You know there’s got to be a national election in the wind when a prime minister opts to take four hours out of a day to lambast political analysts on television for “improperly analyzing” his government’s alleged successes.
Eleven of Georgia’s most prominent political scientists, considered among the royalty of media and political culture, were taken to task on September 25 by a visibly upset Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili for their “incorrect” opinions on everything from the economy to his freshman Georgian-Dream coalition’s expertise in parliament.
“Experts’ words have a large importance…your words…your positions very often have influence on society…but very often I cannot agree with you,” he said in an opening remark that foreshadowed the dressing-down, staged in his personal, spaceship-style business center.
To demonstrate how carefully he apparently is watching the analysts, Ivanishvili constantly referred back to a stack of papers, quoting their words in published interviews and calling on them to account for them.
They should, he said like a participant in a Soviet-era “criticism and self-criticism” session, apply more “filters” to their comments.
One of the biggest points of contention was how the group is analyzing Ivanishvili’s plans to leave politics after the October 27 presidential elections. Statements that it could make for problems – a view also shared by the overwhelming majority of respondents in one recent poll for the National Democratic Institute – were dismissed as fiddle-faddle.
Ivanishvili told the group that he’s keeping his eye on three men as potential candidates to be his successor, and that he “actually already has chosen” whom it will be. But his lips are sealed until after the election.
The fact that such decisions generally are not left to the prime minister alone in a coalition government did not appear to faze him.
But perhaps other facts had. Eighteen percent of those surveyed in the NDI poll said that Ivanishvili’s resignation plans would prompt them to vote against the Georgian Dream in the presidential election. Although the coalition’s candidate, Giorgi Margvelashvili, has a ten-percentage point lead over the main opposition contender, the United National Movement’s Davit Bakradze, Bakradze is gaining ground, according to the NDI poll.
While some of the prime minister’s wrath was, in fact, directed along political lines – among the berated was analyst Sergi Kapanadze, a deputy foreign minister under the last government -- Ivanishvili also attacked allies like Mamuka Areshidze (“my close friend”), a former parliamentary candidate for the prime minister’s Georgian Dream coalition and a lead specialist for the parliamentary commission on territorial integrity issues.
Set in a minimalist glass room with a Roy-Lichtenstein painting peeping around the corner, it made for, as Kapanadze said, “an interesting and strange meeting.”
The pundits, some growing punchy at the rebuffs, warned the prime minister that attacking analysts for public sentiment is akin to shooting the messenger.
After one exchange, Ramaz Sakvarelidze, a well-known political analyst, diplomatically suggested that Ivanishvili reconsider how his government is educating the public, noting that its PR is “weak.”
But the prime minister had his own ideas. TV stations, after all, were running live transmissions of his scolding, and would feature it as top news in their evening news broadcasts.
The problem, he underlined, is not with PR. “[T]he problem is that you do not have information,” he advised.