be less competitive without Ivanishvili’s support, the young, affluent and successful Vasadze, who is a close friend of Georgian Patriarch Ilia II, could trigger some important shifts in the political rivalry. However, Vasadze is not yet a citizen of Georgia and his chances of becoming one before the scheduled elections are low.

Although the constitutional provisions, adopted in 2010 and scheduled to enter into force after the upcoming presidential election, envisage a considerable reduction of presidential powers, the right of a vote of non-confidence in the government through vetoing the Prime Minister’s nomination by the Parliament will be retained under the new constitution. Thus, the struggle for the post will gain momentum as the elections getting closer.

The nomination of Margvelashvili suggests that Ivanishvili made a bid for a person with comparably low political ambitions and popular support. Margvelashvili’s prospects in the elections are therefore closely tied to Ivanishvili’s continued popularity.

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