Georgia's richest man may have no formal government status, but the main characters in the country’s ongoing political drama are now busy paying visits to billionaire ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Fired ex-Defense Minister Irakli Alasania had his tête-à-tête with Ivanishvili, founder of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition, last night; now, Ivanishvili, generally seen as the real power behind the government, at latest report is currently meeting with Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili.
"One thing that we agreed on is to handle all political processes in a fashion that does not damage the state,” Alasania told TV reporters on November 7. “This was the gist of our conversation. We spoke of many things, but it obviously is going to stay between the two of us."
The November 6 evening meeting was at the agreement of both, he added. After being fired as defense minister earlier this week, Alasania had categorically refused to talk with Ivanishvili, who, for all his assurances that he has retired from politics, decided to drop in on a Georgian Dream meeting to discuss the coalition’s future. The meeting resulted in Alasania’s Free Democrats pulling out of the coalition and potentially leaving the group without a parliamentary majority.
Ivanishvili has not yet commented about his Alasania chat. No word has yet emerged about his talks with Gharibashvili, a former business associate.
It may be unclear if Alasania's claims that Gharibashvili's government has betrayed the goals of integrating with the West hit the nail on the head, or if ongoing investigations into the defense ministry are about Gharibashvili using the judiciary system to get rid of a rival, but what's clear is that a man with no official status has inserted himself into the middle of a critical moment for the government's political future.
What that has to say about the status of Georgia’s democracy is open to interpretation.
Members of the Georgian Dream, however, expressed cautious satisfaction on Friday that Ivanishvili had met with Alasania. The get-together is “good for the country and that’s how things should go,” commented MP Davit Onoprishvili.
The international community has not yet responded to these meetings. The crisis over the firing of the pro-Western Alasania and his allies, ex-Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze and State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Aleksi Petriashvili, has come under intense international media scrutiny, though, as to whether Georgia is giving up on NATO and the EU.
Georgian civil society has some questions of its own; ten prominent NGOs on November 7 asked for a meeting with Gharibashvili and "the former government members."
Prime Minister Gharibashvili has ardently denied that, labelling Alasania an “adventurist” and “foolish.”
The Russians also seem keen to know if the political drama in Georgia has anything to do with them. Moscow’s point-man for talks with Tbilisi, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigoriy Karasin, said he is closely following the high-profile dismissals and resignations.
"The ongoing resignations in the Georgian government first of all are transforming the government itself, but, secondly, it is important to understand if this is going to affect the course of the Georgian leadership," Karasin said, ITAR-TASS reported.
Washington, at least in public remarks, however, has sounded primarily concerned about the government’s potential use of the judiciary system for political retribution against Alasania.
The fact that Gharibashvili had a long meeting with the chief prosecutor last night hardly helped dispel suspicions that Alasania may be targeted in a politically motivated campaign. The prime minister, though, claims that the meeting was nothing out of the ordinary.
---- *The Open Society Georgia Foundation, one of the NGOs which requested a meeting, is part of the Open Society Foundations network. EurasiaNet.org is financed by the Open Society Foundation-New York City, a separate part of that network.