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Commentary: A team fit for purpose
24 November 2016

This is a commentary prepared by the editorial team of Caucasus Concise, a weekly newsletter published in association with commonspace.eu

After a convincing victory in last October's parliamentary elections, the Georgian Dream party over the last days set about assigning posts in the new Parliament and Government. For the first time the party will govern alone, and not in coalition with other parties as was the case in 2012-16. Also a huge parliamentary majority means the party can not only rely on a stable government for the coming four years, but is also able to push through any constitutional changes that it feels are necessary.

The team presented by prime minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili retains many of those who were in Cabinet prior to the elections, but there are some significant changes. Kvirikashvili is determined to make the economy the cornerstone of his administration. He has moved Dimitri Kumsishvili to head the Ministry of Finance, whilst retaining the post of first deputy prime Minister. Kumsishvili will have to deal quickly with the challenge of stabilising the national currency, the lari, which has been under pressure since the election. The appointment of Giorgi Gakharaia as the new Minister of Economic Development has been widely welcomed by Georgia's business community, who see Gakharaia as competent and trustworthy. Zurab Alavidze is the new Minister for regional development and infrastructure - a key sector for Georgia's next stage of development.

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 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 same people in the defence, internal affairs and security sectors. The heads of these Ministries and entities 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 Tea Tsulukiani and Minister for refugees and displaced persons, Sozar Subari who were an important part of the outgoing Ministerial team retain their posts.

Parallel to the Ministerial appointments, which are subject to parliamentary approval, Georgian Dream MPs have also agreed on appointments for the officers of the new parliament. The election of Irakli Kobakhidze as the new Chairman of Parliament is significant. Kobakhidze replaces David Usupashvili who fought the elections with the Republican party which performed very badly in the poll and did not secure seats in the parliament. It is widely recognised that Usupashvili is a hard act to follow as Chairman of Parliament. However, whilst lacking parliamentary experience, Kobakhidze is a political heavyweight in the Georgian Dream party. This is important as the new parliament will have a dual task of both providing the government with political support and enacting government legislation in an efficient and timely manner, whilst at the same providing parliamentary oversight, necessary to ensure the necessary check and balances. Parliament will be the first place where the government will be held to account for the promises it has made prior to the elections.

Here too Georgian Dream has opted for a mix of veterans from the previous parliament and a wave of new and highly qualified MPs from amongst who Georgia's future leaders are likely to emerge. The new First Deputy Chairman of Parliament Tamar Chugoshvili, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee Sopo Katsarava, the chair of the Committee for Human Rights and Civil Integration - Sopo Kiladze, and the chair of the Committee for European Integration, Tamar Khulordava, are part of an impressive crop of women MPs who now have strategic positions within the legislature.

Long-time observers of Georgia say that this is likely the most competent and able government and legislature that Georgia has ever had in its short history as an independent country since 1991. There is also an eagerness within the new government of wanting now to get on with the job of addressing some of the key issues that face the country. And the tasks ahead are far from easy.

The pressure on Kvirikashvili and his government to deliver on key economic objectives of making significant structural improvements to the economy that would guarantee for all Georgians a better quality of life is high, and Kvirikashvili is likely to be judged on his achievement in this sector.

In foreign affairs, managing relations with its large neighbour Russia, whilst anchoring Georgia in the European and Euro-Atlantic family at a time when both Washington and Brussels are increasingly introspective will require all the diplomatic skills and ingenuity that the Georgians can muster.

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.

The new Georgian Dream political leadership team is fit for purpose, but the challenges ahead should not be underestimated. The party will 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.

This is a commentary prepared by the editorial team of Caucasus Concise, a weekly newsletter published in association with commonspace.eu

photo: members of the new Georgian Cabinet of Ministers being presented on Tuesday, 22 November 2016

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