Tag Archives: Georgia

Presidential Profile – Giorgi Margvelashvili, Georgia’s non-partisan President

Giorgi Margvelashvili, 47, the fourth president of Georgia was elected in 2013 with 62 percent in direct popular vote. Prior to his presidential nomination, he served as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education and Science in the government of PM Bidzina Ivanishvili. Although viewed as a non-partisan President right now, Margvelashvili was picked and nominated by Bidzina Ivanishvili himself for the ruling Georgian Dream Coalition in May 2013. With the victory of the Georgian Dream candidate in the presidential race, cohabitation, tense relations between the executive government (Georgian Dream) and the President Mikheil Saakashvili (United National Movement), came to an end. However, Giorgi Margvelashvili began a new era in the history of Georgian Presidency with the country moving from a president-centric system to a more parliamentary system. This transformation has caused dramatic changes in the intra-executive conflicts.


Giorgi Margvelashvili joined the Georgian Dream government in 2012 when the coalition won the parliamentary elections. Before that, he was known as a philosopher, political commentator and an academician, who used to be the rector of the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA). Mr. Margvelashvili graduated from Tbilisi State University in 1992 with a degree in Philosophy. Later he earned degrees from the Central European University in Prague, Czech Republic (1994) and the Institute of Philosophy of the Georgian Academy of Sciences (1996). Margvelashvili holds a PhD degree in Philosophy from Tbilisi State University.

However, 2012 was not his first attempt in Georgian politics. Margvelashvili was a member of the opposition party led by the Chairman of the Parliament, Zurab Zhvania, in 2003. Before joining the government, he advised Bidzina Ivanishvili during the 2012 parliamentary election campaign.

Constitutional Reform

The constitutional reform that was finalised in 2010 and enacted in 2013 changed the form of government in the country. Some politicians viewed the reform as shift from a presidential to a parliamentary model, while others claimed that Georgia was moving to semi-presidential system.

After the 2012 Parliamentary elections, for the first time in the history of independent Georgia, power was peacefully transferred from the ruling party to the opposition. However, this historic transition appeared to be painful for the political system. Cohabitation, or the change in the balance of power between the two branches of government, has led to confrontation between the executive government and the president.

Although cohabitation ended with Mikheil Saakashvili (2004-2013) stepping down from the office and Giorgi Margvelashvili commencing his term, intra-executive conflict has not ended.

Power of President

According to the constitution of Georgia and the amendments enacted in 2013, the President lost nearly all power over the executive government. At the same time, with the legacy set by the previous president, public perception of the institute of president was of a powerful leader and a head of the government.

Currently, the President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili is the head of state and guarantor of the country’s integrity and national independence; furthermore, he is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and represents Georgia in foreign relations; the President leads the National Security Council, decides the issues of granting citizenship, and has the power of pardon. The President also presents the candidate for a Chairman of the government of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara  and Abkhazia to the Supreme Council for approval;

Transformation into the non-partisan president

Margvelashvili expressed his disobedience to the master, Bidzina Ivanishvili, soon after his inauguration. First, he openly disagreed with the possible relocation of the Administration of the President from the Presidential Palace. The Presidential Palace, which was built during Saakashvili’s term, was strongly disliked by Ivanishvili as a symbol of UNM’s rule in the country. Instead, the PM commissioned the renovation of a new building for the President’s residence. Despite the fact that more than 10 million USD of public funds were spent on the refurbishment, Margvelashvili refused to relocate and continues to work in the Avlabari Presidential Palace to this day.

When Bidzina Ivanishvili stepped down as Prime Minister a major intra-executive conflict unfolded between the President and a new PM, Irakli Gharibashvili.

Constitutional ambiguity was demonstrated in several occasions:

In 2014, Georgia signed an Association Agreement (AA) with the European Union. The Agreement acknowledged Georgia’s progress on the path to European integration, promised a deep and comprehensive free trade with the EU, and visa-free travel.

As the highest representative in foreign relations, Margvelashvili’s administration considered that the President was the right person to sign the AA for Georgia. However, PM Gharibashvili viewed the head of the executive government as the right person to sign the document. Finally, PM Gharibashvili won the battle and on June 24, he 2014 signed the agreement on behalf of Georgia.

In 2014, participation in the UN General Assembly in New York caused another conflict between the President and the Prime Minister. As usual, Georgian delegations were headed by Presidents (Shevardnadze, Saakashvili), who also addressed the GA. However, the government decided that PM should head the delegation instead of Margvelashvili. Both offices began to plan the visit independently, without any coordination, until former PM, Bidzina Ivanishvili, accused the president of acting as a competitor to the prime minister. Soon, Margvelashvili cancelled the visit and accused the government of ignoring the constitution. (Tabula, 2014)

On Georgia’s Independence Day on May 26, President Margvelashvili sent out copies of the constitution to the prime minister, MPs, and the Supreme and Constitutional courts as a symbolic gesture calling the state institutions to respect the constitution. (A.Tsurtsumia-Zurabashvili for Presidential Power. 2015)

The intra-executive conflict faded when Irakli Gharibashvili resigned without explanation and the new Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili took office.

Gharibashvili’s successor, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, has gone out of his way to present a united front with Margvelashvili. He made a point of attending a session of the National Security Council that Margvelashvili convened in late January, whereas Gharibashvili had participated in only one of three such sessions under Margvelashvili’s chairmanship. (Radio Free Europe, Liz Fuller 2016)

New Constitutional Reform without the President

President Margvelashvili’s administration is widely engaged in the legislative process. The President has vetoed several bills. However, the ruling Georgian Dream, which enjoys supermajority in the Parliament, does not fear presidential vetoes.

Most recently, the Chairman of the Parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, inaugurated a new constitutional commission consisting of 73 members, tasked with producing amendments to the Constitution.

As reported by Civil Georgia, the President refrained from participating in the work of the state constitutional commission because the format offered by the Parliament “obviously lacks political trust and political legitimization”.

The chief of president’s administration explained that the President wanted the commission to be co-chaired by him, Prime Minister and Parliamentary Chairman, but the ruling Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia party rejected this proposal. (Civil.ge)

One of the issues that the constitutional commission will touch upon will be the indirect election of future presidents of Georgia.

The next Presidential elections in Georgia are due to take place in 2018. However, it is uncertain if Margvelashvili intends to participate in the race for the second term, or if he has any intention of remaining in politics.

www.president.gov.ge – official website of the Georgian President.

Official Facebook Page of Giorgi Margvelashvili

Georgia – Political Landscape After Parliamentary Elections

On November 16, the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Georgia published its final summary protocol for October 2016 Parliamentary elections. The CEC confirmed that three electoral subjects: Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia (GDDG), United National Movement (UNM) and the Alliance of Patriots would enter the Parliament of Georgia. Following the announcement of final election results, the President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili, convened the inaugural session of the newly elected parliament on November 18.

The ruling GDDG received 115 seats in the parliament (both majoritarian and party list results), followed by its major opponent the United National Movement with 27 MPs and the Alliance of Patriots with six seats; additionally, one majoritarian MP from Industrialists and an independent candidate Salome Zurabishvili managed to enter the 150-seat-strong legislative assembly.

This parliamentary election was remarkable. Although, only one majoritarian candidate nominated by the Industry Will Save Georgia (Industrialists) party won the seat in Khashuri constituency of Eastern Georgia, the party itself did not clear the three percent threshold necessary for qualifying for public funding. However, the Central Election Commission made a judgement and took a decision to grant public funding to the Industrialists for being represented by one majoritarian MP in the parliament. The CEC judgement has received harsh criticism from major watchdog organisations (GYLA, ISFED, Transparency Georgia), who accused the CEC of putting one political party in a privileged position without it meeting the criteria for additional public funding. It is worth noting that the CEC decision will also affect the composition of the Central Election Commission, whereby the more GDDG-friendly Industrials will replace the Free Democrats, the more outspoken opponents to the ruling party.

Apart from that, the recent research findings published by Transparency International Georgia note that the use of administrative resources by the ruling party in some instances, notably public servants were mobilized for electoral events in many cases. However, Transparency Georgia does not view the observed cases as influential for the e-day outcome.

Confidence vote for Georgian Dream Government

Following the inaugural session, the Georgian parliament voted for a new cabinet of ministers headed by the same prime-minister, Giorgi Kvirikashvili. Kvirikashvili himself led the Georgian Dream Democratic Georgia party list for parliamentary elections. The cabinet, where 18 ministers have remained after the portfolio of the State Minister for Diaspora Issues was subsumed by the Foreign Ministry, was reshuffled only slightly.

A four-year program of the government entitled “Freedom, Rapid Development, Welfare” was approved, as expected. Equipped with the supermajority in the parliament (115 seats), GDDG will be able to pass any initiative during the four-year term.

Elections over – political landscape still reshaping

The election had far-reaching for the rest of political spectrum. Before the run-offs, the leader of the Free Democrats, Irakli Alasania, left politics and withdrew from the second round race in the Gori constituency. Apart from Alasania, several leaders and former Free Democrats MPs left the party and spoke of the possibility of cooperating with their former political opponent – GDDG. Just recently, one of the former leader’s of Alasania’s political party was appointed as a minister in the GDDG cabinet.

David Usupashvili, the Parliamentary Chairman (2012-2016) and the leader the Republican Party, has left the party as well. The Republican Party, the oldest political party in Georgia and prominent for its liberal values, was represented in the previous parliament (2012-2016) as part of the ruling coalition. Parting from the coalition just months before elections, the Republicans received less than two per cent of the vote in the elections and none of its majoritarian candidates succeeded. Several leaders and tens of party members followed Usupashvili’s decision. Although he made it clear he has no intention of leaving the political scene, Usupashvili’s political future is uncertain.

The post-electoral period has also revealed significant divisions in the United National Movement as well, where Mikheil Saakashvili, broadcasting live from Odessa inUkraine, called on the party not to recognise the election result, to reject any participation in the run-offs, and to refuse to take up any parliamentary seats. Part of the UNM leadership went against Saakashvili by accepting the parliamentary seats and running in the second round. Only Sandra Roelofs, who is Saakashvili’s wife and who was number two on the party list, withdrew from the runoff race and asked the Central Election Commission to annul her parliamentary mandate.

The internal feud in the United National Movement continued even after the decision to enter the Parliament. At this point, two major opposing groups have emerged. President Mikheil Saakashvili, who was stripped of Georgian citizenship when he accepted a Ukrainian passport, automatically lost his position as a party chairman and his seat remains vacant. Saakashvili’s opposition in the party – Giga Bokeria, Gigi Ugulava (former Mayor of Tbilisi, currently in prison) and their supporters – are advocating for a renewal of the party, which among other things includes election of a new chair.

Ghia Nodia, a Georgian political analyst, views the internal conflict in United National Movement as deep and multidimensional. According to Nodia, by becoming a Ukrainian politician and being away from Georgia, Saakashvili lost his leadership and influence in the party. It is obvious for Ghia Nodia that fractioning will weaken the UNM more.

Internal developments in the UNM have attracted public attention for several reasons: firstly, it is the only former ruling party in Georgia which managed to avoid dissolution after the defeat in  the election; secondly, it continued functioning while its leader had to flee Georgia and while a number of other leaders are in prison (Former Prime Minister Ivane Merabishvili, former Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, former Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia); thirdly, the UNM has remained a vocal parliamentary opposition against the government.

On November 30, Civil.ge reported that the UNM leadership held a meeting of its political council, the highest governing body of the party. The council decided in favor of the decision to hold a congress with the participation of 7,000 delegates, as ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili wanted. Twenty-four members voted against and two members abstained.

Saakashvili’s wing in the party has called for the election of a new chairperson as deciding otherwise would mean that the party distances itself from Mikheil Saakashvili, hence what they consider a “political suicide”.

Mikheil Saakashvili has just recently resigned as governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region and has become a leader of the opposition movement in Ukraine. He welcomed “the correct decision” taken by his party in favor of holding a large-scale congress.

For the UNM, unity is of critical importance at the moment. However, the depth of the conflict demonstrates the lack of resources in the party. At the same time, the need for renewal and change, or the confirmation of the fact that there is life after Saakashvili is absolutely obvious.

Georgia – Ruling Coalition Dissolved

The Georgian Dream Coalition, which has ruled the country and held a majority in parliament since the elections of 2012, has dissolved just months before the next parliamentary elections.

Although the major opposition and the former ruling party, the United National Movement, began to speculate about the possible break-up of the ruling coalition much earlier, the dissolution has occurred in the run up to the next elections.

The Georgian Dream – Democratic Party emerged only in 2012 when its billionaire founder, Bidzina Ivanishvili, stepped onto the Georgian political stage. At that time, Ivanishvili established a coalition for the parliamentary elections, uniting the Republicans, Free Democrats, Conservatives, Industrialists, the National Forum, and a few independent politicians under the umbrella of the Georgian Dream.

The Georgian Dream party (GD) itself has always held a leading role in the coalition and, accordingly, GD party candidates dominated the electoral list and, later, cabinet of ministers in the government.

The first signs of discord in the coalition came in November 2014, when the Free Democrats, led by the former Defense minister, Irakli Albania, split from the coalition. With this move, the Free Democrats (FD) also lost all their leading positions in Parliament and government. FD still has a group (10 lawmakers) in the current parliament, but is in opposition to the current government.

The Republican Party, which was founded in 1978 and is based on liberal values, has always been viewed as the number two of the coalition. The Republicans strengthened their position inside the coalition, especially after the Free Democrats left: they have the chairman of the parliament, a parliamentary group, and three ministers in the cabinet (one of them being the Defense ministry).

Former PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, who founded GD party and the coalition, spoke about the need for a reshuffle in October 2015, when he noted that at least half of the current lawmakers from the ruling coalition may not appear on the party list of candidates for 2016 parliamentary elections.

Ivanishvili, although he holds no official position, is regarded as the informal ruler of the coalition and the government. Thus, his statement carried a clear message that the future of the parties inside the coalition was uncertain.

Beginning in March 2016, the Republicans announced about the “strategic partnership” deal with the Georgian Dream party. However, the essence of the particular partnership was never explained to the public as it became apparent that the Republicans were simply fighting for extra places on the electoral list.

The possible bilateral deal with the Republicans was confirmed by the Prime Minister, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who stated that the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG), was considering a partnership agreement with the Republican Party and that others within the coalition would have to join if GD was to remain a multi-party entity for the October 2016 parliamentary elections.

However, PM Kvirikashvili also added: “GD Party will of course be renewed to a significant extent and there will be a consolidation over joint goals. Overall, if we run in the elections as a coalition, the team will unite over very clear goals, which are based on our best values and traditions and of course on a consensus over Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic future.”

Interestingly, the Georgian Dream coalition has united parties of different values and visions and for that reason was often referred as an eclectic creation, bringing together left, right, socialists and conservatives.

By mid-March, divisions between the ruling majority parties became evident. In particular, two of them – the Industrialists and Republicans – were engaged in a public confrontation for weeks. Furthermore, one of the leaders of the Industrialist Party, MP Gogi Topadze, accused Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli of the Republican Party of manipulating Sagarejo MP by-election results in October 2015.

Conscious uncoupling

By the end of March 2016, the Republicans announced that they had decided what they were going to do at the upcoming elections. However, the public waited for the statement for three days, suspecting that the Republicans were taking final attempts to agree on their terms for the elections.

On March 31, the Chairperson of the Republican Party, Khatuna Samnidze, stated that, the party had taken its decision to run independently at a meeting on March 27 but had delayed the announcement due to the PM Kvirikashvili’s request.

Later, the Chair of the Parliament and the Republican, David Usupashvili, clarified the party’s decision. “It was clear for us that the priority of the Georgian Dream party is to run separately in the upcoming elections. We accept this reality and challenge, which is normal for a multi-party political system … To some extent, this is also a novelty in Georgian political life. Many ask how we can manage to be partners and competitors at the same time – that’s how it works; European democracy is unimaginable otherwise,” stated Usupashvili.

It is worth nothing that the break up of the Republicans from the coalition did not result in resignation of party ministers from the ruling cabinet. Furthermore, Republicans confirmed that they would continue working as a team in the government, until the PM decides to dismiss them.

Even after the Republicans left, the Georgian Dream did not confirm the dissolution of the coalition. Only later did formal statements come from the Conservatives and the National Forum confirming their decision to run independently in the elections. Only the Industrialists abstained from a formal divorce.

The Georgian Dream party is expected to hold its party convention next month and promises to present its electoral list for the next elections.

Opinion Polls

NDI Opinion Poll Results, April 2016

NDI Opinion Poll Results, April 2016

On April 13, 2016 the National Democratic Institute (NDI) published the recent nationwide opinion polls. According to the survey, 61% of Georgians are undecided about their vote in the parliamentary elections. The polls demonstrated 16% support for Georgian Dream and 15% for the major opposition party, the United National Movement.

In October 2016, Georgia’s political parties need to overcome a 5% threshold in order to qualify for parliament. With the current political setting, it will be necessary to create coalitions within the parliament only after the election, something which will itself be unprecedented in the history of independent Georgia.

Georgia – Highlights of the 2016 Presidential Address


Since 1997, the constitution of Georgia has obliged the President to address an annual report to parliament. Oddly, this aspect of the constitution has remained unrevised, even though all of the president’s other powers and competencies have been amended. The current President,  Giorgi Margvelashvili, can be considered as the first non-partisan president of Georgia, but is opposed to most of the government policies. Georgia’s current semi-presidential constitutional  model is premier-presidential, in which president holds little power over the rest of the executive branch.

For the third year in a row President Margvelashvili’s annual address to the parliament was preceded by political speculations, uncertainties and expectations.

The Constitution does not clearly define format or a length of the president’s address. Article 73 of the Constitution of Georgia states: “4. The President of Georgia shall have the right to address the people and Parliament. The President shall annually submit a report of crucial state-related issues to Parliament.”

This time, the format of the event became a source of disagreement between the political groups in Parliament. The major opposition party, the United National Movement, demanded an open political debate with the President after the speech. The Chair of the Parliament did not allow the debate, but the parliamentary factions were given the opportunity to make statements after the Presidential address.

In addition, in previous years the government, including the Prime Minister, refused to attend the presidential address, emphasising the political divisions between the president and the ruling Georgian Dream coalition.

On February 3, 2016 President Margvelashvili arrived in Kutaisi to give a speech to parliament. The newly appointed PM, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, and members of the Cabinet were present in the chamber along with chairperson of the Supreme Court, the chairman of the Constitutional Court, the central bank chief, and foreign diplomats. The Prime Minister’s presence marked the end of the boycott of the presidency by the executive branch. President Margvelashvili hinted at this issue in his speech: “Political or personal confrontation should not translate into infringement of fundamental, constitutional institutions,” he said.

The 55-minute long speech carried important messages and highlighted a number of issues related to the political and economic future of the country.

The president considered the economic situation in the country to be “difficult”. Further, he stressed the importance of using all the opportunities to strengthen the economy despite external shocks.

President Margvelashvili has declared 2016 as “a year of the European state”, highlighting his vision for the European future of Georgia “not as a guest in the family of the European states, but as a fully-fledged member of this union.” Furthermore, he noted that the “clear goal” should be turning from a “pro-Western state into Western State.” The President expects the European Commission to give the go-ahead to lifting visa requirements for Georgian citizens in the Schengen area this year meaning that “the European doors will open for the Georgian citizens for free movement.”

The President also raised the issue of electoral system reform: like many of the opposition parties, he has been advocating the scrapping of the majoritarian component of the electoral system at the 2016 parliamentary elections. The Georgian Dream ruling coalition, however, wants to do it after the 2016 elections.

The President noted that despite the general consensus about the future of the system, divisions remain on the timing:  “I call on the political forces to carry out these changes in 2016,” he said.

The President also touched upon the issue of media freedom, emphasising the importance of having divergent and independent media sources in the election year. The President has called on the politicians to impose a “self-limitation” on themselves and to refrain from “assessing” media sources’ editorial policies.

“In an efficient democratic system strong political forces make key players,” Margvelashvili said, adding that strong political parties would add to diversity of Georgia’s political landscape, meaning  voters will no longer face “the choice between bad and worse.”

President Margvelashvili also voiced his opinion on the issue of re-establishing good relations with Russia: “Relations [with the Russian Federation] should be based on the following points: like with any other country, Georgia aspires to relations based on equality; a united, strong, democratic and developed Georgia is a guarantee of security … in the Caucasus. Not a single country, including Russia, can achieve its own wellbeing at the expense of occupation of territories of neighbouring countries.”

At the same time, he said, Georgia should continue its policy of promoting non-recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia on the international stage. “We should not rest even for a second in this regard,” the President said. President has expressed his fears that Russia is “actively using soft power” in order to “neutralize” Georgia’s effort to secure territorial integrity and this is something that requires “close coordination with our western partners.”

The President said that economic relations with Russia should be welcomed, but warned that “soft power” can also be applied in this regard. “I have to reiterate that it concerns especially Gazprom,” stated Margvelashvili, and added that the Georgian government’s ongoing negotiations with Russian gas supplier Gazprom should be carried out “transparently.”

“The Euro-Atlantic integration remains Georgia’s priority. We will use all the instruments that NATO makes available for strengthening our defence capabilities. We will continue efforts for joining NATO,” said the president, and acknowledged the Georgian army forces for their contribution to operations.

President’s annual address was met with criticism from the opposition political groups (UNM, NPC, FD) in the parliament as expected, but representatives of the ruling coalition Georgian Dream did not hide their disagreement with his statements either.

However, the tone of the presidential address and the priorities of the government presented by the PM Kvirikashvili to the parliament of Georgia a couple of months ago showed more unity than division.

For the full text of the address, please visit www.president.gov.ge

Georgia – Resignation of Prime Minister

On December 23, 2015 Georgian Prime Minister’s administration made an announcement about Mr. Gharibashvili’s forthcoming press statement but without the presence of journalists. The press conference was delayed several times during the day and rumors about PMs resignation were confirmed by the evening. In his 5 minute long resignation address, Irakli Gharibashvili did not clarify the reasons that led him to such an unexpected decision.

“Holding an office – be it of interior minister or prime minister, and being in government in general has never been a goal in itself for me,” noted Gharibashvili. “For me this is a mean to serve my country!”- said the former PM.

Irakli Garibashvili, 33, who first became a Ministry of Interior (2011) thanks to the working experience with Mr. Bidzina Ivanishvili’s (Georgia’s former PM) private business, was nominated as PM by Ivanishvili, after his resignation from the office (2013).

Although, Georgia’s Minister of Defense Titantin Khidasheli stated that the resignation of Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili was not completely unexpected, as he had achieved all his goals he set and had “paved the way for a new leader, for new blood” to lead the country, the event has raised questions in the society.

Firstly, just few days earlier, on December 18, Georgian government received a green light on visa liberalization process with the EU, meaning that the European Commission positively assessed the policies and actions of the government to fulfill the visa liberalization action plan. Visa free movement in Schengen area was one of the top electoral promises of Georgian Dream and the positive assessment of the EU was considered as a victory of the current government.

Secondly, Georgia is due to conduct its parliamentary elections in fall 2016 and the resignation of the government just 9 months before the elections did not look like right time for a “new blood” as the government would soon move on to “electoral mode”.

PM's Seasons Greetings

PM’s Seasons Greetings

Surprisingly so, Christmas cards featuring the PM with his family were distributed to stakeholders as scheduled, even after his resignation (or they were sent out before the unplanned resignation). This became one of the suspicious signs that the former PM did not plan a resignation well in advance.

Signs of informal governance

The major opposition party United National Movement claims that former PM, Bidzina Ivanishvili remains as an informal decision maker to the government and that Gharibashvili’s unexpected resignation was decided on his behalf.

Opposition MP Zurab Abashidze, Free Democrats noted that the event left him with the impression that “no one, but few people within the ruling coalition, knew about Gharibashvili’s intention to resign.” Abashidze added that keeping the ruling majority members unaware of such an important decision was yet another indication of Ivanishvili’s “informal rule.”

Giorgi Gabashvili, MP, United National Movement suspected that “nothing is changing in principle” with the resignation of Gharibashvili.

“I would call it reshuffle of puppets; Gharibashvili has never been an independent figure and leader. He has always been a very energetic executor of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s orders… and other government members are Ivanishvili’s clerks,” Gabashvili told Imedi TV.

Other opposition leaders and some political experts suggested that the cabinet reshuffle about ten months before the parliamentary elections was possibly made in response to declined public support for the Georgian Dream ruling coalition.

November poll, commissioned by NDI, showed most of the voters undecided; GD’s support among likely voters stood at 18%, which is up by 4 percentage points since August, but 6 percentage points lower than in April, 2015. UNM opposition party had 12% support among likely voters, compared to 15% and 16% in August and April, respectively; Free Democrats – had 7% support, compared to 5% in August and April. (see www.civil.ge)

New Government – No changes in the Cabinet of Ministers

Garibashvili’s abrupt resignation created a need for nomination of the new PM and the approval of the new cabinet, as the existing one could only act as an interim government.

The candidacy of a new PM came from Ivanishvili’s most trusted circle: Giorgi Kvirikashvili, 48 who also joined Georgian Dream after working for Ivanishvili’s private company and earning his trust, was first given the position of the ministry for Economic Development, later shuffled to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Kvirikashvili led the MFA under Gharibashvili’s government and acted as a deputy Prime Minister.

Despite his opposition with the Georgian Dream, the President confirmed the nomination of Kvirikashvili in a timely manner and presented it to the parliament for approval.

Just as short as in one week after PM’s resignation, on December 30, 2015 Parliament of Georgia approved the new government. However, Kvirikashvili did not change a single minister in his cabinet (except for MFA, as he held the position himself). The proposed cabinet of ministers did not get a vote of confidence from the opposition parties in the parliament (UNM and Free Democrats).

Amid the increased discontent with the economic situation in the country, the major expectations of the population concerned the change of the Minister of Finance, as well as the Minister for Education. However, the anticipated reshuffle did not happen.

Unlike Gharibashvili, the new PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili is known for his ability to communicate with the opposition and relatively moderate stand on political rivals. Moreover, Kvirikashvili still remains the most trusted person before Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Apart from his PM office, Irakli Gharibashvili has also resigned from the position of a chairman of Georgian Dream party and with that, prospects of his political future within the ruling coalition have vanished.

Both, the political future of former PM Irakli Gharibashvili and the composition of the ruling coalition Georgian Dream for the upcoming elections remain uncertain.

Georgia – Prospects for a Mandatory Gender Quota

More than 100 countries around the world have adopted different types of gender quotas to address the issue of women’s underrepresentation in legislative bodies.

On September 24 in Tbilisi, the parliamentary committee on Human Rights and Civic Integration supported the legislative initiative of local NGOs to introduce a mandatory gender quota for the Georgian parliamentary elections of 2016.

The legislative draft, submitted to the parliament in June 2015, was prepared to introduce changes to the electoral code of the country. According to the authors of the initiative, the bill aims at increasing the share of female legislators in the next parliament to at least 25 per cent. In the current parliament there are 17 women deputies, accounting for 11.3% of the 150-seat Parliament. This will help women in the parliament to reach a so-called “critical minority” (30 or 40%).

Notably, the proposal is designed only for the party lists and, if passed, it will not oblige parties to apply the rule to the majoritarian candidates. Advocates of the gender quota hoped that the electoral system for the next elections would exclude the majoritarian system. However, the current ruling coalition Georgian Dream decided to postpone this reform until 2020.

The proposal offers the introduction of the so-called “zipper” system, where male and female candidates appear alternately on party lists. The president of Georgia has openly backed mandatory gender quotas. He reiterated his support in his annual address to the parliament in March 2015.

Furthermore, speaking at a conference in Tbilisi on women’s political participation in March, parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili said that although in general he is against any kind of mandatory quotas, he is “a supporter of equality and if I see that it is impossible to achieve equality without setting quotas, then I become a supporter of quotas.”

The existing legislation offers financial incentives for political parties in the event that their electoral lists comprise at least 30% of different sex. Despite the measures, the financial incentives have proven an ineffective mechanism to increase women’s representation in elected bodies.

Opponents of the mandatory gender quotas fear that, as a form of positive discrimination, it is not the right approach for achieving gender balance in the parliament. Moreover, they think that the “quality” of women candidates will decrease significantly as the political parties will be obliged to comply with the electoral code.

Initiators of the legislation claim that an increase in the number of women in the legislative body will be a step to achieving equality since more than half of Georgia’s population deserve to be represented equally to men. Furthermore, advocates for gender quotas are convinced that more women in politics will have positive impact on the socio-economic situation in the country.

In fact, only in 2014, 19 women were killed as a result of domestic violence and according to the recent research women hold only 35% of leadership positions in the public sector of Georgia.[1]

According to NDI commissioned polls, in Spring 2015, 68 % of population supported mandatory gender quotas and only 16 % countrywide opposed the idea.[2]

Political rivals, Coalition Georgian Dream and the opposition United National Movement as the only electoral subjects in the parliament are to decide the fate of mandatory gender quotas in Georgia. If finally passed by the Parliament of Georgia, political parties will be required to compose gender balanced electoral lists in less than a year, for the parliamentary elections of 2016.

[1] https://idfi.ge/public/upload/IDFI/opendata/gender2015.pdf


Georgia – A year ahead of parliamentary elections, the electoral system is still uncertain

Georgia will hold its next parliamentary elections in fall 2016. A year ahead of the polling day the electoral system is still unclear.

Currently, Georgia has a mixed electoral system: 73 MPs in 150-seat Parliament are elected in single-mandate constituencies, and the remaining 77 seats are allocated proportionally under the party-list contest among political parties that surpass the 5% threshold. In the single-member, majoritarian constituencies the number of voters ranges from over 150,000 voters in the largest one to less than 6,000 voters in the smallest one.

In early 2015, in his annual report to the parliament, the President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili, called for a reform of the electoral system and in particular emphasized that amendments to the existing majoritarian component of electoral system were fundamentally important.

Before the President spoke about it, several non-parliamentary opposition parties had already been campaigning jointly for several months, demanding a reform of the majoritarian component of the election system. The joint memorandum by the political parties stressed that the reform was necessary before the 2016 parliamentary elections, since the existing system violates the principle of equality of suffrage and fails to proportionally allocate seats in the legislative body.

Opponents of the existing system argue that it has the potential to produce a distribution of seats in Parliament that is different from those reflected in proportional, party-list election results. The difference between distribution of seats and votes garnered in party-list contest was obvious in the previous Parliament, when the then ruling UNM party held over 79% of seats in parliament although it received only slightly over 59% of votes in 2008 parliamentary elections. The explanation lies with the electoral system; UNM won all but four majoritarian constituencies across the country.

This was not the case in the 2012 elections, when the seats won by Georgian Dream coalition and UNM, both in majoritarian and proportional contests, mainly matched the share of votes they won in the party-list contest.

The mismatch, however, was evident in the 2014 local elections for Tbilisi City Council (Sakrebulo), when although it received 46% of votes in the party-list contest, GD gained 74% of seats in Tbilisi Sakrebulo because it won all but one of the majoritarian constituencies in the capital city.

The Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal and constitutional affairs, the Venice Commission, has long been recommending to Georgia that it needs to address the existing disparity, claiming that it undermines the principle of equality of suffrage. Georgian election observer groups have also been calling for the replacement of the current system with a “regional-proportional system”, based on open lists, wherein multi-member constituencies would be introduced instead of existing single-member ones.

Ruling of the Constitutional Court

In 2012, two citizens of Georgia (one of them the current public defender of Georgia) filed a case to the Constitutional Court arguing that discrepancies in the sizes of the single-member majoritarian constituencies violated the principle of equality of suffrage.

On May 28, 2015 the Georgian Constitutional Court announced its decision and ruled that the present electoral system and specifically its majoritarian section, did indeed violate the equality of vote and should be changed. “It is the discretion of the Georgian Parliament to decide on the proportional and majoritarian models of the electoral system provided that constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens will be protected in this process,” the Court stated.

Notably, the Constitutional Court did not rule out the majoritarian component of the electoral system or suggest that it should necessarily be scrapped.

Just a couple of days later, on May 30, 2015 at the conference hosted by the President Giorgi Margvelashvili, 14 opposition parties, including non-parliamentary and parliamentary ones, as well as 8 civil society organizations made a joint appeal to the Parliament to carry out this reform. They argued that the existing majoritarian system, where MPs are elected through plurality vote, results in a large amount of wasted votes and can potentially produce a distribution of seats in the parliament that is different from the distribution reflected in proportional, party-list election results.

Constitutional Amendments

Meanwhile, the Georgian Dream ruling coalition initiated constitutional changes to scrap the majoritarian component but only after 2016. The GD coalition revealed the full reform proposal recently: it envisages maintaining the mixed electoral model for the 2016 parliamentary elections, wherein 73 lawmakers are elected in 73 majoritarian, single-member constituencies and the remaining 77 seats are allocated by a party-list, proportional vote. The proposal offers to replace plurality vote to elect majoritarian MPs with a majority vote, which entails increasing the vote threshold required for an outright victory in the first round from the current 30% to 50%.

The plan also foresees redrawing the single-member districts to ensure equality of suffrage and the introduction of a constitutional amendment to scrap the majoritarian component of the system by 2020, in the event that there are no early elections.

At the same time, parliamentary and non-parliamentary opposition parties continue to demand a cancelation of the majoritarian system for the upcoming 2016 elections. They have launched a campaign to collect 200,000 signatures to initiate a legislative draft to challenge the proposal of Georgian Dream.

But none of the two initiatives is likely to be passed as constitutional amendments require the support of both parliamentary majority and minority groups. Currently, the GD ruling coalition has 86 seats in 150-member parliament, which is not enough for the super-majority required to pass a constitutional amendment.

A year ahead of the polling day the fate of the electoral reform is still undecided. One thing is clear, however, the closer the country gets to parliamentary elections with uncertain electoral rules of the game, the more difficult it will be for political parties to mobilise and for voters to make informed electoral choices.

Ann Tsurtsumia-Zurabashvili – Constitutional Ambiguity and the Perils of Semi-Presidentialism in Georgia

This is a guest post by Ann Tsurtsumia-Zurabashvili, Marie Curie PhD Fellow, Dublin City University, Ireland


The flooding on June 13, 2015 in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi killed 19 people (with 3 still missing), left tens of families homeless, devastated Tbilisi Zoo and caused an estimated damage of GEL 100 millions (USD 44.5 mln) in total. The natural disaster was a unifying moment for the entire Georgian political spectrum, putting aside the long-held institutional rivalries.

Despite the consequences of the disaster and the fact that the Zoo animals wandered loose in the streets of Tbilisi for many days (a tiger killed one man two days after the flooding), the President did not declare a state of emergency. Therefore, disaster relief efforts were  coordinated solely by the Crisis Management Council of the Prime Minister, leaving the National Security Council of the President without any influence over the process.

Shortly after the disaster, President Giorgi Margvelashvili stated: “in modern cities the rise of the water level in a small ravine should not kill people”. Having no power over the crisis management in the country, the president voiced his discontent with government mishandling of the situation this way.

Not long after this, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili reminded the public of their discord over the issue of the Presidential Palace, which was built by former President Mikheil Saakashvili and which cost an estimated GEL 500 Mln (USD 200 mln). In his recent and all-encompassing interview with the local newspaper Asaval-Dasavali (#26, June 29), PM Gharibashvili requested that the President publicly explain the reasons for his refusal to move from the Avlabari Presidential Palace to the new, a relatively modest Atoneli Residence (renovation cost GEL 28 Mln – USD 12.5 mln).

Up until now, President Margvelashvili has been reluctant to change his decision to stay at the Avlabari Residence. In April 2015, to justify the government’s intention to relocate the President from his current residence, Irakli Kobakhidze, the ruling Georgian Dream’s party executive secretary, stated that the existing presidential palace epitomized the political system of Georgia before 2013. And since the country no longer had a “super president” in power and because it had moved to a “parliamentary system”, the Avlabari Palace did not correspond to president’s current functions, according to Kobakhidze.

Presidential elections of 2013 ended the difficult period of cohabitation between President Saakashvili and Prime Minister Ivanishvili. The creation of a unified government under the new executive tandem – Gharibashvili and Margvelashvili (both from Georgian Dream coalition) – combined with the enactment of constitutional amendments stripping the president of many of his previous powers, was widely perceived as a prerequisite for minimizing the previously conflictual relationship between the two components of the executive branch. Yet, the country entered a new period of intra-executive confrontation soon after the presidential elections.

Georgia is no different from other premier-presidential republics in the post-communist area. Although Kobakhidze and many in the Georgian Dream (GD) coalition describe the current system as a parliamentary system, a closer look at recent constitutional amendments shows that it belongs to the premier-presidential subtype of semi-presidentialism rather than a purely parliamentary republic: with a directly elected and fixed-term president and a cabinet collectively responsible to the legislature, the Georgian political system is much closer to that of Poland than Germany

And as in many other premier-presidential republics, Georgia’s constitution leaves the question of who is the master of the executive government largely unanswered. So it was no surprise that the end of the partisan confrontation between Ivanishvili and Saakashvili was soon replaced by a new mode of institutional conflict. Margvelashvili distanced himself from Georgian Dream coalition and openly opposed some of its policies. While some of these disagreements are genuinely policy-driven, the underlying reason remains the constitutional ambiguities.

On the occasion of Georgia’s Independence Day on May 26, following a number of instances of conflicts where the text of constitution has become the subject of multiple interpretations, President Margvelashvili sent out copies of the constitution to the prime minister, MPs, and the Supreme and Constitutional courts as a symbolic gesture calling the state institutions to respect the constitution.

The most recent policy disagreement unfolded over the issue of the competencies of the National Bank. President Margvelashvili threatened to veto the bill that would transfer the National Bank’s financial supervisory functions to a separate agency. In response to the President’s opposition to the law, Prime Minister Gharibashvili stated that if the bill was vetoed, the GD parliamentary majority would override it.

President Margvelashvili has maintained friendlier relations with the Parliament of Georgia. Unlike his predecessor who vetoed parliament’s decisions on many occasions, Margvelashvili has used the veto only twice. Furthermore, he has twice addressed the parliament with the annual state of the union, although both times in the absence of the cabinet. Surprisingly, the president’s state of the union address to parliament, which was in effect an annual report of the president’s work as a head of the government, still remains in the constitution, even though the president has been stripped of all the executive powers.

Much like premier-presidential republics elsewhere, intra-executive conflicts in Georgia are the product of constitutional ambiguities and the partisan composition in the parliament. Facing a government supported by a stable parliamentary majority, presidential influence over policy-making has until now been effectively curtailed. Whether this changes or not is largely dependent on the integrity of ruling coalition and the upcoming parliamentary elections in 2016.

Ann Tsurtsumia-Zurabashvili is Marie Curie Fellow at Dublin City University, and has extensive experience working in international development projects in Georgia. She led the Political Party Assistance Programme at the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) and Parliamentary Communications Center at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) (2009-2013). She has served as a Policy Fellow at the Georgian Foundation for Security and International Studies (GFSIS) (2011-2012). In 2012-2013 she provided strategic planning consultancy to the biggest watchdog in Georgia, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), and the East-West Management Institute. Furthermore, Ann has contributed to number of research projects on strategic planning in political parties, achieving gender balance in the parliament and the role of civil society in policy formulation.

Malkhaz Nakashidze – The Changing Face of Semi-presidentialism in Georgia

This is a guest post by Malkhaz Nakashidze of the Shota Rustaveli State University, Georgia


From October 2012 to November 2013 there was a period of cohabitation in Georgia. President Mikheil Saakashvili from the United National Movement (UNM) was opposed to PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of the Georgian Dream Coalition. In November 2013 this period of cohabitation ended when Giorgi Margvelashvili, the candidate of the Georgian Dream Coalition and a close ally of Bidzina Ivanishvili, won the presidential election. It was expected that the president and the new PM, Irakli Garibashvili, also from the Georgian Dream Coalition, would cooperate smoothly. However, this has not been the case.

In May 2013 former PM Ivanishvili strongly criticized President Margvelashvili for using the presidential palace that was built during the presidency of Mikhail Saakashvili, arguing that it was a symbol of violence, evil and indecency. He stated that before being elected as president, Margvelashvili himself was strongly opposed to using the palace. After the election, though, Margvelashvili held several meetings there, including the appointment of various ambassadors. President Margvelashvili was also criticized for appointing Vano Matchavariani, who was the brother of the new leader of UNM, Mikheil Matchavariani, as a foreign policy adviser, though he later resigned from the post. Margvelashvili was also criticized when he considered vetoing a criminal procedure bill in late December 2013. The bill had been opposed by the UNM and civil society organisations. In fact, President Margvelashvili’s first veto was issued in October 2014 on a bill relating to the power of the security services. This generated considerable criticism from the government. What is more, unlike the situation during cohabitation, by this time the government did not have the required super majority of votes in parliament to overturn the president’s veto. In short, the president is no longer perceived to be supportive of the ruling coalition.

The conduct of foreign policy has been a particular source of tension over the last year. The Constitution states that the President of Georgia represents Georgia in terms of foreign relations, but it also states that the Prime Minister and ministers shall represent Georgia “within the terms of their competence”. Given the difficulties with President Margvelashvili, the government has challenged the powers of the president in foreign affairs. For example, President Margvelashvili said that it would be appropriate if he, as head of the state, were to put his name to the Association Agreement with the EU on 27 June 2014 instead of the Prime Minister. The presidential administration claimed that signing the agreement fell under the authority of the president, who has the constitutional right to sign international treaties upon agreement with the government. However, the government claimed that the prime minister was entitled to sign the agreement and refused to allow the president to do so. In this context, the president announced that he delegated his right to sign the treaty to the prime minister. However, he did so by way of a presidential order that required the prime minister’s countersignature. The prime minister’s office claimed that the government and not the president had the right to decide who should sign the agreement. In the end, the prime minister signed the treaty.

Another difficult issue has concerned the National Security Council. According to the constitution, the National Security Council is responsible for organizing the military development and defence of the country and is headed by the president. The composition, powers, and rules of operation of the National Security Council are determined by an organic law. The government has tried to restrict the power of the National Security Council and move some of its responsibilities to the new, non-constitutional State Security and Crisis Management Council headed by the prime minister. On 1 August 2014 President Margvelashvili scheduled a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the NATO summit to be held in Wales in September 2014. The meeting was held, but PM Garibashvili did not attend. That said, the prime minister did attend the second meeting of the National Security Council, which was chaired by President Margvelashvili, on 28 October 2014 because it was convened to discuss the highly sensitive issue of Abkhazia and the PM could not be seen to be absent.

There has also been conflict between the president, the prime minister and the parliamentary majority regarding the appointment of Supreme Court judges. According to the Constitution the president is entitled to nominate candidates to parliament. However, on 1 August 2014 parliament voted down two of the president’s nominations. They were only approved at a second attempt in October 2014.

Against this background, major changes have also taken place within the Coalition. In the first week of November 2014 the Free Democrats, one of the parties of Georgian Dream Coalition, left the government. The departure was triggered by the arrest on October 28 of one former and four serving officials from the procurement and general staff’s communications units in the Ministry of Defense. Irakli Alasania, the then Minister of Defense and leader of Free Democrats, announced he was confident that the officials were innocent and that he would wait for the results of the investigation. However, on November 4 a separate investigation against three army medical officials and three employees of a state-owned food provider company was also instigated. At the time, Minister Alasania was visiting France and Germany and the chief of general staff of the armed forces, General Vakhtang Kapanadze, was also visiting Washington. In response, Minister Alasania spoke out against the ruling coalition, stating that the investigations were an attack on Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice. He resigned a few hours later. The next day the Free Democrats announced that they were leaving the coalition. They had two other posts in the coalition government: the State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration and the Minister of Justice. However, while the State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration did step down, the Minister of Justice decided to remain in the government. By contrast, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maia Panjikidze, did resign even though she was not a member of the Free Democrats. This was not a surprise, though, because she is Alasania’s sister-in-law.

The Free Democrats were the second largest group in the Georgian Dream parliamentary party with 10 members. With their departure, the Georgian Dream Coalition had 73 members in the 150-seat parliament. Another member of the Georgian Dream Coalition, the Republican Party, with nine members in parliament, officially supported the Free Democrats, but announced that they were not going to leave the coalition. Faced with the threat of not having a majority, the Coalition leaders met with the non-partisan members of parliament. On November 10, six non-partisan deputies, and former members of UNM, joined the Georgian Dream Coalition. At the same time, the “Non-partisan” parliamentary fraction announced that they would also join the Coalition majority. Given three members of Free Democrats did not leave parliamentary majority, Georgian Dream Coalition ended up with the support of 87 deputies.

In this context, the role of President has become very significant. It was during this time that the president used his veto. President Margvelashvili also made a statement in Vienna, where he was attending the second UN Conference on Landlocked Developing Countries, where he said that the crisis was a threat to the efficient functioning of the institutions in the country, a threat to the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration, and a threat to the Georgian army. Immediately after returning in Georgia, President Margvelashvili asked the cabinet to convene a session where the Euro-Atlantic issue could be discussed. He also asked parliament to convene a special session where he would make an address. This was agreed.

One of President Margvelashvili’s most significant statements was when he said that “We have stressed a number of times that the country should be ruled by strong institutions and not from the backstage”. This was a clear reference to former PM Ivanishvili. There has been a lot of discussion as to whether Ivanishvili was wielding any influence behind the scenes. PM Garibashvili initially denied this idea, but later he confirmed on television that he had consulted Ivanishvili, saying that it was normal he should seek the advice of a former PM. Ivanishvili’s influence was further confirmed when the former PM gave a long interview with the Georgian Public Broadcaster on November 8 during which he discussed the country’s political issues. He said that the prosecutor’s office could not turn a blind eye if there was a suspicion of wrong doing in the Ministry of Defense and mentioned that he had many questions about the case. He also criticized President Margvelashvili for vetoing the security services bill. He also criticized the President for his visit to Vienna and concluded that his actions and interests were consistent with those of the National Movement. If further proof were needed of Ivanishvili’s role in the coalition he attended the meeting of the political board of the Georgian Dream Coalition that was held one day after resignation of Minister Alasania.

In general, the relationship between the president and the government and indeed between the government and the majority remains difficult and perhaps increasingly so. The president, who was elected under the banner of the Georgian Dream coalition, is no longer seen to be supportive of the coalition. Moreover, the coalition itself is no longer as cohesive. In the background, former prime minister Ivanishvili still has considerable influence over the government and the prime minister. Overall, the practice of semi-presidentialism in Georgia has changed considerably over the last year.

Malkhaz Nakashidze is the Founder & Managing Director of The International Institute for Academic Development and Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at Shota Rustaveli State University, Georgia

Georgia – President/PM relations

On 17 November 2013 Giorgi Margvelashvili from the Georgian Dream coalition took office as President of Georgia, having won the presidential election at the first ballot the previous month. On 20 November, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire founder of Georgian Dream, stepped down as Prime Minister. He was succeeded by Irakli Garibashvili, who is technically non-partisan, but who is close to Ivanishvili and who was nominated for the post by the Georgian Dream group.

This series of events ended the highly conflictual period of cohabitation in Georgia. When the Georgian Dream coalition won the parliamentary election in October 2012, Prime Minister Ivanishvili and his government were faced with the incumbent President Mikheil Saakashvili from the National Movement. Saakashvili, who had been in power since 2004 and who was term limited, refused to go quietly. The year-long period of cohabitation saw no fewer than 12 presidential vetoes, all of which were overridden, as well as many other highly public conflicts, notably over appointments to the judiciary, the armed forces, foreign ambassadors, as well as potentially destabilising conflict over the size and control of the presidential security services.

The onset of unified government has marked a fundamental change in political practice. There have been no presidential vetoes since November 2013. Moreover, following the 2013 presidential election, the 2010 constitutional reforms came into force. These amendments shifted the balance of power firmly towards the prime minister. The president does retain some powers, but is now little more than a constitutional figurehead. Not only is the period of cohabitation in Georgia well and truly over, so too is the era of superpresidentialism.

Yet, there are underlying tensions within the executive. Unlike President Margvelashvili, who now has little independent political authority, PM Garibashvili remains a close confidante of former PM Ivanishvili. This leads to the common perception that Ivanishvili is still running the government from behind the scenes. Certainly, the president seems barely involved in any key decisions. For example, last week there was a major government reshuffle. Partly for constitutional reasons, the president played no role in the process. More than that, since November 2013, the president has not held a single meeting of the National Security Council (NSC). This would have been unheard of previously. The first meeting of the NSC was scheduled to be held last week, but was postponed because of the reshuffle. Most bizarrely of all, President Margvelashvili was not even invited to attend the jamboree that surrounded parliament’s ratification of the EU Association that took place last week. Officially, there was not room for him. However, the president took it upon himself to attend the meeting uninvited. As he sat down, he said ” “See, I have fit, haven’t I?” This very public spat was just the latest incarnation of a dispute between the president and the PM as to who has the power to sign treaties under the amended constitution.

Fundamentally, though, President Margvelashvili is in a weak position. Constitutionally, he has few powers. Politically, he has lost the confidence of Ivanishvili. Moreover, the Georgian Dream coalition continues to do well at the polls. Having won the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012 and 2013, the group has now done well in this year’s local and regional elections. Up to now, the opposition National Movement continued to control most local offices. However, Georgian Dream’s impressive first round performance in June’s local elections has just been followed up by second-round successes earlier this month. For example, the Georgian Dream candidate will become the mayor of Tbilisi. Generally, Georgian Dream has won about two-thirds of the vote in the local contests.

Georgian Dream is a coalition. However, it increasingly resembles a unified force. Following the local elections, Georgian Dream now controls almost all aspects of Georgian representative government. Within the movement, former PM Ivanishvili still dominates. Within the formal constitutional system PM Garibashvili is the key player. President Margvelashvili has been sidelined. Paradoxically, this may increase the likelihood of tension within the executive as the president tries to use the few remaining powers that he does have. With the collapse of the National Movement’s political presence, perhaps the president will emerge as the de facto leader of the opposition?