The Who Is My Leader Blues

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In 2012, Georgia’s constitution changed and the small South Caucasus country became a semi-presidential republic. The president, who had until this time had been the Big Kahuna in terms of image and ruling by virtual decree, had his powers neutralized, shared between the prime minister and parliament. But because the constitution does not clearly stipulate how these powers are distributed and Georgia inherently mistrusts the office of president, there is a growing rift between Georgia’s two leaders – President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Prime Minister Irakli Garabishvili.

The man responsible for putting these guys in office is multi-billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who resigned from office in 2013 after handpicking his successor. He technically retired from politics, but Ivanishvili keeps an eye on things from the wings and comes out set the country straight whenever he feels it is straying from the trajectory he assigned it. In March, Ivanshivili told the press how disappointed he was in his “former friend” Margvelashvili, after the president changed his mind and decided to use the presidential palace former President Mikheil Saakashvili had built. The Georgian Dream majority party took this as a queue to give the president the cold shoulder treatment.

In early July, the Prime Minister’s office announced Garibashvili would be addressing the annual United Nations General Debate in September, in addition to a number of undefined sideline UN events. The same day, the President’s office announced Marvelashvili would accept UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s invitation to address the UN Climate Summit also in September, much to the chagrin of Garibashvili, who also wants to attend and has asked Marvelashvili to drop his plans. But Marvelashvili feels it’s his duty and is determined to go.

In steps Ivanishvili, who told the press that President Margvelashvili treats the government like an opponent and is trying to obstruct it. He says that because Georgia is a parliamentary republic, it should be clear that Garabishvili, who sat on the board of Ivanishvili’s bank, should talk to the UN about the climate. However, Georgia is technically a “representative democratic semi-presidential republic” – not a “parliamentary republic.” Ivanishvili, who was Prime Minister should know that. The President was elected by the people and is head of state. The problem is the constitution fails to elucidate their duties. Article 73 states the president negotiates with foreign states and international organizations, while Article 78 states the prime minister represents Georgia in foreign relations within its own competencies.

Ivanishvili hopes that by emerging from behind the curtain and declaring his support of Garibashvili, he will put an end to the bickering between the executive and legislative heads of government. But instead of playing the personality game, the former prime minister would be better to insist as a “concerned citizen” that the government amend the constitution to clearly define the responsibilities of Georgia’s office holders to keep them from squabbling. The rift between Margvelashvili and Garibashvili is more than a personality clash that needs mediating.

My story about the feud can be found on Beacon Reader.

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