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Georgia premier picks loyalist as his successor

AFP-JIJI

Billionaire Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili on Saturday picked a 31-year-old minister and protege as his successor while the former Soviet state makes the transition to a parliamentary republic.

Set to become Georgia’s youngest prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili — a political unknown until he was named interior minister in October 2012 — has worked for Ivanishvili for most of the past decade.

Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition will retain control of the government, parliament and presidency, even though he is set to step down formally later this month, after another loyalist won a crushing victory at presidential polls last week.

Ivanishvili’s youthful Paris-educated protege will oversee Georgia’s transition to a parliamentary republic as constitutional changes shift many key powers from the president to the premier.

Garibashvili will take over Nov. 24 after being confirmed by parliament, where his coalition holds a majority. A new president has to be inaugurated first.

The soft-spoken graduate in international relations from the Sorbonne University in Paris has headed Ivanishvili’s charitable foundation and worked at his bank and his rap star son’s record label. Opponents blasted the choice, saying Garibashvili is not up to the job of overseeing Georgia’s switch to a parliamentary system.

Ivanishvili has said he has achieved everything he wanted to since defeating archfoe Saakashvili’s party in parliamentary elections last year. Another of his allies, political novice Giorgi Margvelashvili, is set to succeed the pro-Western Saakashvili, who has to step down as his second and final term expires.

Ivanishvili has said he intends to move into civil society after leaving office and denies claims that he will continue to call the shots. But his influence will remain inescapable and having him as the unaccountable power behind the throne could be “extremely dangerous” for the country’s fragile democracy, said George Mchedlishvili, a Caucasus expert at London-based Chatham House.

Ivanishvili’s time in charge has seen a fraught year-long political cohabitation with Saakashvili, with the arrests of a string of the outgoing president’s top allies causing concern among Western allies. Ivanishvili’s government has faced criticism for failing to live up to many of its promises, with the economy flat-lining and infrastructure projects stalling.

Ivanishvili was a shadowy figure before he entered politics in 2011 after accusing Saakashvili of turning the country into an authoritarian state. Saakashvili transformed Georgia during his decade in power, ramming through reforms to slash corruption, renovate infrastructure and boost the devastated economy.