Georgia’s Billionaire Premier Picks Garibashvili as Replacement

Georgia’s billionaire Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who’s stepping down after serving a year in office, said he’ll nominate Irakli Garibashvili to replace him.

Garibashvili, Georgia’s 31-year-old interior minister, will take over the Black Sea nation’s most powerful job when Ivanishvili leaves this month. His nomination requires the backing of parliament, which is controlled by Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition.

“Garibashvili has managed to transform the police, which had lost its credibility -- this man has managed to make the police honorable again,” Ivanishvili told reporters yesterday in Tbilisi, the capital. “This man deserves this post.”

Ivanishvili, 57, says he’s achieved his goal of reshaping Georgia’s political system after beating outgoing leader Mikheil Saakashvili’s party in 2012 parliamentary elections and backing the winning candidate in a presidential ballot last week.

Ivanishvili is seeking behind-the-scenes control of the country, which is home to energy links between Europe and the Caspian Sea that allow oil and gas flowing westward to bypass Russia, according to Saakashvili’s United National Movement.

“Thank you for putting the highest trust in me,” Garibashvili said told reporters yesterday. “I promise the nation of Georgia and you that i’ll continue forward on the path that you’ve chosen.”

Sorbonne Education

Garibashvili, a founding member of Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition, has been interior minister since last October, according to the government website. He graduated in 2004 from the political sciences faculty of Paris’s Sorbonne University and has a master’s degree in international relations from Tbilisi State University. As well as Georgian, he speaks English, French and Russian.

Giorgi Kandelaki, a lawmaker for Saakashvili’s UNM, was skeptical about the nominee even before he’d been named.

“We already know the new PM will be a very weak figure and a puppet of Ivanishvili,” he said Oct. 30 by e-mail. “It’s essential for all friends of Georgia, anyone out there who cares about Georgia’s European and democratic future to not allow the anti-democratic, informal rule to which Ivanishvili aspires.”

Ivanishvili’s year in power has been marked by clashes with Saakashvili. Members of the previous government, such as former Premier Vano Merabishvili and ex-Defense and Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia, were arrested, sparking criticism from the European Union and the U.S.

Ease Divisions

Ivanishvili said Oct. 23 that he’d step down a week after the new president’s Nov. 17 inauguration to a diminished office as Georgia shifts powers to the premier. President-elect Giorgi Margvelashvili, 43, who garnered 62.1 percent support in the Oct. 27 vote, will help ease political tensions by bringing an end to Georgia’s “divided government,” according to Moody’s Investors Service.

Ivanishvili’s exit “will further ease political infighting and pave the way for a more policy-focused debate, thereby reinforcing a credible institutional framework in Georgia,” Moody’s said Oct. 31 in an e-mailed note. “We expect no change to the broad orientation of the country’s economic and foreign policies, which have supported Georgia’s creditworthiness.”

Ivanishvili policies include raising living standards, improving the justice system and boosting ties with Europe, the U.S. and Russia, with which Georgia fought a five day war in 2008 over the breakaway republic of South Ossetia. The tycoon, who made most his $5.5 billion fortune in Russia, wants Georgia to initial an EU association agreement this month.

Georgia’s economic performance has worsened under Ivanishvili’s stewardship, with growth in gross domestic product slowing to 1.5 percent from a year earlier in the second quarter, down from as high as 8.2 percent in the same three months of 2012. Foreign direct investment, which fueled 5.1 percent average expansion in 2007-2012, fell for the first year in three in 2012.

Moody’s rates the country’s debt at Ba3, three steps below investment grade and on par with Nigeria and Portugal.

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