In his extended interview with TV Pirveli, a channel critical to the Georgian Dream government, former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia discussed the details of his resignation and relations with GD founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, the current state of the ruling party, the alleged coup plot voiced by GD chair Irakli Kobakhidze, as well as past controversies during his tenure in the government.
In the June 8 interview, the new For Georgia party founder said “I will always remember how I was called a traitor.”
The State of the Georgian Dream
Discussing the state of the governing party, Gakharia said Georgian Dream leaders have “depleted” themselves, and the party now tries to cling to power. That is demonstrated by “restricted” inner-party democracy and intolerant attitudes toward dissenting opinions, the former Prime Minister asserted.
The former Prime Minister argued the Georgian Dream suffers from issues with “legitimacy,” which cannot be “solved” even if the party manages to avoid snap elections by receiving 43% or more votes in the upcoming local elections, as envisaged in the April 19 EU-brokered deal. The party could not even “defend” the 48% it received in October 2020 parliamentary vote, Gakharia pointed out.
He dubbed Kobakhidze’s UNM-Gakharia coup allegations as “ramblings of a scared man,” and called for launching an investigation into the ruling party chairperson’s remarks, that alleged unidentified officials of the Interior and Defense Ministries being involved in the plot. The former PM said he does not expect the prosecution to actually probe into the allegations, noting that the GD leadership “got scared and took a step back” after voicing the accusations.
Discussing the road to his resignation as Prime Minister on February 18, Gakharia said he decided to resign after witnessing that “someone” from the GD party leadership communicated directly with the Interior Ministry about the forthcoming police raid, which he wanted to postpone, on the opposition UNM Headquarters.
“I came to see the fact that someone from the party, who would have never dared to [in the past], was interfering in my authority as the PM.”
Gakharia said that before opting for resignation, he asked to summon a GD political council to warn against the planned police operation but was refused to have the council convened. “I saw that resources for a compromise [with GD leadership] were exhausted,” he noted.
Noting that ” I know some Kobakhidze could not influence my ministers,” Gakharia said he tried, albeit without success, to communicate with GD founder Bidzina Ivanishvili (who had quit politics a month earlier) to find out why the party officials were interfering in his work.
Gakharia noted that he called a press conference about resignation after the nation’s richest man did not answer the phone. “Not getting an answer to my question was [in itself] an answer for me.”
June 20 and Ivanishvili
Asked whether Ivanishvili was involved in ordering the dispersal of the June 20, 2019, anti-occupation rally, Gakharia, then Minister of Interior, said then the ruling party chairperson did not interfere with his work.
In this context, the former PM also stated that he faced no restrictions from Ivanishvili’s side during his tenure as Interior or Economy Minister and that he cannot recall a single case of the party leader interfering in his job.
I always had this degree of freedom, and Ivanishvili also cherished this degree of freedom, Gakharia said, adding that Ivanishvili “was forced” to publish the letter of June 7, in which he accused Gakharia of treason.
The former PM also said he did not “idolize” the Georgian Dream founder, but that he had respect towards him.
Speaking of EU-deal envisaged amnesty bill for June 20, 2019 case, Gakharia said he “categorically opposes” amnesty for political figures, including himself, or opposition figures that are suspected of storming the Parliament. The amnesty shall be granted to ordinary police officers and protesters, he said.
Past Controversies and (No) Regrets
Reminiscing on his tenure as the Prime Minister, Gakharia said he overstepped twice on his earlier remarks, meaning “I will end you” comment addressed at the United National Movement, and another one, in which he referred to alleged corrupt dealings with companies during initial COVID-19 lockdown as Georgian-style, manly favor between buddies.
Gakharia noted he regrets that during his time as the Interior Minister in 2017, the police disseminated footage of poet Zviad Ratiani being detained. He said that releasing the video to the media was “unethical” and holds himself responsible.
The former PM also talked about the case of Ia Kerdzaia, a western Zugdidi school principal who died of a stroke allegedly due to pressure to join the campaign of ruling party-endorsed presidential candidate Salome Zurabishvili in 2018. Gakharia dismissed political pressure allegations, noting that a probe into the issue found no links between the alleged pressure and Kerzaia’s death.
Asked to comment on the case of Lasha Tordia, a former State Audit Office Chair who was assaulted by former Chief Prosecutor Otar Partskahaldze in 2017, Gakharia responded to the journalist that “I have never said we live in an ideal state.” He said Georgia “unfortunately” still lacks strong state institutions.
[Our, older generations] for thirty years are trying to create a state out of this country, but unfortunately [are efforts are so far unsuccessful. We are not successful] because every new government tries to establish itself by destroying and criticizing the previous one…
“We never had a ruler that managed to distribute its power to institutions,” he said, adding that this was the case with “among them, Bidzina Ivanishvili.”
Gakharia also touched upon the persistent protests against the construction of Namakhvani HPP, arguing that the project “cannot be” carried out without support from the Save Rioni Valley movement. Even though Georgia’s economy needs the HPP, Gakharia noted, “[the project] will not work out unless the top government officials get involved personally and talk with the [locals].”
Discussing his freshly-founded party’s funding, Gakharia said that so far all the funds are drawn from his and his party members’ personal savings. But the former PM noted that they plan to put a transparent crowdfunding system in place.
Gakharia also partly confirmed rumors that Gia Khukhashvili, a well-known pundit and an adviser to Ivanishvili at the time, had facilitated his entry to the Georgian Dream in 2013. He said, his father submitted his CV to Khukhashvili, who then relayed the document to Ivanishvili. Gakharia said he was then called to an interview which ended in him being appointed as the Business Ombudsperson.