Former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, gave his first televised interview to the Georgian Public Broadcaster, since his return as the chair of the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG) party.
In this 1.5-hour interview, aired on July 24, Ivanishvili, who was largely unchallenged by the journalist, clarified the reasons for returning to party politics and also spoke about a range of other issues, including Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili’s resignation and the upcoming presidential polls.
Ivanishvili spoke at length about his comeback, naming the need to ensure stability and democratic continuity, against the background of growing economic challenges as the primary reason.
“Georgia is an unprecedented case; economically it is very poor, but the country’s democratic credentials are comparable with the European standard,” he stressed, adding that “democracy [under the GDDG] government has been progressing fast, but economic growth has been failing to keep up the pace, and this has made the country and its stability vulnerable.”
“There are a lot of people who do not have jobs, who cannot afford to educate their children and who can hardly make their ends meet, and considering that freedom of expression and other democratic values are fully guaranteed and that we have a very irresponsible opposition, it is very difficult to ensure stability, and [accomplishing] this [task] required my involvement,” Ivanishvili explained.
Later in his interview Ivanishvili stressed that his “objective and dream” is to increase the country’s GDP per capita from the current four thousand USD to twelve thousand in 2030, which, in his words, would help close the gap between the level of democracy and economic development, and thus solidify the country’s democracy.
Another reason for his return, according to Ivanishvili, was that there was a feeling that the ruling party “was going to crumble.” “There was a real threat of the team being split and the process was underway; I was observing the situation and [decided to return] in a critical situation, when I saw that external control was no longer sufficient to maintain the [party] integrity,” he explained.
PM Kvirikashvili was no longer effective
Explaining PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili’s resignation, Ivanishvili said: “put briefly, [the reason] was that he could no longer run [the country].” He added that the way the former PM governed “was no longer effective.”
“Kvirikashvili was not able to run the country as a team leader, which is essential for management in general and particularly for small countries like Georgia; the Parliament was distanced from the decision-making processes … and sometimes even the cabinet [as a whole] was not deliberating on major questions,” Ivanishvili stressed, adding that “as it seemed, Kvirikashvili was only able to agree the decisions with [Minister of Economy] Dimitri Kumsishvili and [Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development] Zurab Alavidze.”
Ivanishvili then recalled the June 12 meeting in the GDDG party, a day before Kvirikashvili’s resignation, saying he has criticized former Prime Minister for putting business interests above those of the state.
“Of course, lobbying the business interests is essential for every official and I, as a citizen, am in favor of supporting and lobbying our businesses inside the country and especially outside, but the Prime Minister and the Ministers should not forget that they are required to protect the state interests [as well] and must avoid upsetting this balance [between business and state interests],” Ivanishvili underlined.
“Kvirikashvili tried to respond to these criticisms [at the meeting], but at the end, everyone, including himself, saw that he no longer had resources for governing and that he no longer enjoyed trust of the Parliament and the Government,” Ivanishvili explained, adding that Kvirikashvili “had no other choice, but to leave.”
Elaborating on the point concerning the business interests, Ivanishvili said later in the interview that Kvirikashvili’s government was late in introducing regulations for banks, and as a result, the population was heavily indebted.
He also touched upon the ongoing investigation involving the former Economy and Infrastructure Ministers, Dimitri Kumsishvili and Zurab Alavidze, two of the closest associates of PM Kvirikashvili, saying the process “is normal and can happen in every democratic country.”
Hopes for the new cabinet
Ivanishvili confirmed that he “played a role and contributed to the selection process” of the new Prime Minister.
“Mamuka Bakhtadze is competent to lead the country; as Finance Minister he introduced very interesting and innovative projects … whether he and his cabinet was selected correctly we should evaluate a little later,” he noted.
The GDDG Chairman then underlined that Bakhtadze was to intensify communication with the Parliament and was also planning to be more actively engaged in the work of individual ministries, “which unfortunately was not the case under Kvirikashvili’s tenure.”
“Control from outside” no longer effective
Speaking about his role in the political processes, once he has departed from politics, Ivanishvili said he did not participate and “did not even try to be” involved in the decision-making during Kvirikashvili’s tenure. “The only time I tried was when I indicated that the banks took over the country and that regulations should have been introduced, but I failed to achieve any results.”
He said instead of being an “informal leader” as opposition accused him to be, he was “actually exercising public control” over the government: “I enjoy public confidence and I can take advantage of this confidence any time and criticize any government official,” Ivanishvili noted.
“Our society lacks experience of holding officials accountable, and I am effectively filling that gap; the public trust that I enjoy, I return to them through fulfilling their task.”
“Now I am back to governance, because I saw that [public] control was no longer effective … from outside I would have been unable to tell Kvirikashvili what I told him at the [June 12] meeting, that he should have resigned and that I would say the same in public. If I had told him that before I was appointed as the Chairman, he would not take that seriously.”
Would GDDG field the Presidential candidate?
Ivanishvili said the consultations on the presidential candidate are not yet over. “Several candidates have been considered, including Zurab Abashidze, Sozar Subari, Davit Sergeenko, Tea Tsulukiani, myself and others; we have a lot of candidates who could win the elections in the first round.”
“From the very beginning when we started consultations several months ago, my position was somewhat different. Initially, no one supported [this] idea, but over time the number of supporters increased; and my position is that,
if we genuinely and sincerely want Georgia to achieve rapid democratic progress and to increase resilience of state institutions, we should not nominate a candidate from the party,” he said.
Ivanishvili then noted that “it would be better to endorse an independent candidate if there is a decent independent candidate, but if there are no such candidates then let the opposition take this institution.”
“My position is very simple; today, starting from Gamgebelis (municipality mayor) and ending with the Prime Minister, the power is in the hands of the GDDG, coupled with the fact that it has a constitutional majority and that does not present us well in Europe,” Ivanishvili quipped.
“Of course, I respect the GDDG, but it is not primary [concern for me], for me the country and the state are primary; and it would be better for the country’s [overall democratic] development to have stronger parties so that the people can make a choice and there is competition,” he said.
Ivanishvili was quick to point out, that the decision not to nominate a candidate was not final and that the GDDG would deliberate on the matter further in the coming days.
Ivanishvili spoke about foreign policy only briefly, saying the situation globally is “complicated and tense,” and that the country has to be “cautious and mobilized, not to be provoked.”
“We have to stand united and we have to understand our place and capabilities well, and when there are global negotiations we should not worsen our situation, but to the contrary make it better,” he noted.
“This requires a responsible, mobilized and effective government, which we currently have, and I think, we will be able to address any challenges, if we are mobilized and the society is equally supportive,” the GDDG Chairman stated.