Sunday, 19 February 2012

Ivanishvili 's underwhelming new team

Georgian billionaire-turned-politician Bidzina Ivanishvili has unveiled the core team for his planned Georgian Dream - Democratic Georgia party, which will contest this year's elections. It's a pretty underwhelming list.

The eighteen-member "Initiative group" includes a footballer, an actress, a physics and statistics teacher, a 1992 Olympics wrestling champion, some academicians, his own spokesman, and the brother of deceased former PM Zurab Zhvania. Inexplicably, there are also four lawyers in the group - whether this reflects Ivanishvili's stated commitment to the rule of law, or his (understandable) fears about the government's use of legal pressures against him is debatable.

Admittedly, the group does include a couple of more serious figures, namely former Deputy PM for conflict resolution Giorgi Volski and longstanding diplomat Tedo Japaridze. Japaridze worked as ambassador to the US and served extensively in Georgia's foreign policy and security apparatus before moving onto various research and teaching posts. He has spent the last few months at Azerbaijan's Diplomatic Academy and announced his decision to join Ivanishvili in a candid and refreshingly honest cri de couer at OpenDemocracy in January.

Overall the initiative group is decidedly lightweight. This was the concern when he unveiled his Georgian Dream movement back in December. When I met Ivanishvili in November he was adamant that he was selecting independent experts who could build a set of strategic policies for the political movement. Eka Gigauri, Executive Director of Transparency International's Georgia chapter, was less sanguine - "what criteria  does he use to choose his advisers?" she asked at the time.

That remains unclear: it seems as if Ivanishvili's predilection for cultural figures, laudable as a private citizen, is spilling over into his choice of political experts. President Saakashvili's ruling United National Movement may not be packed with policy experts, but Ivanishvili's stated goal is to move away from the personality-driven politics which Saakashvili has exploited so well, grounding the country on strong institutions and the rule of law instead.

To date he has shown disappointingly little commitment to doing so. Georgia does not need to replace a clique of loyalists and political hacks centered around an outsized personality with a clique of artists and intellectuals centered around an outsized personality.

The hope remains, as I said back in December, that his formal coalition partners, principally Irakli Alasania, will bring him back to earth. But Alasania's Free Democrats and the Republican Party look increasingly marginal next to Ivanishvili. This does not bode well for Georgia's opposition as the autumn's elections approach.


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