Giorgi Kvirikashvili becomes Georgia's new prime minister

Georgian National Assembly confirms former Foreign Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili as new prime minister after Irakly Garibashvili resigns

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Georgia's president on December 25, 2015 nominated Vice Premier Giorgi Kvirikashvili as the new head of government after the surprise resignation of Irakli Garibashvili.

Georgia's parliament confirmed on Wednesday that former foreign minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili as the country's prime minister, six days after Irakli Garibashvili's surprise resignation from the post.

"The parliament has approved the new government by 86 votes to 28," parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili said.

The parliamentary vote also ratified Kvirikashvili's choice of cabinet.

The only change from the previous lineup is the appointment of 34-year-old Mikheil Janelidze to replace Kvirikashvili as foreign minister.

The decision will be put to President Giorgi Margvelashvili for formal ratification.

Speaking to lawmakers ahead of the vote, Kvirikashvili, 48, said his cabinet's "focus will be on economic development and ensuring people's wellbeing."

He pledged to push ahead with the ruling Georgian Dream coalition's policy of seeking closer ties with the West while also trying to improve relations with Russia shattered by a brief war in 2008.

"Our ultimate goal is full membership in the European Union and NATO," he said.

"At the same time, we will pursue a pragmatic and peaceful policy towards Russia."

The 33-year-old Garibashvili suddenly quit on December 23 after just two years in the job, but offered no explanation for his decision.

He became Europe's youngest head of government when he was appointed in November 2013 aged just 31.

Opposition politicians blamed the government shakeup on a former premier, billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili.

"Political decisions in this country are being taken by Bidzina Ivanishvili. Prime ministers come and go on his whim," a senior lawmaker from the opposition United National Movement Party (UNM), Giga Bokeria, told AFP.

Ivanishvili stepped down in November 2013 to make way for Garibashvili, but critics say he is still calling the shots.

A close ally of Ivanishvili and a technocrat with little political experience, former vice premier and foreign minister Kvirikashvili headed the enigmatic tycoon's Cartu bank from 2006 until his appointment as economy minister in 2013.

He holds a master's degree in finance from the University of Illinois in the United States and is also a trained doctor.

Approaching elections in 2016

Analysts pointed to the Georgian Dream coalition's efforts to reverse a plunge in popularity amid economic turmoil ahead of parliamentary elections due next October.

"Georgian Dream... proved incapable of handling the economic crisis and failed to deliver on its own promises to introduce democratic reforms (and) is trying to repair its damaged image,"said political commentator Helen Khoshtaria.

The coalition's approval rating stood at just 18 percent last month, according to an opinion poll by the US-based National Democratic Institute.

After years of economic boom during ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili's leadership, the coalition's three years in power have coincided with an economic slump, rising inflation and a 44-percent currency devaluation.

A motley coalition of small parties assembled by Ivanishvili, Georgian Dream wrested power from fervently pro-Western Saakashvili's UNM in elections in 2012.

Earlier this month, Georgia stripped Saakashvili of his citizenship as he had acquired a Ukrainian passport to serve as governor of the strategic Odessa region.

Several of Saakashvili's top allies have been investigated and some jailed since his party lost the elections, and Western countries have voiced fears of a witch hunt.

In a stark contrast to Garibashvili's usually aggressive rhetoric against opponents, Kvirikashvili on Wednesday called for an end to political infighting, saying his cabinet was open to cooperation with the UNM.

"It is my huge desire to put an end to confrontation and polarisation," he said. "Our government is ready to cooperate constructively with the opposition."