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Presidential Palace in Avlabari district of Tbilisi. Civil.ge file photo

Politicians Divided over Relocation of Presidential Residence

Less than three months before the October presidential polls, Georgian politicians have resumed the debate on relocating the presidential residence from Avlabari district in Tbilisi to an alternative location at Atoneli Street, just few kilometers away.

The discussion was prompted after Salome Zurabishvili, an independent presidential candidate who is thought to enjoy the campaign endorsement of the ruling party, said she will move to the Atoneli Palace if she is elected president.

“The Avlabari Palace has to be used either by the country’s prime minister or foreign minister or be used as a common venue for diplomatic visits, but it should not be occupied by the president – the president has to be in a place that fits its competences,” she noted.

Zurabishvili’s remarks drew mixed reactions from political parties, with MP Otar Kakhidze of the European Georgia party saying her statement was an attempt to “please” GDDG leader Bidzina Ivanishvili. “We are categorically against the relocation, the president has to be in the building that is set by the legislation,” Kakhidze stressed.

Grigol Vashadze, the presidential candidate of the UNM-led coalition, said the Avlabari Palace is “naturally ingrained with the presidency,” and that “there is no other venue as convenient as the Avlabari Palace for hosting a president who will be defending citizens’ rights.”

Palace at Atoneli Street. Photo: Screengrab from Maestro TV

Davit Usupashvili, another candidate for the upcoming polls, commented on the matter as well, calling for transforming the Avlabari Palace into “the Palace of the Republic.” In his words, the Palace has to combine exhibition spaces of the first (1918-1921) and the second (from 1991) Georgian republics and serve as a venue for diplomatic visits and other events.

Members of the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party, who have been at odds with incumbent President Giorgi Margvelashvili over the presidential palace, echoed Salome Zurabishvili’s sentiments, with Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze saying the venue “as a symbol of statehood, has to correspond with presidential powers.”

The presidential elections will be held on October 28, 2018. This will be the last time that the head of state will be elected through direct ballot. Georgia’s new constitution, which is to come to force upon new president’s inauguration, will further reduce the presidential powers.

The glass-domed presidential palace in the Avlabari district of Tbilisi, built during Mikheil Saakashvili’s presidency, has become a matter of disagreement between the GDDG and the incumbent President. Giorgi Margvelashvili, who had pledged to move to the Atoneli Palace in the pre-election period in 2013, changed his mind after assuming power and moved his office to Avlabari, earning Bidzina Ivanishvili’s criticism. The reconstruction of Atoneli Palace, which was intended to house the president’s administration, ended in 2015, but the building has not been operational since then.

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