On February 7, the opposition faction in the Parliament “United National Movement” and other political parties and groups held a joint hearing of the Prime Ministerial candidate Irakli Kobakhidze and the candidates for cabinet of ministers. The opposition parties “Lelo” and “Citizens” didn’t attend the hearing.
Irakli Kobakhidze spoke about the program “For the Construction of the European State”, including plans for the next 10 months and noting that in the fall of this year he would present a new government program that would be developed in consultation with line experts.
He began his speech by emphasizing the crucial role of the economy in the country’s development, with a focus on infrastructure, energy and Internet access. He spoke of plans to complete key infrastructure projects such as the West-East highway and the Anaklia project, while placing emphasis on energy development and completing the construction of the hydroelectric power plants. He also mentioned improving internet access and water supply, expanding gasification and promoting tourism.
Kobakhidze noted that agricultural projects would continue and that environmental protection, regional development, education, sports and health care would be the government’s priorities. In foreign policy, Kobakhidze emphasized the strengthening of defense capabilities and plans for full European and Euro-Atlantic integration.
Question and Answer session
The opposition parties were critical of the program presented by Kobakhidze. Questions focused on specifics related to issues such as unemployment, poverty, corruption, demographics, infrastructure projects, political polarization, and pensions. Kobakhidze mostly shied away from giving concrete answers to specific questions, sticking to generalities.
In response to UNM Chairman Levan Khabeishvili’s questions about the problem of high prices for electricity, gas and water, Kobakhidze spoke about economic growth in Georgia. He answered most of the questions of a socio-economic nature with comparisons of figures between 2012 (before GD came to power) and 2023, noting that in areas such as unemployment and poverty the Georgian population still faces problems, but there is “fundamental progress” towards improvement.
There were specific questions about why Kobakhidze wants to become the head of the government and what his concrete plans and vision are, in particular coming from independent MP Tamar Kordzaia. Kobakhidze briefly pointed out that his nomination was very recent and that he would be able to talk more about his plans before the elections in the fall.
Several opposition MPs asked about the strategically important Anaklia deep-sea port project, in particular about the company that will be chosen as one of the investors and the privileged position that Chinese companies might have in this process. Kobakhidze repeated: “Less priority will be given to the geographical space, the main point is who can offer us better conditions”.
Regarding the reconstruction of the Gelati Monastery, questions were asked about the responsibility that the government and specifically the Ministry of Culture will take over the process. Kobakhidze noted that the Patriarchate of Georgia has taken responsibility for the reconstruction process, but the government is ready to cooperate with it if necessary.
The upcoming elections were a recurring topic, in particular the opening of polling stations in countries with significant Georgian diasporas. Kobakhidze said that according to democratic practice, elections can be held only on the territory of the state, and since the territory of the embassies is part of the state, “polling stations will be opened only on the Embassies’ territory.”
To a question whether the opposition and the ruling party would reach a consensus and take a step towards depolarization Kobakhidze replied: “Rudeness is not part of our [Georgian Dream] policy… less rudeness in politics is in the interest of the country… I agree with you that our political system definitely needs more consensus, less radicalism.”
Commenting on the GD’s rhetoric describing the opposition as “radical” or calling opposition representatives “enemies of the state”, as well as the ruling party’s use of the “global war party” rhetoric, Kobakhidze said that the term “radical opposition” is used and justified for parties that claim the GD is pro-Russian, while the “global war party” refers to the “obvious” external forces that “are not interested in developing the processes in Georgia in a way that is in the interest of our country”.
Asked about the release of Georgia’s third president, Mikheil Saakashvili, Kobakhidze said that his health had improved, as evidenced by his return to politics, and that he is in much better conditions than any other prisoner, serving his sentence in a two-room hospital ward instead of a prison cell like others. Kobakhidze even stated: “One can be depressed by the fact that other prisoners have to serve their sentences in a cell, while Saakashvili is in a two-room ward without any justification. I would be depressed from a moral point of view.”
Irakli Kobakhidze’s made several concrete promises:
- The reconstruction of the Central Republican Hospital will continue with consultations with the medical staff.
- The government will work on resolving the Davit-Gareji Monasteries issue through official dialog with Azerbaijan.
- The Ministry of Education will work to include free school meals in its budget.
- The number of early warning systems will be increased to help prevent natural disasters.
On February 8, after hearing of the Prime Minister candidate by the ruling majority the Parliament is expected to confirm the new PM and his cabinet.
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