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Beka Chedia

New Georgian Leader: Non-Politician As President?

On May 11 the ruling coalition Georgian Dream named their candidate for the upcoming presidential election scheduled for the autumn 2013, forcing the country to face an unusual choice. Who is – most probably – probably – future president of Georgia – Giorgi Margvelashvili, Minister of Education and Science in Ivanishvili’s government, and the founding father and former rector of a small but prestigious university?

Григорий Мартиашвили, источник: svaboda.org

Giorgi Margvelashvili, source: svaboda.org

For many years Giorgi Margvelashvili has been widely known as an “expert” regularly appearing on TV, giving interviews and often criticizing the government of President Saakashvili. Neither politically active nor showing the qualities of a political leader, he can be called a person actively influencing the public opinion due to his frequent mentions in the mass-media. And it was precisely his “non-political background” that led to the approval of his candidacy for a president.

After the presidential election in 2013, the amendments to the Constitution – made in 2010 at the initiative of President Saakashvili – will come into force. According to them, the president will become the symbol of Georgian statehood, but the real power will pass into the hands of the Prime Minister. De jure the Georgian President will have no real prerogatives. In the future, it could create problems and cause tensions between the Prime Minister and President. A month ago, the new Prime Minister of Georgia announced that the potential candidate would not be a political figure. The whole country was trying to guess the name, going through a long list of naming a wide range of public persons: from athletes to singers and writers. The candidacy of Giorgi Margvelashvili was also discussed in the media.

After May 11, the political process in Georgia will develop in different way. It is already clear that Margvelashvili is not a political leader who alone can win the presidential elections. Therefore, he must rely on the popularity of the new ruling coalition. This may radically change the political tradition in Georgia. Thus far, in all the previous elections political parties had lower ratings than their leaders. Those charismatic people played the role of political “engines” for their groups and promoted them during the parliamentary elections. It would be the first time when a presidential candidate used the political dividends of his coalition. It will be a tough fight. During the presidential race Saakashvili’s party will put forward a real political leader against him.

The 11th of May has caused excitement among the supporters of Saakashvili, seeing a chance for them. Even if they do not win the election, at least, they will change the course of the political game in Georgia. The figure of Margvelashvili will be an incentive for them before the presidential elections to mobilize their forces in a final battle.The candidacy of Margvelashvili will allow Saakashvili’s co successfully pursue their discreditation campaign against the new ruling coalition. It will focus on creating an image of the new government as a pro-Russian political force. The fact is that while Margvelashvili was Minister of Education, several times he was in the middle of a scandal. A few days before his appointment, in an interview for a Russian TV channel, Margvelashvili said: “Not teaching the Russian language, dictated by the previous government, set limits for children in understanding not only the world but also the Georgian culture. Our Georgian culture has been bilingual for centuries…”. This statement caused a lot of criticism from Georgians.

Putting up such a presidential candidature is a political message to Moscow about the political course, declared by the new authorities. And that message is aimed precisely at improving relations with Moscow. After all, the President of Georgia will be the symbol and trademark of the country. In this context, Margvelashvili will not irritate Moscow. Another candidate for the president, Salome Zurabishvili, who was also actively discussed by the ruling party, could become a problem for the Kremlin. Zurabishvili was briefly the foreign minister in the government of Saakashvili, and she even did not know the Russian language. While talking to his Russian counterpart, she was speaking in English, what for sure was not agreeable with Moscow.

On the other hand, Maragvelashvili could also be suitable the USA, a strategic Georgian partner, since as the Rector of the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs he had close ties with the U.S. Embassy and various American institutions. Before becoming the Minister of Education, he emphasized the importance of knowledge of the Russian language, despite the fact that for many years the education program at his university has been taught in English (80%), and in Georgian (20%). It is worth mentioning that within the GIPA Margvelashvili  had worked closely together with the former Prime Minister, one of the authors of the Rose Revolution, who was tragically killed, Zurab Zhvania. The Institute educated many among present officials, politicians, and journalists in Georgia. Ironically, one of them is the chairman of the Georgian former parliament, David Bakradze, who might be the main rival of Margvelashvili. It was precisely his candidature for the presidential elections of 2013 being under discussion in the United National Movement.

The announcement of Georgian’s Dream presidential candidate will help identify existing contradictions within the ruling coalition. And there are huge differences regarding many issues. The main question was who would be a candidate for president. It is no secret that some of the member groups of the coalition had their own proposals. When on May 11 at a special briefing the Prime Minister announced the name of the next president, some leaders standing next to him were grim faced. And the Prime Minister spoke highly of his favorite, saying that his main advantage “is his dignity” and that the next president “knows the value of a team as well as the value of criticism”.

Translated by MA

Feature photo by dnkbdotcom

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Political Scientist. Born in 1976 in the Soviet Union (Tbilisi), hoping that he would die in the European Union (Tbilisi). Graduated Tbilisi State University. Studied at the University of Warsaw. From adolescence he was working in the Georgian press - so far 15 years. Periodically he teaches at the universities of Georgia, at present time he works in the civilian sector. In parallel is engaged in research activities. He is PhD in Political Science. Author of more than 700 newspaper articles and up to two dozen scientific work papers. His hobby - collecting miniature books.

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