By Ghia Abashidze (Tblisi State University)

On Saturday, November 26, after lengthy debates, the Parliament of Georgia has approved a renewed Cabinet. Out of 150 MPs, 110 voted in favour of the new Government.
After a landslide victory of incumbent Georgian Dream (GD) party in last October’s parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili

[PM Since December 2015, prior to that was Minister of Economy] nominated new cabinet on November 22, where 13 out of 18 ministers have retained their posts. From now on there will be 18 ministries instead of 19, as the Ministry of Diaspora has merged with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For the first time the party will govern alone, and not in coalition with other parties as was the case in 2012-16. Having won 115 seats, the GD now not only has a huge majority in parliament but also enough to amend the constitution, if it wishes so, without the support of other parties. Georgian Dream can rely on a stable government for the coming four years.
49-year old Kvirikashvili is determined to make the economy the cornerstone of his renewed administration. He has moved former Minister of Economy, Dimitri Kumsishvili to head the Ministry of Finance, whilst retaining the post of first deputy PM. Kumsishvili will have to deal quickly with the challenge of stabilizing the national currency, the Lari, which has been under pressure since the election. While speaking to the lawmakers, Dimitri Kumsishvili highlighted that the 2017 state budget will be distributed across various sectors in the following way: 29.4% for social expenditures, 19.8 % for infrastructural projects, 14.6 % for law enforcement, defence and security and legal agencies, 8.6 % for education and science, and 1.2 % for tourism and entrepreneurship.
The appointment of former business ombudsman, Giorgi Gakharia as the new Minister of Economy has been widely welcomed by Georgia’s business community, who see Gakharia as competent and trustworthy. Minister Gakharia named rapid economic growth, improved employment rates and reduced trade gap as three key challenges addressing of which “will enable to transform Georgian economy from the economy of challenges to the economy of possibilities.” Zurab Alavidze is the new Minister for regional development and infrastructure – a key sector for Georgia’s next stage of development. He promised that during the next four years his office would implement an “unprecedentedly large number of infrastructural projects” worth $3 billion in Georgia.
Giorgi Kvirikashvili has also strengthened his foreign affairs team. Whilst the Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze retained his post, Victor Dolidze has been appointed as Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, replacing David Bakradze who will be Georgia’s new Ambassador to the United States. Dolidze, who was until the elections a member of the opposition Free Democrats served as Chairman of the European Affairs Committee in the previous parliament. He is highly regarded in European circles and his appointment has been warmly welcomed in the European parliament and other EU circles in Brussels.
Kvirikashvili has decided to maintain the personalities in the defence, internal affairs and security sectors. The heads of these Ministries and agencies were widely praised for their professionalism during the tense days of the election campaign. Kakha Kaladze retains his post as deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Energy. Kaladze – known up to 2012 for his career as a footballer, has grown in the job, and in the election campaign, as head of the Georgian Dream election team he emerged as an able political operator. He was praised for his television appearances, and his ability to forge together an impressive election machine.
Other ministers such as Justice Minister Teah Tsulukiani and Minister for Refugees and IDPs, Sozar Subari who were an important part of the outgoing Ministerial are in the new Cabinet.
Parallel to the Ministerial appointments, the Georgian Dream-dominated legislative body elected its new Chairman, 38-year old Irakli Kobakhidze. He replaced David Usupashvili who fought the elections with the opposition Republican Party which performed very badly in the poll and did not secure seats in the parliament. Whilst lacking parliamentary experience, Kobakhidze is a political heavyweight in the GD.
The new Cabinet has to continue to manage relations with Moscow amid Russian occupation of the 20% of Georgia’s territory in breakaway regions, whilst anchoring Georgia in the European and Euro-Atlantic family at a time when both Washington and Brussels are increasingly introspective.
Internally Georgia now faces a period of democratic consolidation. Concerns about slippage in past achievements on human rights and democratic values, and of Georgian Dream abusing its constitutional majority have been unnecessarily exaggerated by critics of the government, and their friends in the international media. There is no sign of this happening yet. But Georgia remains a young democracy, and there can be no room for complacency on these issues.
Over the past two decades, parliamentary elections in Georgia have brought their share of excitement and international attention to the country. The 2003 vote precipitated the so-called Rose Revolution, which ousted longtime President Shevardnadze and eventually brought Mikheil Saakashvili and his United National Movement (UNM) to power. In 2012, the country’s parliamentary race again found the spotlight when the newly formed Georgian Dream coalition of billionaire and philanthropist, Bidzina Ivanishvili wrested control of the legislature from the UNM. In 2012-2013, Ivanishvili was the PM in Georgia. For number of years, Georgia’s politics have been described by many as a political battlefield between Saakashvili and Ivanishvili. In addition to being Georgia’s richest man, ex-PM and the founder of the GD, Ivanishvili is also widely perceived as the informal power behind the GD government.
The GD faces many challenges ahead. The party will have to do well to put in place transparent and democratic processes to deal with issues as they arise, to ensure that internal political harmony will provide the country’s leadership with a space for open and comprehensive debate on policies, whilst maintaining the necessary discipline and cohesion that large majorities often imperil.

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