Georgian Prime Minister Ivanishvili with Presidential nominee Giori Margvelashvili

Georgia prepares to choose “the man on the white horse”. Or is it just his horse?

The race is on for the office of President of Georgia after the governing Georgian Dream coalition led by Bidhzina Ivanishvili announced that it will nominate Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Giorgi Margvelashvili to the post. Given the massive victory that Georgian Dream registered in last October’s parliamentary elections and its continued popularity in recent opinion polls, Margvelashvili starts the race as the favourite to win.

The office of President of Georgia will be divested from most of its powers after the October elections following constitutional amendments that the previous government of Mikhail Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) pushed through before its election defeat. Executive power will now be vested in the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. The UNM still has to nominate its candidate for the elections, and has announced that it will do primaries to select its candidate. A number of other Georgian personalities are considering contesting as independent candidates.

Georgians have traditionally looked for “a man on the white horse” to lead them.  Georgian history is full of imagery of Georgian leaders, usually men, and on one or two occasions also women, riding into battle on horseback, often slaying a dragon. This time round the situation is rather confusing since the first person in the country will not be the one with the effective power.

President Saakashvili was quick to pick up on this, commenting on Margvelashvili’s nomination as Ivanishvili’s personal choice, and saying that “it was tantamount to Caligula appointing his horse to the senate”. In his original speech he got his classics confused and referred to Nero rather than Caligula, only to correct it on his facebook page later. This notwithstanding, everybody got the point.

It is very clear that Georgians will have a difficult time getting used to the idea that the President is not all powerful. In this scenario going for an elder statesman would have been the optimum choice for the Georgian Dream. Instead by going for a 43 year old active politician they may have confused the issue unnecessarily. Margvelashvili however has many positive attributes, which Prime Minister Ivanishvili referred to when announcing his nomination.

“He is very creative and he is unique in crisis situations; he is experienced in management; he is experienced in politics too; he is a good analyst, good expert; I don’t know what else to list,” Ivanishvili said, adding that Margvelashvili “is also a good team-player”.

“Whenever I come across difficulties I always call Giorgi and ask him [for advice]; I have two or three such persons with whom I can sit down and talk about any issues and any problem,” he added.  “I am happy that I know such a person and I think that especially at this stage, when our democracy is still fragile… and our team has an ambition to establish a genuine democracy, such a president would be very much acceptable,” Ivanishvili said. “We should prove to the entire world in the shortest period of time that Georgians are Europeans and we deserve to become EU member state as soon as possible… and such persons like [Margvelashvili] and such president give us reason to have such an ambition.”

Margvelashvili may have convinced Ivanishvili, but between now and October he has to convince the Georgian people that he is the right choice. The election is likely to be hardly fought, for the Georgians take their politics seriously and in many ways politics has become the national sport, even if the prize at the end is now less attractive than before.

The election will offer the first big test of the Georgian Dream’s democratic credentials and will therefore attract also considerable international attention.


Source CEW Staff Team.