POWER CRISIS IN GEORGIA: DYNAMICS AND INTERIM RESULTS
Tamaz Papuashvili, Ph.D. (Philos.), head, Department of Religion and National State Development, State Chancellery of Georgia
Late in October 2001 the political situation in Georgia was seriously aggravated by what, at first glance, looked like a purely financial problem created by auditing the Rustavi-2 TV company by the State Security Ministry. The auditors believed that the company was guilty of tax avoidance on a large scale. The company refused to submit the relevant documents on the grounds that recently there had been another auditing conducted by taxation structures and described the attempt as an attack on the freedom of speech. There was a common opinion that the visit was caused by the recent murder of Georgii Sanaia, the companyís popular anchorman. The TV company was convinced that he might have been murdered because of a certain videotape on which high officials of the Ministry of the Interior met leaders from the Pankisi Gorge, temporary home for Chechen refugees. Some people thought that the authorities were probably irritated either by the way the channel covered guerrilla inroads in Abkhazia, or a possibility of the power structuresí involvement in moving Chechen militants to the Kodor Gorge, or by the hints that the law enforcement structures were connected with drug dealers, or numerous TV programs about corruption and a constant failure to implement the budget.
People came to the companyís building to defend, according to what they said, the freedom of speech. Passions flew high enough to force the Minister of State Security Vakhtang Kutateladze into retirement. This did not calm down the storm: in a few days a crowd of several thousand gathered in front of the parliament to demand resignation of the Minister of the Interior Kakhi Targamadze and Prosecutor-General Gia Meparishvili. The rally got a support from the speaker Zurab Zhvania who announced that he intended to resign after the two high officials had resigned.
The most active insisted on the presidentís resignation, yet Shevardnadze limited himself to sending the cabinet members into retirement. This did not stop the action, however. It brought together the supporters of the former president Gamsakhurdia and their opponents from Mkhedrioni led by Dzhaba Ioseliani. Experts believe, though, that the alliance is an ad hoc one.
Everybody agrees that the student organizations which have close contacts with the Citizensí Union of Georgia headed by Zurab Zhvania or, rather, with its youth wing headed by deputy David Tkeshelashvili were behind the action. On several occasions during the rally Tkeshelashvili met the students. This prompted a conclusion that it was Zhvania and former Minister of Justice Mikhail Saakashvili who organized the mass action. The students flatly rejected any suggestions that they had been urged to act. They insisted that they had been moved to the streets by their dissatisfaction with the social situation in the country. Vakhtang Kutateladze is convinced that the Rustavi-2 related events have brought to light those political forces that want to overturn the political balance in the country.
Some of the Citizensí Union of Georgia members used the meeting in front of the parliament to move away from their party that had been in the majority in the parliament while the people were growing poorer. Today, we are facing a paradox: the Citizensí Union of Georgia set up and, until recently, headed by President Shevardnadze plays the role of an opposition while the opposition does not want the president to resign.
The retired Prosecutor-General Gia Meparishvili, who announced that he could reveal which forces were behind the conflict, has become one of the key figures. It seems that he has abandoned his intention, yet announced when appearing in the ďWhat the Nation ThinksĒ show on the first (state owned) channel that the process had been devised in the parliamentary corridors. The media pointed out that the rally participants were in close contact with certain members of the parliament known as supporters of Zhvania and Saakashvili. According to Eki Beridze, the anchorperson of the show (who used to work in Rustavi-2), it was during the show that Deputy Speaker Eldar Shengelaia, in an effort to undermine the journalistsí credibility, accused them of one-sided description of the events.
The cabinet resignation caused a veritable political storm. Deputy Akakii Asatiani, the leader of the Party of Traditionalists and prime minister in Gamsakhurdiaís government, supported those who insisted on the resignation of the ministers of the interior and state security. According to former state minister Gia Arsenishvili, the cabinetís resignation that occurred against the background of its failure to implement the budget would make the problem more urgent. The rally posed the question: Should Georgia be a parliamentary or a presidential republic? The opinions differed: Shengelaia wanted a presidential republic, the leader of the Russian-Georgian Relations Society and a former deputy speaker Vakhtang Goguadze said that Shevardnadze should remain the president. Former deputy of the parliament Ioseliani said that the post of the president should be abolished and the country transformed into a parliamentary republic. He was convinced that the rally had done nothing outstanding because the ministersí resignation would not improve the situation. Saakashvili was of a similar opinion. He announced that a new nation-wide movement that stood aside from all parties had been formed to participate in the off-year parliamentary elections and a discussion on the future of the institute of presidentship in Georgia. He also said that, to his mind, the post of the president in its contemporary form was of no use for the country. Koba Davitashvili, member of the parliamentary faction of the Citizensí Union of Georgia, started collecting signatures under a demand for introducing amendments into the Constitution designed to regulate the issue of year-off parliamentary and presidential elections. To make such amendments possible the demand should be signed either by 118 deputies or 200 thousand voters. Davitashvili said that the parliament and the president had lost the nationís trust and had to remove themselves from the political scene and named Saakashvili his presidential candidate. He said further that the institute of presidentship in Georgia had nothing in common with the American model, therefore the head of the state should be deprived of legislative initiative and the right to issue normative acts. Vakhtang Rcheulishvili, head of the Socialist Party and its parliamentary faction, categorically objected to the presidentís resignation and pointed out that the country had no mechanism of his replacement. President Shevardnadzeís contribution was: ďThe Constitution can be amended but one should observe a certain measure. There are too many enthusiasts today wishing to introduce serious amendments and to make the Basic Law a hopeless jumble. This may cause mass disorders in the country.Ē
According to Aslan Abashidze, the head of the Adzharian Autonomous Republic, the events in Tbilisi could be described as a coup díetat. He believes that there was probably no need to dispatch 30 people to audit the Rustavi-2 company. On the other hand, he added, nobody had the right to sacrifice the stability of the state to oneís private interests. It is interesting to note that during the crisis the president met Aslan Abashidze in Sukhumi. Dzhemal Gogitidze, member of the Revival faction, was quite positive about the fact and the talks designed to bring back the order. In addition, the president entrusted Abashidze with the task of settling the conflict in Abkhazia. If he succeeds, he may become prime minister of Georgia. Shevardnadze approved of this prospect, yet the task is far from simple. Premier of Abkhazia Anri Dzhergenia commented on the mission in the following words: ďThe person who will represent the Georgian side at the talks is unimportantóit is the position that is most important. Abkhazia is prepared to talk to Georgia as one independent state to another.Ē Sergei Shamba, the foreign minister of Abkhazia, is of a similar opinion: ďAbashidze as an individual is of certain importance, yet in this particular context this can hardly bring radical changes into the talks between Georgia and Abkhazia.Ē
The position of the Church merits special attention: at the height of the crisis the Patriarchate of the Christian Orthodox Church of Georgia made a statement designed to stabilize the situation. It said that the country should close ranks in the face of big problems. Yet the Church was not united either: Priest Rostom Lortkipanidze said, for example, that Shevardnadze should resign and that even if there were certain political forces behind the youth at the rallies he saw nothing wrong in the fact.
Shevardnadze did not mention Zhvania among his possible successors and said that this question required serious consultations. Deputy speaker Georgii Tsereteli was temporarily made the speaker. There are signs that Zhvania aims much higher than the post of the speaker. He announced that he has not yet decided to run for the president and that his move to the opposition was not an idle gesture: he was resolved to fight for continued democratic reforms and broader cooperation with NATO and the European Union. Vakhtang Rcheulishvili believes that Zhvania would stand a good chance of becoming the prime minister not earlier than in ten yearsí time. According to the Constitution, the next presidential elections will be held in three years. It is hard to say now whether Zhvania will retain his political weight, a large share of which was acquired when he was associated with Shevardnadze as his possible successor.
Today, political scientists are trying to assess the balance of forces and to understand who was the greatest winner. It seems that the crisis has left the president the only vehicle of power in Georgia. By negotiating with Aslan Abashidze from Adzharia he even increased his influence.
The majority of the analysts are convinced that the crisis was unfolded by the deputies who sided with Zhvania. He himself is preparing for the post-Shevardnadze eraóin fact, he detached himself from the president by saying that Eduard Shevardnadze had lost touch with reality. The resultant wave in defense of the freedom of speech was exploited by another leader of the Citizensí Union of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili and finally got out of control. Zhvania was removed from the post of the speaker.
There is another opinion: the crisis was initiated by the Rustavi-2 company itself. It gained wide support when Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia said that it was Zhvania who, speaking over the phone with Erosi Kitsmariashvili, one of the heads of Rustavi-2, had ordered him to refuse financial documents to the auditors from the Ministry of State Security and to bring up tension to the extreme. At the initial stage the companyís rating climbed up and it earned the fame of the free media leader. However, in view of later disclosures that have already displaced Zhvania this image can hardly be preserved.
Students are one of the driving forces in the conflict. They are young and, therefore, radically minded and less experienced. It was they who actively demanded resignation of the president, the minister of the interior and the prosecutor-general. At first stage the students were convinced that they were fighting for the free media. The sensational program ďWhat the Nation ThinksĒ that brought together deputy speaker Eldar Shengelaia, member of the Industrialists faction David Saralidze, head of the youth organization of the Citizensí Union and deputy David Tkeshelashvili, chairman of the state TV and radio corporation Zaza Shengelia, former minister of the interior Kakhi Targamadze, and former prosecutor-general Gia Meparishvili revealed the conflictís true driving forces and its causes. This dampened the studentsí enthusiasm.
The Russian press mainly agreed that the Rustavi-2-related events are an indication of a crisis for which the Georgian leaders should be blamed. On 2 November, 2001 the Vedomosti newspaper published an article ďShevar-gateĒ that said that the scandal had developed into a political process that was not cut short even by the ministersí resignation. The Georgian political circles said that it was the Russian special services that unleashed the crisis: they wanted to destabilize the situation to increase Russiaís influence in Georgia. This was what Pikriia Chikhradze, deputy chairman of the New Right faction, mentioned. The subject gained more or less wide currency when the press got information that during the first days of the crisis in Tbilisi Saakashvili was in Moscow. He categorically rejected any rumors about his connection with the Russian special services. It is hard to imagine that such connection did exist: for many years Zhvania and Saakashvili had been demonstrating their dedication to the West.
The rallies have led to certain conclusions: Vakhtang Goguadze believes that as a result the president has got a chance to dissolve the government made up, to a certain extent, of members of the Citizensí Union and openly accused of corruption. On the other, he can undermine the positions of the Zhvania-Saakashvili group in the parliament. The Citizensí Union leaders know that their positions are slipping from themóthey have to look for new allies. Strange as it may seem they found allies among their former rabid enemies, the Zviadists (supporters of former president Gamsakhurdia). It was during the rally that Saakashvili was relying on the youth and the Zviadists. The latter went as far as saying that Saakashvili carried the spirit of their dead leader. It should be said that recently the Zviadists lost much of their influence. Nobody knows how they will react to the talks of Shevardnadze and Abashidze. In the past they regarded the Union of Democratic Revival of Georgia (of which Abashidze was the leader) as their natural ally. Today, one of their leaders, Dzidziguri, says that parliament member V. Bochorishvili and the Zviadist XXI Century faction should revise their alliance with Abashidze. One cannot exclude a possibility that the Citizensí Union will try to draw the Labor Party, which has no seats in the parliament, to its side. Much will depend on the position of its leader, Shalva Natelashvili: his party lost elections to the Citizensí Union.
According to Mayor of Tbilisi Vano Zodelava (he was the second important person in Georgia while the posts of the speaker, the state minister, and the cabinet members remained vacant), the events in the capital were inspired by those who were more interested in power for themselves than in the countryís future. He called on the capitalís population not to succumb to provocation. The president entrusted him, rather than the police, with the task of bringing the capital back to normal life. Some people were baffled but it takes no wisdom to understand the reason behind this. The authorities wanted to avoid provocations and clashes: main criticism was aimed at the minister of the interior. The majority of those who attended the rallies around Rustavi-2 felt that the events were the last drop as they were driven by social problems.
With Zhvania and the cabinet removed Shevardnadze has found himself in a void: a new speaker was urgently needed. The elections took place in a very complicated situation. There were four candidates.
The Traditionalists faction nominated Nino Burdzhanadze; she was supported by 58 deputies, including members of the Citizensí Union faction, in spite of the fact that she had earlier left it in protest against inconsistent policies in relation to the opposition. Rcheulishvili was dead set against her. He said that his position was not a personal one: as chairperson of the parliamentary Committee for International Relations she was one of the most active supporters of Zhvania. He was convinced that if elected she and the group around her would never remove the problems that had caused the crisis.
The Support faction nominated Vazha Lortkipanidze, former state minister. The nomination was supported by the Abkhazeti, Alliance of New Georgia factions and four members of the New Abkhazeti and Christian Democrats faction. His supporters were convinced that he was the best candidate: as a newly elected deputy (he and Saakashvili were elected in parliamentary by-elections in October 2001 to replace the deputies who had accepted executive posts) he was best suited to quench the passions. Londer Tsaava, Premier of the Abkhazian government in exile, also supported this candidate. He said that Lortkipanidze had already created a serious political base for himself. When he served Georgian Ambassador to Russia, he set up the Coordinating Council for Georgian-Abkhazian Settlement with the participation of the U.N. and OSCE and established wide ties with political forces in the United States and Europe.
The Revival faction nominated Dzemal Gogitidze, he was supported by 10 members of the Citizensí Union faction and 7 independent members.
The Industrialists faction, supported by other deputies, nominated David Salaridze, former ombudsman of Georgia. He was quite right when he said that it was impossible to elect a speaker that would suit all. Later he withdrew from the race.
Many people were amazed not to find acting speaker Georgii Tsereteli among the candidates. As the most active deputy speaker he was best suited to become the chairman. The Citizensí Union faction, however, decided to support Nino Burdzhanadze. The journalists thought that the faction preferred her as more pliable of the two.
The elections that started on 9 November ended in small hours of 10 November: the victory required at least 118 votes. A day before Lortkipanidze had 82 votes, Nino Burdzhanadze, 58, Gogitidze, 64. The first round brought 104 votes to Nino Burdzhanadze, 71 votes to Lortkipanidze, and 52 to Gogitidze. Nino Burdzhanadze won in the second round with 129 votes, Lortkipanidze lost with 98 votes. They say that it was the Zviadists from the Revival faction that tipped the balance. There is also an opinion that Lortkipanidze and Gogitidze, who had enough supporters, lost their votes in the struggle between themselves and allowed Burdzhanadze to win.
It is interesting to note that among the Lortkipanidzeís supporters was Badri Patarkatsishvili, former financial director of the ORT TV company in Russia. There is an opinion that he came to Batumi to establish relations between Lortkipanidze and Abashidze. He failed: in the second round Lortkipanidze lost the votes of Gogitidzeís supporters. Rcheulishvili believes that Zhvania used Gogitidze and the Revival faction to weaken Lortkipanidzeís positions. Lortkipanidze was treated with caution by the Citizensí Union: there are rumors that it was this party that contributed to his removal from the post of the state minister.
There were tale-telling incidents: in an absence of deputy speaker Georgii Tsereteli Vakhtang Rcheulishvili sat in his chair and showed an intention to open the election procedure. When Tsereteli returned, it turned out that he had entrusted another deputy chairman, Eldar Shengelaia, with this task. The newspapers recalled that when Zhvania had been elected speaker it was Rcheulishvili who ran against him. This scandal was quickly eclipsed by another sensation. Rostom Dolidze, Chairman of the Committee for Procedure, discovered that the bulletins were numbered in invisible ink from 1 to 236. The Prosecutor-General Office instituted proceedings under Arts 19 and 164 of the Criminal Code (violation of the secrecy of voting during elections). Journalists are convinced that the ballot papers were numbered by those who had bribed certain deputies and wanted to know how they voted. Any of the candidates could be brought to court, if his illegal practices were proved. Such person should have been stripped of immunityóthe procedure that belongs to the parliament. There is an opinion that those who numbered the ballot papers wanted to find out the deputiesí political sympathies. The majority is convinced that this was done by head of the parliamentary staff Khatuna Gogorishvili. Her supporters reply that is was a provocation and an attempt to compromise her. Some of the opposition members demanded her resignation. However, she kept her post and explained that resignation would have spelt recognition of guilt.
The heated rivalry for the post of the speaker is understandable: the legislature, the balance of political forces, and ministerial posts depend on the speaker. It is for the first time in ten years of independence that a woman filled the second important post in Georgia. Nino Burdzhanadze will continue what Zhvania was doing. In one of her first speeches she said that the president could keep his post if he found the right ministers, changed his style of administration, and took the interests of the common people into account. At the same time, she will not be able to stick to Zhvaniaís course completely: she will feel pressure from both the president and her own father, Anzor Burdzhanadze, a big businessman who heads the Bread and Grain Products corporation. There is malicious gossip that he had given his daughter huge support. In this case, her supporters might split. As an intermediary between the executive and legislative powers the new speaker should demonstrate inordinate political flexibility.
She announced that she would not defend the interests of one faction, yet when Zhvania left the post, it became clear that none of the opposition factions was prepared to keep up with the events. Some of them were displeased with the fact that the opposition faction of Traditionalists had nominated Burdzhanadze, a former member of the Citizensí Union faction, to the post. If Zhvania and his supporters place their people in key posts in ministries, then the tension between them and the opposition that nominated Burdzhanadze may cause another crisis and another round of talks about off-year parliamentary elections. This is probably what M. Saakishvili relies on while organizing a new national movement. In any case, the new speaker will rely on the Citizensí Union faction. It should be added that as soon as Shevardnadze resigned as the chairman of this party, the faction lost its majority and can no longer play an important role in the parliament. Zhvania announced that he planned to set up a new party. There is an opinion among political analysts that he might be supported by some of the parliamentary factions. The future of an alliance between Zhvania and Saakashvili is unclear. Member of the Socialist faction Iraklii Mindeli said that he could not imagine any new party Zhvania would set up without Saakashvili, while Alexander Bregadze from the Revival faction is convinced that the former minister of justice is much greater a radical than Zhvania and that he will not join the new party. The opposition outside the parliament says that the promises of off-year parliamentary and presidential elections that were given to the rally have not been fulfilled and that former ministers will have their posts back. The new speaker from the same group will not change the situation.
There is an opinion, though, that the elections in the parliament reflected a much greater problem: the post was contested by two political and financial groups that disagreed over the political priorities. The West-oriented Zhvania-Saakashvili group stood opposed to the pro-Russian Lortkipanidze-Patarkatsishvili group. It should be said that the orientations were not straightforward. The fact that Lortkipanidze was ambassador to Moscow does not make him a totally pro-Russian politician. Patarkatsishvili did business to Moscowótoday he is wanted by Russiaís law enforcement bodies that demand his extradition. And, according to the press, it was in Moscow that Saakashvili learned about the rallies in Tbilisi.
Everybody was eager to learn about the new speakerís political ideas. Nino Burdzhanadze emphasized that Georgia had many times made public its desire to have Russia as a strategic partner. Yet, she added, ďthe North Atlantic orientation of our country that irritates Russia will remain. It will not damage the interests of the Russian Federation. We need a developed, democratic, and civilized neighbor and are convinced that Russia, likewise, would like to have a stable and integral state oriented toward the European values for its southern neighbor.Ē In one of her interviews she said that any unfriendly gesture in the north is painful for Georgia as a much weaker state. She described Russiaís support for the Abkhazian separatists as an apple of discord and emphasized that Russia was completely responsible for everything that was going on in Abkhazia. She was convinced that Russia had all means at its disposal to stop the conflict. During her first official visit to Moscow as the speaker Nino Burdzhanadze stated at the CIS inter-parliamentary assembly that the CIS collective peacekeeping forces stationed in Abkhazia were useless.
The new speaker is facing complicated problems at home, she has to sort out the relations between the legislative and executive powers. Some people think that the parliament interferes with what the executive structures are doing more than it is needed. Others argue that the parliament has its hands tied and that the State Chancellery controls everything. The solution of these problems depends on whether Georgia gets the Cabinet. Many people believe that the prime minister and vice premiers, together with their executive staff, are too heavy a burden for the budget. They will also remove responsibility from the bureaucrats. Niko Lekishvili, former state minister who now sits in the parliament, believes that the structure of the government should remain the same until the Cabinet is set upóhe sees no future for such changes. Lortkipanidze supported the idea of the Cabinet of Ministers, yet he objects to shifting political power to the structure.
The problem of the premier is likewise very complicated: there are many possible candidates, yet first the institute of the prime minister should be put in placeóthis will require constitutional changes that might take a long time to complete. There are doubts about Nino Burdzhanadzeís ability to influence the committees and factions to the same extent as Zhvania. Today, it is a hard job to push any decision through the parliament because of numerous corporate interests. From this it follows that the political makeup of the future premier is of key importance.
Ministers are another touchstone for the new speaker. There are deputies who believe that the number of votes needed for an appointment should be increased from 79 (a third of the votes) to 118. Rostom Dolidze, who heads the Committee for the Procedure, is against this as contradicting the Constitution. Besides, if the Cabinet of Ministers is set up some time in future, the newly appointed ministers can be regarded as an ďinterim government.Ē Despite this, the ministerial vacancies have already caused bitter struggle, the ministry of the interior and the prosecutor-generalís office seen as the main prizes. It looks as if the deputies have no time to pass the necessary constitutional amendments under which the ministerial posts should be filled in not later than two weeks after the minister was removed. This means that the executive posts will be filled according to the old procedure: the president will nominate the candidates while the parliament will discuss them.
The president suggested that three ministries (those of economy, industry, and trade) should be rolled together into one. The same applies to the administrations of state property and of construction and urbanization. It was also proposed to abolish the Ministry of Tax Revenues and to transfer its functions to the state minister. It was expected that the post would go to the former Minister of Tax Revenues Levan Dzneladze. Later, it was decided to merge the ministry with the Ministry of Finance. The plan met with an approval from former Finance Minister David Onoprishvili who said that in this way the ministry would be able to monitor budget revenues and expenses, which would allow it to conduct a correct financial policy. He also said that, although the state minister should interfere, when necessary, in what the tax and customs services were doing, the services should be free of his day-by-day supervision. He pointed out that the reform should be discussed nation-wide.
The parliament showed no enthusiasm for a smaller number of ministries: by 119 votes against 11 it declined the presidentís amendments to the Law on Executive Power and the Order of Its Activity. Everybody agreed that the number of ministries should be cut down (today, there are 21 of them), yet the deputies believed that mere merging was not enough. The parliament legal committee suggested that a special commission should be set up to work out a new structure. Zhvania described the fact that the parliament declined the presidentís changes as the new speakerís failure. He reminded that when he was the chairman, the parliament passed all bills without a hitch. There is also an opposite opinion: the new speaker has scored a victory. The parliament saved face and demonstrated its independence.
Still, Zhvaniaís words deserve serious attention: sooner or later the parliament will inevitably acquire a new balance of forces and a new majority. Experts mainly agree that today it is impossible to form a classical majority: in all likelihood it will be formed by several factions united by an agreement on certain problems. There will be no complete unanimity among them. Today, it looks as if the following factions will form the majority: Revival, Socialists, XXI Century, United Georgia, New Right, Support, Alliance in the Name of New Georgia, Traditionalists, and Industrialists. If it gets 151 members (the constitutional majority), then there might be a motion to change not only the chairpersons of the committees but also the speaker. In any case, the Citizensí Union is swiftly losing its chances to push through the parliament the ministers it wants and to capture the key parliamentary committees. This prompted member of the Revival faction Valerii Gelbakhiani to say that the era of personal power in the parliament had finished when Zhvania left his post. There is also a much simpler opinion: the political forces in the parliament are divided into Shevardnadzeís supporters and opponents.
Many deputies do not like the fact that the list of ministerial candidates contains names of former ministers. They refuse to approve them because during their previous terms there was no progress. For example, Aslan Smirba believes that the parliament needs a commission to look into such candidatesí previous achievements. There was a lot of criticism of the former ministers: Merab Adeishvili (transport), Nino Chkhobadze (ecology and natural resources), Avtandil Dzhorbenadze (health and social security), Zurab Nogaideli (finance), David Mirtskhulava (energy). Some experts look at this as a demonstration of non-confidence in the president. At the same time the parliament was positive about the candidates of David Tevzadze (Defense Ministry), Valerii Khaburdzania (State Security), Koba Narchemashvili (Ministry of the Interior), Roland Giligashvili (Ministry of Justice). There were no major problems about Alexander Kartozia as minister of education, Irakrii Menagarishvili as foreign minister, Valerii Vashakidze as minister for refugees and their settlement, and Cecily Gogiberidze, as minister of culture.
The Industrialists faction is causing much trouble over the economy-related ministries: they do not want the old ministers to be re-appointed to their old posts. According to the leaks to the press, the members would like to see industrialists as ministers to lobby the corresponding interests. The cochairman of the New Right faction, former minister of state security Iraklii Batiashvili believes that if the reforms do no start very soon, there will be a revolution. He announced that his faction would not vote and would support none of the candidates. He seems to be convinced that the suggested ministers will be unable to initiate the badly needed reforms.
Zaza Sioridze, who heads the Finance and Budget Committee, pointed out that the deputies were of bad opinion about the economy-related ministers and were especially set against the former finance minister. Nino Burdzhanadze announced that the deputies would not start discussing the candidates before the parliamentary commission for studying the causes of the 2001 budget sequester of 184 million laris finished its work. As a preliminary result the commission mainly blames the ministries of finance, tax revenues, state property, economy, and justice. Georgii Isakadze, presidential advisor for economy, declared that it was wrong to heap the blame only on the Finance Ministry. He was convinced that there was collective responsibility. There is a lot of negative feeling about the activity of former state minister Gia Arsenishvili, though many people believe that the commission was set up for purely political reasons. Zhvaniaís supporters said that if the crisis were ascribed to only what the Finance Ministry and its head Zurab Nogaideli were doing, they would not endorse the commissionís conclusion. The Citizensí Union faction decided upon this course after the president had nominated Levan Dzneladze candidate for the state minister (before that he was minister of tax revenues). The deputies raised the question of his responsibility and declined the presidentís candidate. It should be said in all justice that Dzneladze was minister for two short months, therefore it was his predecessor Mikhail Machavariani who was responsible for the sequester. Before becoming a minister, he had been a deputy and for some time headed the Citizensí Union. When he left his ministerial post, he headed the staff of Zhvania, the then chairman of the parliament. Today, he is running for the parliament from the Gurdzhaani district.
The journalists pointed out that there was an obvious unwillingness to approve those candidates who had been recommended by the Citizensí Union to their previous ministerial posts. Despite harsh criticism the president kept Z. Nogaideli in the list of candidates. Formerly an active member of the Citizensí Union, he is nominated for the post of minister of finance.
There is more or less common opinion that the fight over the ministerial posts reflects the rivalry between political and financial groups over spheres of influence. It seems that V. Lortkipanidze took this into account when he said to the Prime News agency that the accusations of bribing voters hurled upon him by the public organization Just Elections were politically motivated. He was elected to the parliament in October 2001 in the Bagdadi constituency.
The parliamentary debates produced several unexpected events. While the parliament was discussing the candidates, people in several districts of Tbilisi blocked the traffic to protest against irregular supply of electricity. There is common opinion among the deputies that the action was initiated by the forces which want destabilization. They also want to slow down the process of forming the government. The conflict is rooted in the fact that AES-TELASI, the owner of electric lines in the capital, switched off electricity in places where not more than 45 percent of the total population paid for it. This deprived the regular payers, too. The people who took to the streets demanded an individual approach. The press was full of criticism of Mikhail Saakashvili who was accused of lobbying the interests of AES-TELASI.
Political analysts believe that the parliament will go on discussing the candidates for a long time. It is unimportant who will fill which postópreliminary conclusions can be made here and now.
The president has positively assessed the fact that even without the ministers the state was moving toward democracy. Still, the country urgently needs a reorganized government and newly appointed high officials. Naturally enough, foreign investors are closely following the developments in Georgia and will not invest in a country that has no ministers. This is even more improbable because the stormy events in Tbilisi have slightly sent down the local currency (lari).
This political crisis was caused, among other things, by the system of relations between the parliament and heads of the executive structures. The opposition believes that the crisis was rooted in the incorrectly formed state structure. It seems, however, that the problem is rooted in the fact that the state system was formed several years ago and that it no longer corresponds to the social development pace and the demands of the day. The crisis itself is probably an indicator of overripe changes and adjustments in the system of state administration. This is a natural process in any country and even more than natural in a developing one. The main thing is to take necessary steps in time.