The crisis that kicked off when former Defense Minister Irakli Alasania charged the government with trying to derail Georgia’s NATO-membership plans is all about one “adventurist, foolish, ambitious” minister, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili insisted to an early-morning cabinet-meeting on November 6.
He also accused former Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze, who stepped down following the dismissal of Alasania (her brother-in-law), of sabotage.
Many Georgians, though, suspect that the crisis has more to do with political rivalry. Gharibashvili reinforced that impression when he fumed to the cabinet that Alasania’s accusations amounted to a “betrayal” of the 2012 parliamentary victory that brought his Georgian Dream coalition to power.
Alasania’s party, the Free Democrats, yesterday left the Georgian Dream, forcing it to lose its parliamentary majority.
Gharibashvili did succeed in hooking back all but one of Panjikidze’s four deputies; three of whom had appeared on-air yesterday to quit together with their boss. Efforts are reportedly underway to win over a couple of Free Democrats Party lawmakers or maverick lawmakers to maintain the Georgian Dream’s majority in parliament.
Most critically for the Georgian Dream’s survival, the Republican Party, often seen as the Free Democrats’ ideological cousin, remained in the coalition, but not exactly as a docile member.
One of the Republican leaders, MP Tina Khidasheli, on November 6 struck back at the prime minister for bad-mouthing Alasania. “I don’t have friends who are foolish or adventurist, nor have I noticed anything suggesting treason or sabotage,” she said, Intepressnews reported. She had earlier rebuked Alasania for what she described as presenting himself as “I am NATO.”
It was left to Khidasheli’s Republican husband, Parliamentary Speaker Davit Usupushvili, to appeal for calm and for not letting a political fight turn into a personal one. All sides have made precipitous decisions, he noted in a speech televised live on November 6.
But, apparently, not everyone was listening to the “personal” part. Gharibashvili predicted that there will be “many surprises” about Alasania that “will be embarrassing for him personally and his allies.”
In response, Alasania commented to reporters that he does not rule out the possibility that the investigation into the defense ministry will target him as well. “I don’t exclude anything. I’m expecting everything . . . “ he said.
Arguably, that could put the government, already criticised abroad for its prosecution of officials from the Saakashvili era, in an even more awkward position. Coming from a popular minister, whose efforts to reform Georgian military to the NATO standard are much appreciated in the West, Alasania’s allegations dealt a major blow to the Gharibashvili government’s international reputation.
“It is in Georgia’s interest to demonstrate stability, unity, commitment to due process and the rule of law, and public confidence in democratic institutions,” the US State Department said. “We urge all parties to work toward these goals and focus on securing Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic future.”
In response, the ever-calm Usupashvili likened the loss of ministers to the Republicans’ takeover of the US Congress. Meanwhile, the government has declassified the prosecutors’ case against the defense ministry’s procurement department; apparently to demonstrate that it doesn’t do political investigations.
Nonetheless, concerns persist about whether competence or uncritical loyalty to the prime minister will now be the primary qualification for serving in a senior government position.
What’s clear to many Georgians is that ambition is not tolerated by the Georgian Dream. Nor, they say, by its perceived behind-the-scenes boss, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, in his glass palace upon a hill.