After weeks of suspense and guesswork, Georgia finally has a nominee for president from its ruling Georgian Dream coalition. To the fanfare in walks 43-year-old Education Minister Giorgi Margvelashvili.
Margvelashvili, who holds a doctorate in philosophy, may not cut as prominent a figure as the last three individuals who ended up becoming Georgia's president (in order of appearance: a nationalist dissident, a USSR foreign affairs chief and a pro-West revolutionary), but neither is the president’s office the desired job it used to be.
Constitutional changes, which go into effect after the October presidential election, will place key powers in the hands of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, while the president, aside from the role of commander-in-chief, becomes largely a ceremonial head of state.
Fluent in English and Russian, Margvelashvili is mostly known in Georgia as the former rector of the private Georgian Institute for Public Affairs, a higher-education facility, and as a frequent commentator on politics. He has not been in public office long enough to succeed or to fail, and the biggest controversy involving him pales compared to the bare-knuckle battles of the past.
That said, Margvelashvili does not command a wide personal following, and, arguably, Ivanishvili could have found more popular candidates in his cabinet of ministers. Among those whose names Georgian media bandied about were soccer- star-turned-energy-minister Kakha Kaladze and Defense Minister Irakli Alasania.
Nonetheless, Margvelashvili's lack of celebrity power does not make it any easier for the opposing side to extend any formal courtesies upon word of his nomination. Georgia may now have switched from uprisings to elections for transfers of power, but political rancor still runs deep.
Responding to the Georgian Dream's pick, outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili described Margvelashvili as the prime minister’s pet; or a horse, to be precise.
“To demonstrate to society his dominance, the Roman emperor Nero [FYI, Mr. President, that unconfirmed anecdote actually involves Caligula] had his horse elected to the Senate, so I’d like everyone to draw their own conclusions," Saakashvili said, TSPress.ge reported.
The outgoing president, though, has his own political worries going on. Opinion polls have not been kind to his United National Movement (UNM), which plans to select its nominee for president through a US-style primary.
Georgian voters’ honeymoons with new leaders tend to end quickly, and the Georgian-Dream record so far has caused public grumblings, but between the loss in the parliamentary election last year and the presidential vote this year, the UNM has very little time to make a comeback with its own candidate.
Yet if Georgia remains true to itself, a surprise may still be in the offing.