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Splits in the leadership anticipated

By Messenger Staff
Thursday, September 3
Much speculation has been prompted by the unexpected removal of the Ministers of Economic Development and Defence last month. Though it should be admitted that the signs of a possible reshuffle were noticeable before, the dismissal of the Ministers was still done in a very extravagant way.

Media, analysts and politicians are suggesting reasons for the dismissals. Some think that more can be expected from this month onwards. However, others suggest they are yet another manifestation of a hidden but nevertheless visible struggle for power, which will gather pace and involve using more and more direct attacks, accusations and manipulations. The general public are left to wait for developments which might influence the country’s policy, though this will not be a fun process.

‘Government carousel’ was a term invented by the Georgian media to describe Saakashvili’s style of governance, in which Ministers change or are moved around with great regularity. Analysts have blamed a deficit of appropriate personnel for the emergence of this tendency, whereas the Government explains it as a reflection of the unity of the Rose Revolution team, hinting that no alien body can enter it because everyone is so much in agreement that they cannot be split by a fifth columnist.

This unity has always been a big issue for the present administration. From its very first days its three initial leaders, Mikheil Saakashvili, Nino Burjanadze and Zurab Zhvania, repeatedly stressed this unity. However, less than eighteen months after the Rose Revolution Zurab Zhvania was found dead in very controversial circumstances. It was assumed he was suffocated by a gas heater, however many in the opposition and members of the general public have challenged this and demanded a thorough investigation. Some even suggest that he did not die in an accident but was killed. In May 2008, just before the Parliamentary elections, Nino Burjanadze left the administration and just a few months later she joined forces with the opposition and is now one of its most radical leaders. If unity is the positive feature by which the Government should be judged, as it implies, it is not doing very well.

Apart from these senior figures several more minor members of the administration have ruptured its self-proclaimed unity. Former Defence Minister and close friend and ally of Saakashvili Irakli Okruashvili left the team and created a very serious scandal when he gave his reasons why. After being arrested he was released and whisked out of the country and now lives in France as a political refugee. His grave accusations against the President were one of the factors which provoked huge protest rallies in autumn 2007 which led eventually to snap Presidential and Parliamentary elections in January and May 2008. Saakashvili and his team remained in power after those elections. But since then the question has frequently arisen: will Saakashvili stay in power until his term expires? He and his team members are confident that he will, but the opposition challenge this. Furthermore, even if he does remain President until 2013 who will be his successor? According to the Georgian Constitution a President can serve for only two terms, and Saakashvili has said he will abide by this clause.

Analysts consider that the President may take the so-called Putin option, in which the President after resignation becomes Prime Minister and can serve as such indefinitely. But there are two preconditions which must be met before this can happen: first major changes need to be made to the Constitution, either transforming Georgia into a Parliamentary republic, without a President, or making the President a ceremonial Head of State who is above politics, as in Germany and some other countries, rather than a Head of Government running the country. However making this type of experiment bears a certain danger. The ruling party does not have much genuine support and making changes which could hinder the country’s development in the short term might cause considerable protest and have unfortunate consequences.

If the country retains its existing Constitutional model Saakashvili and his team need to decide which of them will be their candidate to replace him in 2013. That person would have to be from the ruling circle to guarantee the safety and security of the current leadership. Everyone remembers how the present administration has dealt with senior officials from the Shevardnadze administration - some managed to flee the country but others have been arrested and imprisoned. Some were just ousted, like Governor of Adjara Aslan Abashidze, and many others forced to pay huge sums to the State and so on. Unfortunately being in a high position in Georgia has automatically meant ensuring personal welfare first of all.

One foreign political analyst has said that it is impossible to conduct fair elections in former Soviet countries because for the ruling powers of those countries losing fair elections means having problems.

Today only local elections are due to be held, in May 2010. There are speculations that the ruling party’s candidate for Tbilisi Mayor will most probably also be its next Presidential candidate. Current Mayor of Tbilisi Gigi Ugulava is in the frame, but President Saakashvili has not so far nominated him for Tbilisi Mayor, let alone the Presidency.

Some opposition leaders suggest that there is a huge confrontation going on inside the ruling party. Labour Party members suggest that several rival camps have emerged. Analysts are still discussing why Bacho Akhalaia was appointed Minister of Defence – will he counterbalance the power of the Ministry of the Interior or increase it? The fact that this is a subject of speculation, rather than what Akhalaia is likely to do as Minister, already indicates that conflict within the team is more concerning to the public than how it behaves.

More and more people in Georgia think that something is wrong within the leadership. The major reason for such speculation is the fact that all the changes in the Government and leadership lack transparency. Political institutions are very weak and there are no clear rules of the game. Obviously all political affairs should be conducted according to the Constitution, but in Georgia everything is done backstage, behind the scenes, and we will never know how much the Constitution is being applied.