Georgia's new cabinet: Not the total make-over that some expected
text: Gazeta.kz , exclusively for Gazeta.kz
The January 24 presentation of Georgia's proposed new cabinet in some ways proved an anti-climactic development, some local observers say. Despite pledges made by President Mikheil Saakashvili to include opposition representatives in the cabinet, leading opposition figures reportedly refused all offers of top-level government posts.
Soon after securing re-election in the January 5 presidential vote, Saakashvili pledged to shake-up the Georgian government and bring in new faces. According to Saakashvili, the new cabinet is "a promise" kept to the country. Speaking to journalists in Strasbourg on January 24, he applauded the choices as a "broad representation" from a "broad spectrum" of society.
"The new cabinet also features persons who have never been affiliated with any political party, including the prime minister [Lado Gurgenidze, the former board chairman of the Bank of Georgia]," Saakashvili said. The president explained that the new government did not contain opposition members because they themselves declined offered posts. Saakashvili noted that he retained hope that he could recruit an opposition leader into the government, the Interfax news agency reported.
"Working in this cabinet depends on the personal desire of different members of the opposition. A relevant desire has been expressed for our part," Saakashvili said in Strasbourg, where he addressed the Council of Europe on January 24. "[T]he door will be open for them in the future, too, including after the parliamentary election."
While Saakashvili stressed diversity, some political analysts in Tbilisi emphasized that the core group of Saakashvili supporters within the cabinet was largely untouched by the reshuffle. Giorgi Khutsishvili, a political scientist and the founder of Tbilisi's International Center on Conflict and Negotiation, noted that neither of the so-called power ministries -- the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Internal Affairs -- underwent a change in leadership.
In addition, longtime Saakashvili allies -- Finance Minister Nika Gelauri and Agriculture Minister Petre Tsiskarishvili -- kept their posts, as did Aleksander Khetaguri, the energy minister. Other members of Saakashvili's inner circle were slated for a promotion. For example, Eka Sharashidze, the head of the presidential administration, was nominated to lead the Ministry of Economic Development, while Deputy Prosecutor General Nika Gvaramia was nominated to become the Minister of Justice. State Minister for Conflict Resolution Davit Bakradze, Saakashvili's presidential campaign spokesperson, will head up the foreign ministry, in which he worked for several years prior to Saakashvili's 2004 election.
"I think that this [the announcement of a new cabinet] is done to demonstrate that now lessons have been learned and now there will be a different style of government," Khutsishvili said. "[However, changes] should be not only cosmetic; there should be a profound process to convince everyone that … these people seriously intend to make reforms in the government."
Independent political scientist Khatuna Lagazidze downplayed the notion that the new cabinet was more pluralistic in its political outlook. She noted that just five out of 15 cabinet positions were given to political newcomers, and, of those, two -- political analysts Ghia Nodia and Temur Iakobashvili (slated to take over the Education Ministry and the newly renamed State Ministry for Integration, respectively) -- are old associates of Saakashvili.
Nodia is the founder of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development, a well-respected non-governmental organization for civil society development, and Iakobashvili is the executive vice president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, an influential think tank.
Other newcomer nominees include Zaza Gamtsemlidze, director of the Institute of Botany, as Minister of Environment and Natural Resources; Sandro Kvitashvili, a healthcare industry specialist from the US-based East-West Institute, as Minister of Healthcare and Social Issues; and Iulon Gagoshidze, an archaeologist and a senior researcher at the Georgian State Museum, as the head of the newly formed State Ministry of Diaspora Issues.
"I believe this is just a facade," Lagazidze commented, citing the lack of opposition appointees for "any serious positions like the Interior Ministry."
Saakashvili, however, has underlined a change at one key power center -- the Office of the General Prosecutor.
The decision to replace General Prosecutor Zurab Adeishvili with outgoing Justice Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili is an attempt to "humanize" the prosecutor's office, he told reporters. The office has been a frequent target of criticism related to its handling of espionage allegations against opposition members and its investigation of former presidential candidate Badri Patarkatsishvili.
"This [replacement of the chief prosecutor] is not simply a staff reshuffle. …We need to preserve good tendencies, but, on the other hand, we need to humanize this field," Saakashvili told Georgian television reporters. "We need more relations with society."
Adeishvili, however, has not been removed from the government; according to January 24 media reports, he will head the presidential administration.
Analyst Khutsishvili focused on another change potentially tied to popular criticism -- former State Minister for Coordination of Reforms Kakha Bendukidze's reassignment as head of the state chancellery. "This was a response to the unpopularity of this minister," he commented. "He [Bendukidze] irritated people" in connection with Saakashvili's various economic reforms, he added.
Bendukidze's press secretary, Eka Gabadadze, told EurasiaNet that the state minister found out about the decision to eliminate his ministry "a week ago" and took the president's offer of a reassignment "normally."
Molly Corso. EurasiaNet.org
Editor's Note: Molly Corso is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.
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